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Who has the word? MC Azagaia’s intervention into past and politics in Mozambique


Abstract and Figures

Martins, Rosana & Canevacci, Massimo (eds.), Lusophone Hip-hop: ’Who we are’ and ‘Where we are’: Identity, urban culture and belonging, Pp. 222–239. Oxford: Sean Kingston Publishing Who has the word? MC Azagaia’s intervention into past and politics in Mozambique draws mainly on Mozambican electronic material from 2007–2009, consisting of the rapper Azagaia’s music, lyrics and music videos, and discussions about the artist and his work. Email interviews were also conducted with the artist himself and with the sociologist Elísio Macamo, who has publicly criticised Azagaia. The focus is upon three of Azagaia’s songs (2007, 2008, 2009), and specifically the debates they provoked; the public association between the artist and the popular revolts in 2008 and 2010; and consequent interest in the artist shown by the Mozambican authorities. Povo no Poder (People in Power, Azagaia 2008), a song describing popular revolt and suppression, is analysed as an example of the mutual and intimate relationship between imagination and reality in rap music. Two other songs are also analysed: As Mentiras da Verdade (Lies of Truth, Azagaia 2007) and Combatentes da Fortuna (Soldiers of Fortune, Azagaia 2009). As Mentiras da Verdade became linked to a campaign against Azagaia in the Mozambican press and social media. Combatentes da Fortuna is analysed alongside the auto-justifying historical narratives of Mozambican politicians that the song contests. The article concludes that elite efforts to marginalise Azagaia were linked to his liminal role as a popular artist and opinion-maker. This role enabled an impressive mobilisation of the “power of the weak” to occur. [a chapter, already written and accepted years ago, but published only in 2018, can be found online as a part of my PhD: ]
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In the first days of September 2010, the world heard exceptional news from
Mozambique, which has a reputation of being a stable country. Angry
mobs had blocked the streets of the capital city Maputo with burning tyres,
destroying shops and stoning cars. This destruction of property provoked
the police to use heavy measures. One of the thirteen victims of the violence,
whose death was officially reported, was a schoolboy shot unintentionally by
the police. These events had followed a rise in the price of bread and were
called an illegal strike, riot or rebellion. The prices of water, petrol, electricity
and rice had also risen dramatically. However, the reasons for the events were
not limited to such material causes. They were also connected to a conflict
between social groups over different interpretations of the nations recent past.
Immediately after these events, the media began paying attention to the
critical rap artist Azagaia (whose real name is Edson da Luz), and to his videos
and lyrics, which are freely available on the Internet. Born in , he lives
in Maputo, has studied communication and works in advertising. His family
background would typically be described as middle class. His father is from
Cape Verde, which, like Mozambique, was a Portuguese colony. Portuguese
media claimed that Azagaia’s song ‘Povo no Poder’ (‘People in Power’), which
he’d written after the last big rebellions in , clearly reflected the social
dynamics and problems behind the events. This song also offered slogans used
by the demonstrators (Lorena, ; Louçã, ; RTP Notícias ). In this
essay we focus on the role of Azagaia in events like the Bread Rebellion by
considering his music and the public discussion it provoked in Mozambique.
Who has the word?
MC Azagaias intervention into past
and politics in Mozambique
A P  J R
In Mozambique, the government pays subventions to the bakeries and
sets a maximum price for bread. The government’s decision to raise prices
was justified by the rise in the cost of food and energy in the global market.
Floods in Australia, a drought in Russia and international speculation with the
prices of grain in the year  pushed the Mozambican administration into
a corner, and the government increased the prices of food and energy several
times during a short period. Consequently, many of the citizens, particularly
those who earn only a minimum salary, felt they could no longer survive.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens were invited to take to the streets through
text messages. The aim of the rebellion was to reduce living costs.
