Politics and popular song: youth, authority, and popular music in East Africa

  • Alex Perullo Bryant University


In 2003, the Tanzanian rapper AY released the song "Binadamu" (Human) [CD track1]. Recorded in Uganda, mixed in Tanzania, with a video filmed in Somalia and Uganda, the song reached top ten lists at radio stations in every country in east Africa. The song discussed the fate of someone who had become ostracized by his friends and family after falling on hard times. It was a socially significant song, demonstrating forms of marginalization that occur in contemporary cities where people are consumed by cosmopolitan fantasies. Along with several other songs released in the early 2000s, "Binadamu" garnered AY the nickname "Mzee wa Commercial", which literally translated as the "Elder of Commercial [Music]". The word 'mzee (elder), used by Tanzanian youth to signify their desire for social power within society, was a means of self-actualizing the status and prestige associated with elders in African societies. As a result of the connotation to AY's nickname, he became a highly respected person in releasing socially and commercially successful songs that could be heard throughout eastern Africa. His music had the potential to influence others, thereby embodying the role of the elder, while also being popular and commercially successful. The elder status of his nickname should not, however, be confused with his actual age. Born on July 5, 1982, AY was 21 when "Binadamu" first became a hit.
How to Cite
Perullo, A. “Politics and Popular Song: Youth, Authority, and Popular Music in East Africa”. African Music: Journal of the International Library of African Music, Vol. 9, no. 1, Nov. 2011, p. [87]-15, doi:https://doi.org/10.21504/amj.v9i1.1759.