Thursday, July 18, 2024

A neighbour anga ni Azungu: why the fuss?

Tay Grin and Yo Maps

By John Chirwa,

The phrase ‘a neighbour anga ni azungu’ meaning my neighbours are white people has become popular in Malawi and Zambia. This follows the release of So Mone by Zambian musician Yo Maps and Malawian rapper Tay Grin.

After its release a month ago, the social media was awash with memes depicting pictures and short videos of ‘whites’ who were purported to be Tay Grin’s neighbours in the low density suburb of Area 43 in Lilongwe City.

Apparently, the song has broken records of viewership on YouTube, especially for Tay Grin. None of his songs has ever garnered one million views on YouTube. But So Mone is now trending at 9.7 million views in two months.

The song tackles the theme of love and materialism. It centres on a woman who dumped her impoverished partner for a wealthy man only for tables to turn later on in life. She comes back begging for a makeup. But the man takes none of it. Part of the song goes like this:

“So umvela bwanji

Ukantamba pa TV yako iwe

Unasanka mwamuna wa TV

Not na nzelu

Muline wenzo ona fwaka

Bantenga bena boziba

Somone, somone

Naku uza osameka

Leka fatsa zizatheka

Unani siya chabe weka

Apa ufuna tibwelerane

[So how do you feel

Seeing me on your TV

Yet you chose someone with a TV and not brains

See me now

I got chosen by someone smarter

I pleaded with you to be patient

You left me still

Now you want us back]

What follows is the verse that has been trending:

So chili bwa?

So chili bwa

Nagula nyumba ku (43)

A neighbour anga ni azungu

Ndalama zanga niza chizungu (So chili bwa?)

So chili bwa?

[See now!

I own a mansion in Area 43

My neighbours are white people

I own plenty of money in foreign currency

So how do you feel now?]

In an interview with Diamond TV Zambia presenter Chimweka Chileshe, Tay Grin was challenged that perhaps it is “primitive thinking [to] celebrate that your neighbours are white people”. Asked Chileshe: “Why make a fuss about it?”

But Tay Grin was naïve in his response. Perhaps deliberately ignoring the substance of the question.

“It’s not a fuss. It’s a fact. My neighbours are [indeed] white people,” he said while laughing.

On the flipside of it, all the host wanted to know was what’s so special with a white person being your neighbour? Isn’t that glorifying a particular race?

In my view, So Mone, to some extent, reproduces, perpetuates and normalises coloniality – “the process that allows the hierarchical construction, differentiation, and domination of other cultures based on the invention of ‘races’.”

In ‘Communicative Justice in the Pluriverse: An international dialogue’, Pedro-Carañana et al (2023) argue that the existence of “races” as a sociocultural construction is used to legitimise white, Western domination and violence over other races. The authors note that this is expressed in three dimensions: coloniality of power (racism – whites projecting themselves as racially superior over other races), coloniality of knowledge (that Euro-centric knowledge is superior over other knowledges), and coloniality of being (an understanding that the colonised can only exist as an imitation of Western culture, but not as themselves).

Music in this case, like any other art form such as theatre of the oppressed, has previously been used as a site of struggle or a decolonial tool for the subalterns to speak back to the centre on dominant paradigms, including racism.

But here we have two celebrated artists with a combined followership of about two million people on Facebook celebrating coloniality. This may normalise the thinking that one race is superior to the other, especially among their fans. As musicians, they need to be mindful of both the form and structure of their artworks. Otherwise, Yo Maps and Tay Grin lost an opportunity to use music as a communication tool to challenge the dominant world system.

*The author is a PhD candidate in Global Development at the University of East Anglia, UK

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