The situation was complex. The price rises were seen as a serious and
acceptable cause for the actions, at least in the Portuguese media. On the
other hand, the destruction of property, violence and general recklessness
were widely condemned. The Minister of Internal Affairs in Mozambique,
José Pacheco, and the President of Republic, Armando Guebuza, threw
labels familiar from the civil war at the demonstrators, calling them ‘vandals’,
‘hooligans’ and criminals’, and requested them to stay calm and return to
work (O País online a; Rossi ; Visão ). The opposition and other
commentators criticized the police violence and the arrogant tone of the
government, but generally the media painted a picture of a mob that could not
channel its anger ‘in the right way’ (O País online b).
In addition to suffering and economic losses, the rebellion brought about
the retreat of the government and a cancellation of the rise in prices. Many
commentators, like the historian Leandro Cruz (), called the Bread
Rebellion the first revolution or uprising principally organized with the use
of mobile phones, followed a few months later by uprisings in Northern
Africa. The commentators didn’t give much attention to the fact that not only
social media but some art forms, particularly music, filled in the gaps left by
mainstream media.
The rebellion, Azagaia’s songs and their reception can inform us about
wider issues concerning the positions of, and tensions between, different
social groups in Mozambique. In our material we focus on three groups:
the politicians, who are often ex-combatants of the Independence War; the
social scientists participating in public debates; and finally, Azagaia and ‘the
people’ – the majority of economically disadvantaged Mozambicans, who,
in his view, he represents. Politicians are largely critiqued by Azagaia in his
lyrics and in his other public statements. The social scientists and ‘the people’
are discussed in terms of comments made by the academics themselves and
through Azagaia’s music. We cannot conclude very much about gender or
ethno-linguistic distinctions based on our material. For instance, apart from
some female journalists, who have chiefly mediated Azagaia’s comments to
Who has the word? MC Azagaia, past and politics in Mozambique
the public, women have not participated in those debates. A significant gap
between the generations of Mozambique, such a young nation, which only
gained its independence in , can mainly be observed implicitly.
In Mozambique, the official nationalism stresses the Independence War of
– and the significant economic growth since s. Frente de Libertação
de Moçambique (The Liberation Front of Mozambique), or Frelimo, which
has changed from a liberation movement to forming the country’s dominant
political party, is represented as a principal actor in both phases. The civil war
between these periods and the extensive poverty which still continues in spite
of the economic growth are not so publicly remembered. Events like the Bread
Rebellion can be connected to the historical struggles. When the poor appear
in the streets, they demand not only bread but also their inclusion in a national
narrative, which, in this case, is one of success. Our aim here is to compare two
distant national narratives, which we observe through Azagaia’s music and the
reactions it has provoked. Azagaia could be interpreted as deconstructing the
so-called development narrative, which is maintained by the government and
international donors. This narrative leans on the idea of economic growth
realized by means of development co-operation and the liberalization of the
economy. This has created a co-dependence between the government and
the donors, which further influences political decisions. On the other hand,
the popular corruption narrative expressed by Azagaia, amongst others,
focuses on poverty and other social problems that the government seems to
be unwilling to resolve.
Azagaia and socially critical rap
Azagaia’s social criticism recalls the early phases of hip-hop, when groups such
as Public Enemy were making aggressive political statements. The ground-
breaking artists brought up social issues and injustices by, for example, paying
attention to mainstream media’s racism. Indeed, Public Enemy’s Chuck D
considers hip-hop to be black people’s CNN (Lusane 2004). Such messages
were often supported by strong, sometimes aggressive sounding, simple beats
and samples that left space for the lyrics and social criticism.
Hip-hop and rap music have become a form of cultural expression that
has a relationship with both political consciousness and identity issues. Rap
music easily adapts to local musical characteristics, so both African American
influence and local cultural expressions are present. It is for these reasons
that musicologist Tony Mitchell () argues that rap music has become
the protest music of youth, discussing many kinds of social issues in many
It has also been noticed that hip-hop has become an important channel
of expression for poor youth, as well as way to improve self-respect, and
Anna Pöysä & Janne Rantala
Tanzanian bongo flava hip-hop and Senegalese rap can be taken as examples
of this. At the same time, the widening popularity of rap has at times created
clashes between critical and commercial forms (Benga ; Huusko ).
