How Bongo artistes navigate the complexity of ethical music

The Tanzania's National Arts Council (Basata) barred and fined rapper Emmanuel Elibariki aka Ney Wa Mitego several times due to his controversial songs including 'Pale Kati', 'Shika Adabu Yako', and recently 'Amkeni'.

What you need to know:

  • Even though Tanzania is known for its strict regulations, artists still struggle to strike a balance between creative freedom and conforming to societal norms. “Has the system failed, or are artists simply pretending to be obstinate?”

The ongoing global discourse on ethical content in artistic works has found resonance in Tanzania, where artists are grappling with the intricate balance between creative freedom and societal values.

This dialogue has been catalysed by cultural, ethical, and political disparities that shape the perception of artistic expression.

In response to these concerns, the Tanzanian government, through the Tanzania Arts Council (BASATA), officially introduced a comprehensive guide on November 3, 2023, focusing on the observance of ethics in artistic works.

This initiative aligns with Section 6.1.6 of the Cultural Policy and Section 4(1)(l) of the National Arts Council Act, aiming to ensure that entertainment activities uphold national ethics.

The guidelines, available since October 27, 2023, seek to address the surge in artistes and artworks, paralleling technological advancements. Amendments to the BASATA Law, specifically subsections (l) and (p) in Section 4(1), empower the council to oversee ethical conduct and impose penalties for violations.

Despite the guidelines, some artistes face legal repercussions for content that doesn’t align with ethical standards. Songs like ‘Ameyatimba Remix’ and ‘Nakojoa Pazuri’ have been flagged for violating guidelines on respect, dignity, and offensive language.

The two songs violated part of the guidelines, which states that ‘work of art should not violate the respect and dignity of anyone’ under the ‘things to consider in creating artwork’.

And ‘It does not involve offensive language or insults’.

Other notable songs, such as ‘Mwalimu’ by Kontawa, have faced scrutiny.

Kontawa’s manager, Rajab Kinoge, appreciates BASATA’s efforts and states that artistes do not underestimate the guidelines.

He recognises that mistakes can happen, emphasising the evolving understanding within the industry.

Adding that, because the guide is comprehensive, everything is clear, and everyone can clearly see.

“Personally, I have read it and haven’t found anything wrong; it’s just that, as humans, we are prone to making mistakes,” he says.

Sometimes, artistes don’t recognise if they’ve made a mistake when releasing their songs.

And this is because some didn’t take the time to read the guidelines, so they assumed that their arts were clean.

Last year, 2023, WCB signee Zuchu found herself in trouble as her song with Diamond Platnumz fuelled not-so-good debate from certain religious people following a scene within the song's music video showing Zuchu singing in a church choir, then ditching the choir to go speak to her lover.

Due to that, they ended up at the hands of Basata, where they’ve been given a physical copy of the guidelines and sometimes a little discussion about what needs to be done for their music.

Rajab further added that he congratulates BASATA for the efforts they have made to ensure they’re corporate friendly.

“When you’re called to BASATA, you can clearly see that you have made a mistake. Unlike before, when you were called, you wouldn’t necessarily know what mistake you had made. But now it has become easier; you can clearly see that, as an artiste, I have deviated from the values,” explains Kinoge.

In his part, hip-hop artiste who was among those previously banned by the council for his song ‘Segerea’, Bando MC, acknowledges the importance of following guidelines.

He emphasises the need for open discussions within artiste teams to ensure comprehensive understanding before releasing content.

“It’s like having an elder person in the family, and you always came late to the house, so you won’t be able to know what’s going on, but I think it’s important that we make sure that we follow these guidelines.”

I have been around some of the artiste sessions, and one thing that many artistes and their managers’ luck is post-mortem of their brand new songs.

Regardless of the artiste’s status in the industry, having someone who ensures that every aspect aligns with the plan.

In the same vein, a music video director, Deo Abel, emphasises creating videos that aren’t too explicit for all audiences.

While he admits not thoroughly going through the guidelines, he believes in creating content that is morally correct.

“Before I submit a video to the artistes, I normally share the idea that certain footage may be very explicit for the public, so we discuss what to do next from the video,”

However, Director Deo Abel confirmed that he didn’t go through the guidelines despite being there the whole time.

And that’s why these artiste ended up in Basata, because not all of them took the time to read the guidelines, which are the most important part of their music career.

Deo further added that what BASATA did was something interesting because it showed that, as leaders in society, they’re supposed to be upfront in everything.

Twaah Mabantu from the Mabantu crew, a Bongo Flava artiste, on the other hand, asserts their commitment to ethical music creation.

He mentions that Mabantu usually collaborates with their team to ensure songs uphold good morals, aligning with BASATA’s guidelines.

“I believe, if you’ve investigated, we are one of the artistes who are not often in the BASATA scene because we do what is required in terms of good ethics in Bongo Flava music,” he says

Further explaining, “We usually sit down with some individuals from our team and ensure the best way to create a song that upholds good morals before releasing it for the public to listen to”.

Mabantu, Bongo Flava duo. PHOTO | FILE

But Twaah confirms that, as Mabantu, they agree with the guidelines by 80 percent.

As you know Mabantu by their songs, it turns out they’ve been following the guidelines; that’s why they’ve never been called by the council.

Despite varying perspectives, there is an overall appreciation for BASATA’s role in guiding the industry.

Artistes acknowledge the need for continuous dialogue and understanding to strike a balance between creative freedom and ethical responsibility.

Speaking with BASATA’s secretary general, Kedmon Mapana, he shared that hakuna cha mswalie mtume, meaning there will be no exception.

“Artistes have long complained when we limit their work, claiming that they want direction to know how to create without obstacles. As a result, we have now given them guidelines that they can read and adopt,” he shares.

Mapana further added that they have been using different methods to spread information about the guidelines.

The council has been using a lot of different ways to make sure that all artistes are aware of the guidelines by cooperating with prominent artistes.

“Such as Roma and Diamond, as examples. And we have employed media outlets to ensure that the information reaches everywhere, eliminating the possibility of anyone claiming ignorance about the guidelines.”

Things to take note of are that, despite the guidelines, Basata still insists that the process of submitting songs for review is still in place.

Mapana insists that the guidelines are there to empower citizens to report works of art that aren’t good for society.

In the introduction of the guide, Basata states that the guide provides instructions for artistes, artiste managers, art producers, promoters, media outlets, owners of social media or digital platforms, transportation entities, distributors of artistic works, event hosts, DJs, composers, and other stakeholders.

All these stakeholders and society at large have a responsibility to uphold and adhere to ethical standards and report any breaches of ethics in accordance with policies, laws, regulations, and various guidelines or procedures that govern the arts sector.