Written By Ken Jr Lipenga
The concept of youth, much as it is in common usage, is not easy to be denied because it tends to be context-specic. Honwana (2012, 11),for instance, argues that basing the definition of youth on age has not worked because “age categories are not natural; they constitute cultural systems with particular sets of meaning sand values”.
Various countries also have their own definitions of youth. Youth, according to the Malawi National Youth Policy (2013), for example, is between 10 and 35 years. Most of the hip-hop artistes fall within this bracket.
That the activities of the youth in Africa may be connected to the creation of an alternative public sphere can already be gleaned from the work of Diouf (2003, 3), who speaks of an emerging “irruption” of the youth into the public sphere, where they are increasingly regarded as a threat. Importantly, we might realize from the start that the platform of hip-hop music affords a voice to the younger members of the country’s citizenry.
This is related to a point raised by Nancy Fraser in her critique of Habermas ( 1991). She observes that, in reaction to the bourgeois public, counter- publics emerged that “contested the exclusionary norms of the bourgeois public, elaborat-ing alternative style of political behavior and alternative norms of public speech” (Fraser1992, 116). Fraser’s focus is on the feminist subaltern counter-public, but in this article, I argue that in Malawi the youth also constitute a similar category.
Indeed, despite registering a few political and social successes, the position of the youth remains relatively marginal (Seebode 2012, 237). Hip-hop music is an ex-ample of an alternative form of public speech that has been embraced by the youth. Indeed, according to Halifu Osumare (2012, 84), with-in many countries in Africa, “hip-hop […] isan important tool in shifting power and offer-ing young people a modicum of authority in shaping their personal lives and national affairs”.
In their research on youth languages in Africa, Nico Nassenstein and Andrea Hol-lington (2016, 175) raise a similar point, noting that hip-hop music has contributed to the cre-ation of a global linguistic repertoire among the youth, one that allows them to “reectuid identities in a globalized world”.
The issues that are raised in the songs are those that are pertinent to the youth. An important factor to consider in the emergence of hip-hop music Africa is exactly the fact that “youth cul-ture [which includes hip-hop music] rises as a form of resistance to the hegemonic culture of adults” (Mandala 2017, 30). What then is the place of alcohol in this resistance? We can begin to address this query by considering a case in point, one of the most popular of the banned drinks in Malawi, a liquor called Super Midori. So popular is the drink that it is often featured in hip-hop mu-sic songs, not in condemnation, but rather in praise.
At least three songs feature the drink in their titles. The rst is Astrol’s (real name Slade Sambani) song, which is simply titled “Midori”, an emotional expression of praise for the drink, as articulated by a young man who religiously devotes all his time to the imbibing of alcohol. The opening lines of the song surface to support the argument concerning the role of alcohol in the lives of the youth. The song starts as an interview, in which Astrol is asked why he never raps about school, but only focuses on alcohol.
In response to the interviewer’s question, Astrol raps:
Sukulu ndinasiya kalekale/ Anzangamumandiseka mumati ndine mphale/
Akazi amandikana amati ndine stoner/ Amandiona daily ndikusuta fodya/
Zamunthu sindilabada/Ndipatse bawa sindikana/ Ndipatse pen, ndipatse kope
zovaya geri sitimvana/ Akazi oyesa mayaalibe ntaji kwa ine asise/
N’nakwatirabawa, fodya ndi cocaine aise/ Ghetto youth alibe ntaji please move on/ Tizingoyaka daily basi opanda season (I dropped out of school a long time ago/friends you mock me saying I am a loser/girls rebuff me saying I am an addict/they see me smoking cigarettes daily/I don’t worry about other people’s opinions/I will not refuse if you offer me beer/I will refuse if you offer me a pen, a notebook, or try to send me to school/girls who test me have no chance at all/I am married to beer, cigarettes and cocaine/a ghetto youth has no opportunities in this life/ We will just be getting high daily regard-less of the season)
(Astrol 2017)The narrative that the rapper presents in the song is evocative of the dire situation in which the youth in Malawi nd themselves. One of the common features of waithood is the failure to complete formal education (Honwana 2012,24). Failing to succeed in school leads most of the youth down a path of depression, where the only recourse appears to be alcohol. This is an attitude that we nd in the other artistes to be discussed in this paper. Much as he ac-knowledges the situation of hopelessness and despair, he admits that there is one avenue that remains open to him, the path of Midori.
Another ode to the drink, entitled “GhettoHennessy (Midori Gang)” by the rapper Toast (real name Gomezgani Kambwiri) articulates group identity formed around alcohol consumption. “Ghetto Hennessy” is an apt case study since the rapper accurately captures the idea of deance and community that is at the heart of this article’s argument. This song is perhaps one of the best examples illustrating the way the hip-hop music scene articulates asense of freedom that is to be found with the assistance of alcohol.