On the other hand, political leaders and parties also try to encourage hip-hop
and pop stars to support them, and thus gain legitimacy for their campaigns:
Figure 2 Azagaia salutes Samora Machel in front of his statue. Machel was a first
president of independent Mozambique and chairman of the Frelimo party (image by
Janne Rantala, 2012).
Who has the word? MC Azagaia, past and politics in Mozambique
in some countries gangsta rappers like Tupac Amaru Shakur have been
appropriated as icons of the armed forces (Utas and Jörgel ).
Azagaia mentions the critical American rapper Talib Kweli, Nigerian
Afrobeat artist Fela Kuti, and reggae star Bob Marley as his role models. As
a fundamental source of inspiration, he mentions the Mozambican poet, José
Craveirinha, whose work has led him to write socially critical music. He sees
himself as Craveirinha’s follower (Azagaia ). Craveirinha (–) is
one of the country’s most influential and award-winning poets. His poems
address racism, and in the s Craveirinha was a prisoner of Portugal’s
security police for his connection to Frelimo. Later on, however, his poetry
was criticized for not being sufficiently revolutionary.
When discussing rap in Mozambique it’s important to take into account
the special position of Maputo as the country’s urban capital, where many
social questions are aggravated by groups belonging to different social classes
living in close proximity to each other. In Maputo, there are fancy cars,
cafes and restaurants that the wealthier young people and foreign workers
frequent, but at the same time there are street kids, informal street vendors
and women begging with children on their backs. Maputo is also the centre of
urban culture, although hip-hop is popular elsewhere in the country too. The
proximity of South Africa and influences brought from there by workers and
students can also be heard in the musical expressions of Maputo.
Azagaia’s aggressive social critique is exceptional also in the context of
other Mozambican hip-hop. The nearest reference might be the Portuguese
MCValete, with whom Azagaia has collaborated. Azagaia () himself tells
us in an email interview that in the beginning he got attention as a symbol of
freedom of expression. Later, when his popularity grew, censorship started
and, according to him, still continues. Azagaia says that his music is not
broadcast on the radio anymore, nor are his videos shown on television, as
they were at the beginning of his career. The reason for this might be that
journalists are afraid of promoting him. Does such repression reveal that his
critique is valid, because the act of repression is an implicit admission of its
Azagaia in Mozambican blog discussions
Azagaia was initially noticed in the Mozambican blogosphere in April/May
2007, when his first solo song, As Mentiras da Verdade’ (‘The Lies of Truth’),
which will be discussed in further detail, was released. At that time there
were only 200,000 Internet users in Mozambique, which corresponds to
1 per cent of the population (CIA, 2011). Links to the song and the video
published by sociologist Carlos Serra (2007a, 2007b) in his popular blog Diário
de um Sociólogo (Diary of a Sociologist) provoked some of his colleagues to
Anna Pöysä & Janne Rantala
react quickly. The debate soon spread to the traditional media. Generalizing
broadly, the tone of the news regarding Azagaia has been neutral or positive in
privately owned journals and newspapers (Beúla 2007; Langa 2009), whereas
the government related newspaper Notícias has mainly published columns by
sociologists criticizing Azagaia.
Taking into account the large number of texts criticizing Azagaia, their
academic prestige and the institutional forum, it is possible to speak of a small,
probably rather spontaneously formed campaign against Azagaia (Langa
; Macamo ). The most active Azagaia critic’ is sociologist Patrício
Langa, who wrote thirteen posts regarding Azagaia in his blog, B’andhla, in his
most active phase over the  months from November, . Most of these
posts were lengthy and some were published in newspaper Notícias. The
most active defender of Azagaia is Serra, who has referred to Azagaia in his
blog numerous times since April . Most of the times Serra has published
a link to news regarding Azagaia and his work, sometimes comparing him to
respected musicians or poets, such as Craveirinha, or praising his honesty
and civil courage. Serra has also many times described Azagaia as a social
critic and a genuine expert of ‘music as social intervention, declaring that a
democratic society needs this kind of talented critic in order to develop.
In their blogs, sociologists Patrício Langa and Elísio Macamo have
concluded that Azagaia’s activities are not useful for Mozambican society,
rather the contrary. Macamo () has focused his criticism of Azagaia on
his mixing of social criticism with emotional outbursts as a way of constructing
a corrupted and hostile inner enemy of the people, which in Macamo’s view
continues the tradition of failed social discussion. Langa () has accused
Azagaia of presenting untrue or unconfirmed allegations and of offending
politicians. He has also criticized Serra indirectly for valuing common sense
knowledge as much as academic knowledge, and for replacing reason with
Actually Azagaia, as he himself also admits, doesn’t come up with anything
new, he just repeats what the people in the street corners and staircases say,
which is popular knowledge. This kind of knowledge is knowledge of those
that don’t have time or patience to live with doubts when they consider their
premises. It is common sense knowledge, a priori, intuitive, unsystematic.
In reality it is non-knowledge or lack of knowledge. Azagaia doesn’t ask but
answers. And the answers he offers aren’t new.
(Langa 2007)
Langa’s intention is to express his position regarding sociology of
knowledge, but we will discuss Langa’s position from the perspective of a
Who has the word? MC Azagaia, past and politics in Mozambique
tension between the official national narrative and the experiences of the
citizens. This brings us to the old doctrinal question of what the characteristics
of socially significant truths are. For some, the so-called common-sense
truths aren’t significant. What follows Langa’s perception is that those living
under the poverty line, those that cannot read well or are busy with their
work which is by far the majority of Mozambicans: their experiences and
perceptions aren’t interesting and transmitting them doesn’t have scientific,
or barely even artistic, value. On the other hand, different perspectives have
been brought up in the lusophone world. Sociologist Boaventura de Sousa
Santos () writes that the modern concept of science has led to wasting
large amounts of knowledge exactly by stigmatizing ‘non-scientific’ knowledge
as common-sense knowledge that has no value. Santos considers that these
kinds of knowledge should be re-valued, and that this would lead to a better
knowledge and perception of the world. He emphasises that the different
knowledges – scientific and ‘non-scientific’ – complement each other. In this
sense hip-hop, too, is right to promote non-scientific knowledge.
It seems that Macamo and Langa cannot accept serious researchers
considering hip-hop seriously and promoting awareness of it. They have
become annoyed because the music of ‘azagaias’ – referring to the young
rappers of the country – is praised by terms, such as intervention and social
criticism, that are normally used to justify social science and which, according
to Macamo (), would better suit ‘responsible Mozambican sociology’.
Macamo () has admitted, though, that Azagaia is lyrically very skilful and
artistic. In our interview with him, Macamo () also described a potential
focus on Azagaia as a ‘myth-making of a dubious kind’. However, we have to
mention that Macamo himself and his colleagues have discussed Azagaia in
their blogs quite extensively already since .
Azagaia’s music
As Mentiras da Verdade’ (‘The Lies of Truth’)
Azagaia’s first socially critical hit As Mentiras da Verdade’ was published in
April 2007 on YouTube and then on the album Babalaze at the end of that year.
The beat of the song is lighter than in some of his other songs, for example
‘Povo no Poder’, and it transmits a sad, maybe even nostalgic feeling. This
underlines the seriousness of the message and the sadness and desperateness
of Mozambique’s situation, but on the other hand it perhaps also mitigates the
sharpness of the criticism.