In the chorus of the song, the rapper sings,
In the ghetto ain’t nobody have no money so no Hennessy
In the ghetto ain’t nobody have no money so no Heineken what we sipping on…?
(Toast 2017) These lines alone illustrate the idea that alco-hol is the ultimate recourse for the youth who are feeling the pinch of poverty. As is the case with many other forms of hip-hop in Malawi, there is some appropriation of Black Ameri-can culture. In fact, the line “sippin on Mi-dori” echoes lines often mentioned by the late American rapper 2Pac, who often expressed fondness for “sippin on Hennessy”, which is again directly mentioned in the title.
However, instead of a straightforward appropriation, the rapper chooses to identify with the Ghetto Hennessy, which is the illicit drink, Midori. This drink is the cheapest that the youth can afford, and it frequently replac-es the more expensive drinks, Hennessy and Heineken.
In his claim to be sipping on the banned drink, we see a deliberate challenge to authority. In her book, The Africanist Aesthet-ic in Global Hip-Hop, Halifu Osumare (2007,72) observes that “Youthful rebellion forms the ubiquitous connective marginality of hip-hop, where most nations’ young people are able to identify with hip-hop’s rebellious youthful nature”. It is no surprise therefore that we nd such a rebellious tone in Malawian hip-hop.
It is exactly this sort of production that raises concerns about “the bodies of young people and their behaviour, their sexuality and their pleasure” (Diouf 2003, 3). Drinking Midori is an expression of masculinity through daring todo that which is forbidden by the government.
Hennessy is a French cognac, often associated with the upper class. In recent years, however, it has come to be a status symbol among Black American rappers. Heineken is a Dutch lager, which is imported into Malawi from South Africa. As an imported beer, it too has gained a high status amongst the youth.
It is therefore an expression of the Freudian death drive through the drinking of that which has left many dead in its wake, but also in the deliberate provocation of the government authorities. The challenge is emphasized even more when Toast says “tikumwa plain plain” (‘we are drinking the alcohol neat’). Diluting the liquor would be tantamount to admitting the diminishing of one’s masculinity. Drinking the alcohol neat, on the other hand, is in-dicative of resilience and endurance, which is an indirect commentary on the way the youth endure various other hardships in their every-day existence.
The consumption of drinks such as Midori could be explained as the nal recourse for the youth, who and that the world has not availed any opportunities to them. This is quite clear in Astrol’s song, where the artist claims that the drinking of Midori is because he failed to succeed in school. Similarly, P4ceand Ace Oji (2017), another pair of rappers in the country, stress that they will drink Midori even if it kills them. The idea is therefore to live for the moment since the future is uncertain.
In such lyrics we nd the expression of a form of escapism into a world that parallels the real one. The world of alcohol consumption for the youth casts a hue over the environment around them, where the “high” is the only ulti-mate objective. This is obviously a sad state of affairs, but there is logic in such a perspective.
When Toast tells us that “In the ghetto ain’t nobody have no money so no Hennessy”, heis emphasizing the point that there are hardly any opportunities available for the youth in the ghetto. As Honwana (2012, 47) notes, wait-hood is compounded by the fact that Africa has among its highest unemployment rates among the youth. Songs such as these are therefore expressive of the hypocrisy of a circumstance where the youth have easy access to cheap alcohol, but difficulty in ending healthy and sustainable livelihoods through jobs.
The visuals of “Ghetto Hennessy (Mido-ri Gang)” are equally crucial to our interpretation of the song. Hip-hop music has always relied on its visual impact in order to effectively convey its message. That is why it is always important to remember that rap music is part of a wider hip-hop culture, which relies heavily on visual aspects such as clothing and graffiti. The Malawian hip-hop music videos continue this trend.
The hip-hop artist embodies ascertain ethos which is rst and foremost to be interpreted in the way he looks: his clothing, his tattoos, his drinks, his weapons. These all contribute to the creation of a particular per-sona that he wishes to portray to society.
The psychologist Carl Jung argued that human be-ings often create a persona that they project onto the world. The persona exists as “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a denite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individ-ual” (Jung  1966, 264). That is the ideal “them” that they wish the world to see. In Malawian hip-hop music, this persona is of the in-dividual who is inseparable from his liquor, argure that we also nd in Black American rap music.
One of the forms of criticism that has for a long time been levelled against African hip-hop is the mimicking of Black American culture. This also involves the visual aspect. However, despite the obvious origins of the hip-hop genre, we have to acknowledge that the appropriation of this “foreign” culture results in something that is altogether new (Mot-ley and Henderson 2007).