In ‘As Mentiras da Verdade’ Azagaia lists unsolved cases of the recent past,
such as President Machel’s death in a plane accident in  and the journalist
Cardoso’s murder in . The music video (Azagaia b) starts with a
quote from Mozambique’s constitution mentioning freedom of expression and
Anna Pöysä & Janne Rantala
forbidding censorship. After the text, there follows a scene in which Azagaia,
working with his laptop and piles of paper, receives a call in which his life is
threatened. There is a very tense atmosphere throughout the video, in which
Azagaia is chased and then at the end he is shot, after saying ‘You can even kill
me, but you can’t silence the truth.’ An interesting dimension of the song is its
verbal aspect – the accusations are preceded by the sentence ‘se eu te dissesse
(‘if I told you’). In this way Azagaia is supposing what might happen if he, in
his own name, brought up these sensitive issues directly accusing the leaders
of the country. The video confirms what the listener ends up considering
Azagaia refers to threats to life. In a way he takes his place in the same group as
Cardoso, economist António Siba-Siba Macuácua and musician Pedro Langa,
all of whom are mentioned in the song for having been murdered in obscure
situations. Indeed, at the time of their deaths, Cardoso and Macuácua were
both investigating issues that, if proven, would have put persons on the top of
the power hierarchy in a difficult position. Against this background it is easy
to understand why Azagaia’s arrest on  July , accused of possession of
cannabis, just moments before his concert and the premiere of a music video
‘Minha Geração’ (‘My Generation’), caused lot of suspicion (O País online
). The artist was freed after two days to wait for the trial.
The lyrics of As Mentiras da Verdade’ highlight another truth, the
corruption of Mozambican politicians, companies and relief agencies and
their inter-relationships. The song also refers to the tradition of revolution
as represented by President Samora Machel, which has been buried due to
the greediness of the succeeding leaders, making it possible for them to keep
on lying to the people. In our interview, Azagaia () says that for him
Machel represents the fight for a more equal Mozambique. The lyrics bring
up the views of ‘ordinaryMozambicans on the dark moments of the recent
past of Mozambique. The questions and accusations, which in the context of
international hip-hop are rather moderate, were felt very strongly, as becomes
visible in Patrício Langa’s () and Elísio Macamo’s () reactions.
Although the sociologists’ discussion regarding Azagaia interests a limited
number of readers, not least due to its vocabulary, it doesn’t concern only
doctrinal differences. It tells about the social structure of Mozambique and
about relationships between different social groups. The reactions raised
by As Mentiras da Verdade’ have been most heated and at the same time,
doctrinal. We will discuss a few lines regarding President Samora Machel’s
Who has the word? MC Azagaia, past and politics in Mozambique
E se eu te dissesse/Que Samora foi assasinado/Por gente do governo/que até
hoje finge que procura o culpado.
(And if I told you/ that Samora was murdered/ by the people in the
government/ that still claims to be looking for the guilty.)
(Azagaia 2007b)
Patrício Langa analyses the lines in the following manner: a) allusion:
if I told you that; b) conclusion: Samora was murdered; and c) premise: by
the people in the government that still claims to be looking for the guilty.
‘So far there isn’t enough evidence to rightly say that [President Samora]
Machel was assassinated, and even less that this was done by the government.
Furthermore, by which [state’s] government?’ (Langa ).
According to Langa, these of questions and this kind of reasoning are not
sufficient justification for Azagaia’s emotionally motivated belief that Samora
was murdered. Reason is, however, needed in real social criticism, while
emotions are purely for outbursts.
Is Azagaia, then, an artist that repeats irrational conspiracy theories, as
Patrício Langa () argues in his text? It needs to be taken into account
that the mystery of Samora’s death has been investigated by many journalists
and researchers. Historian David Alexander Robinson () concludes in
his text regarding Machel’s possible assassination, that it is still difficult to be
certain whether it was an accident or an assassination, although the number
of unresolved questions and the evidence seem to point to assassination.
According to Robinson, finding the guilty is especially difficult, as many, in
Mozambique and in the neighbouring countries, as well as in the superpowers,
would have had a motive for assassinating Machel. However, researching the
contradicting perceptions and their backgrounds was fruitful in Robinsons
view, as it gave new information regarding Frelimo’s significant internal
tensions during the civil war. One possible motive for the ‘assassination’ could
have been Machel’s declared commitment to eradicating corruption amongst
the army generals by changing some officers. This is the hypothesis – or
conspiracy theory one of Machel’s trusted journalists, the talented Carlos
Cardoso, believed in until his own death in , although he admitted that
he still didn’t have enough evidence. Cardoso’s own murder was most probably
related to his last inquiries in November , regarding misappropriation of
 million dollars from Banco Austral and a recent massacre in Cabo Delgado
province, in which approximately one hundred opposition protesters were
killed (Fauvet and Mosse ).
The lyrics and the video of As Mentiras da Verdade’, which starts with
Azagaia busy researching, then running from armed men and finally being
shot, can be understood as a thriller-like narrative that refers to Cardoso’s
Anna Pöysä & Janne Rantala
writings and tragic destiny: ‘If I told you that Samora was murdered. But,
especially in this case, Langa’s () logical critique is not a good tool for
analysing the song. It is difficult not to wonder about the appropriateness of
the expectations the researchers apply to the young artists’ lyrics’ logic and
‘Povo no Poder’ (‘People in Power’)
‘Povo no Poder was originally released after the chapa [minibuses]
demonstrations’ in February 2008. The prices of chapa tickets had risen before
the events. The chapa demonstrations were quite similar to the events of 1–2
September 2010: angry citizens were demonstrating on streets blocked with
barricades. In his video, Azagaia performs his song in a studio (Azagaia 2008).
The song has a simple beat and a short repeating sample, which leaves
space for Azagaia’s angry expression. The sample is possibly played with an
African chord instrument, which recalls the Mozambican marrabenta music
style. The refrain is simple, staying in the listener’s mind through its repetition
of povo no poder’. The song begins with Azagaia’s remark that the people,
asleep until yesterday, would lose their nightly sleep because of their miserable
wages. When prices are rising they don’t have any security and therefore
violence and rioting seem to be the only solutions for the people: ‘O povo sai
de casa e atira pra o primeiro vidro. (The people leave their homes to break
the first window.)’
Referring to the paternalistic advice from politicians, Azagaia answers
that the demonstrators are not afraid. There is a description concerning the
president, who has left his luxurious palace and who now gets to know’ that
life in Mozambique is not easy. The people pay taxes without receiving any
social security.
Que venham com gás lacrimogéneo/a greve tá cheia de oxigénio/não param
o nosso desempenho/eu vou lutar/ não me abstenho.
(You can come with tear gas/ the strike is full of oxygen/ you will not stop
our action/ I will fight/ and won’t stay away.)
Se o meu filho adoece fica entregue a sua sorte/enquanto isso, esse teu filho
está saudável e forte.
(If my child gets sick, he is left to rely on his luck/ meanwhile your child
stays healthy and strong.)
(Azagaia 2008)
The song is like an ultimatum: if politicians do not work to improve the
people’s conditions, then they have to prepare for rioting and the destruction
of property. The ultimatum is strengthened by a recitation of a list of
Who has the word? MC Azagaia, past and politics in Mozambique
Mozambican cities the whole country is present in the struggle. ‘Povo no
Poder’ is mainly an invitation for action and an expression of support to the
angry, demonstrating Mozambicans. It is also kind of a warning to wealthy,
corrupt politicians. As such, it materialized the perspectives of the protesting
citizens. Therefore, it is not a surprise that the song received attention again
in September . ‘Povo no Poder’ is Azagaia’s only song to have received so
much official attention that he was interrogated by a prosecutor, in April .
It was alleged that Azagaia had threatened the national security and agitated
for violence. However, he was never formally accused.
The reactions of Azagia’s critics and representatives of the Mozambican
state could be seen as reflecting their concern regarding Azagaia’s influence
on the people. They were worried, as his music has probably broadened the
people’s view of their political agency. Azagaia’s own view of his role is the
It is difficult to estimate how much have I affected people, but one thing is
clear: myself as Azagaia, and also perhaps Azagaia as a social phenomenon,
together with local press/media, have contributed towards the people feeling
more free to say what they think.