The novelty comes mainly in the form of the synthesis with local cultural imaginaries. Nilan and Feixa (2006,8) observe that “[y]outh cultures are always emphatically local, despite globally-derived details, since youth are embedded in immedi-ate and embodied economic and political rela-tions”. Another way to view this is to adopt Stephanie Newell and Onookome Okome’s(2014, 8) argument that “urban popular art re-veals that African urban dwellers often produce ingenious responses to the ows of local and international commodities and resources in their cities”. These scholars have in com-mon the argument that what we are witnessing is a synthesis of the foreign and the local, resulting in an art form that is quite novel.
In the song, the rapper paradoxically attempts to create the idea of afuence, which is at odds with the constant reference to the poverty in which the youth exist. The message is that, whereas they may lack various other opportunities, at least cheap liquor is in abun-dance, so much so that they can afford to bathe in it. After all, as the rapper sings, “midori-dori kungovumba ngati manna” (Midori is inabundance, just like manna) (Toast 2017).
This is a deliberately subversive element, where the rapper draws upon biblical imagery to de-scribe the abundance of the liquor. One could extend this image further to indicate that the youth regard themselves as the Israelites, under the oppression of the Egyptian pharaoh, only to be rescued by the one true God. In this case, the Midori is God-given, which is an argument that may be marshalled against those who ban the substance.
Forging a community identity
Regarding new platforms for voicing the con-cerns of the youth, Honwana (2012, 134) ar-gues that hip-hop music is evidence of new forms of citizenship among the waithood generation. This point could be applied specically to the songs examined in this paper.
The stress on alcohol consumption is just one part of a wider emphasis on consumerism of ten reected in hip-hop culture. One’s identity is forged around what one owns, often including clothes, cars, and controversially, women. This is also to be observed amongst Malawian rappers. In Malawi, “urban youth exerted their own cultural preferences and power within their practices of cultural consumption” (Man-dala 2017, 3). Central to this identity formations the consumption of alcohol, which helps to establish one’s status. A glimpse at some of the lyrics by a few of the hip-hop artists supports this fact. In the song “Mkalabongo” by Tonik, the rapper says“
Bro osazimva, suli ghetto ngati sumakala ubongo
” (Tonik 2016), stressing the point that ghetto credit, as it were, can only be gained through the drinking of hard liquor. If one really wants to be seen as being “ghetto”, then one has to partake of this hard liquor. Simi-larly, Mayar Noel (2014) sings “Ali ndi bawaamatonyada ” (he who has alcohol can walk around proudly). Such statements conrm the place of alcohol as a status symbol among the youth, or even as a fashion accessory.
Also clear is the fact that such lyrics set aspirations for the youth, who then might begin to regard alcohol as the key to entering this community. The songs about alcohol at their core ex- press for the need for communal belonging. The notion of a Midori Gang, for example, is one that shows strength in unity. In most of the songs, there is the idea of the individual as part of a community. However, this is a sense of community that is not forged on any sense of Africanness, as perhaps one might have found among the Negritude poets.
Instead, as Evan Mwangi (2007, 321) argues in a similar con-text, “[t]he personae and characters presented in the music have loose rural roots, and, in-stead of lamenting alienation from traditional culture, they celebrate their unsure identities in the city in a grammar that seems impatient with notions of national purity and rural stability…”. It is in part for this reason that we prefer to term this an alternative public sphere, or acounter-public, since it has parallels that ex-ist within the same geographic space.
Mwangi’s argument explains the constant reference to the ghetto as a shared space of suffering and endurance. The reference to this space is found in many of the songs. For example, in the song “Peter Mutharika”, Shozie (real nameKen Kalore) extends an invitation to the presi-dent of Malawi to visit the youth in the ghetto, where many frustrations abound. Like Toast, the underlying conviction in the song is that government authorities do not really care about the plight of the youth.
As Kyc Nyimbo (real name Kelvin Yamikani Chaguza) observes in his song “Machesi”, “regimes do change but things don’t change” (Nyimbo 2017). This ignoring of the youth is at the government’s own peril. The ghetto comprises the masses who struggle just to make it, one day at a time. In contrast to the earlier forms of Malawian hip-hop, which expressed an elitist, standoffish position, the current songs embrace the community. In that sense, the rap artist sees himself as the voice of that community.
Of course, in this case, it is mostly the community of the youth, who regard the government authorities as failing to pay heed to their plight. Toast (2017) further argues that the community “ain’t got no king” as “they all deserve a spot”, again emphasizing the fact that the poverty in the ghetto enforces a sense of equality that at the same time creates a bond between its inhabit-ants.
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