(Louçã 2010)
Quite interestingly, the rapper, in his songs, tells the listener that he is
part of the people; but in our interview, on the other hand, Azagaia () also
defines himself as a central actor in the social change, above the masses as a
part of the vanguard. He expresses solidarity with the revolt, but complains
that in general the people fear too much change and let themselves believe
lies. In conclusion, we might say that Azagaia expresses here as well as in other
songs a narration of the misery of ‘the people’, which is a result of corruption,
greediness on the part of the politicians and their unwillingness to seek for
solutions for the problems facing the poor majority of Mozambicans. The
bright spot in this sad story is the utopian awakening of the people to stand
up for their rights when encouraged by artists like him.
‘Combatentes da Fortuna’ (‘Combatants of Fortune’)
The official nationalisms in Southern Africa emphasize the heroism of ‘the
founding fathers’, and this line of narrative is often used to legitimize the
authority of the present-day leading politicians. In his song ‘Combatentes da
Fortuna, Azagaia strongly denies this legitimization. Azagaia has mentioned
that the repressive social situation in neighbouring Zimbabwe inspired him to
compose the song. The piece is addressed to the leaders of Africa who do not
respect their peoples. ‘Vocês não são libertadores, são combatentes da fortuna/
Anna Pöysä & Janne Rantala
E a liberdade existirá até onde for oportuna.’ (‘You are not liberators/ you are
combatants of fortune/ and liberty exists only if you benefit from it.’) (Azagaia
Azagaia sings about the struggle for independence and its heroes, who
were worshipped by the people. Today, the leading politicians, many of whom
participated in the struggles for independence, focus on growing their own
private property and power, which is legitimized in the narratives of success.
The transfer from balalaika shirts to ties symbolizes the transfer from
socialism to capitalism, and to willingness to please the West. Here, as well as
in ‘Povo no Poder, the thought that in the end the people have the freedom
to choose and possibility to overthrow the liars and the thieves is repeated.
Simple beats and a piano sample, familiar elements from American hip-hop,
leave space for Azagaia’s powerful rapping in which the government’s rhetoric
is turned upside down.
The video, Azagaia (), illustrates the story of the transfer from
the struggle for independence to the personal combat of the politicians for
their own private welfare. There are also fragments of speeches by the first
president of the republic, Samora Machel, which appear as direct charges
against politicians who exploit their power. In Mozambique, Machel has an
ambivalent role in national narratives as, particularly for many inhabitants of
peripheral neighbourhoods, ‘Samora’ represents a contrast to contemporary
politicians’ greediness and social inequality, but he is equally celebrated in
official state ceremonies. Azagaia’s video represents the popular version of
Samora. At first there is the request by Machel: Ask for forgiveness!’; which
recalls the early years of independence in Mozambique, when so-called
traitors were heard in mass meetings at which they had to express their
repentance and ask for forgiveness. At the end of the video Machel declares
to the people that it is impossible to develop welfare among thieves, and that
therefore they have to be chased away: ‘And nobody chases them away except
you [the people]’.
The rapper and the sociologist
Answers to our email interviews with Azagaia (the rapper) and Macamo (the
sociologist) revealed two different political positions in Mozambican society.
According to Macamo (2011), intellectuals and artists do not have a mission:
‘Rather, they have their work to do. Intellectuals (if they are academic) have
to teach well, do research and publish. Artists have to go about their work in
similar fashion, i.e. with professionalism.’ The sociologist emphasizes the ideal
that both groups should live according to their own moral commitments, to
State functionaries used to dress in balalaika shirts and trousers during Machel’s regime.
Who has the word? MC Azagaia, past and politics in Mozambique
be good citizens, committed to creating a society which respects the dignity
of each individual. Intellectuals have different values, which good society
accepts. There is no need to further organize or develop co-operation between
these groups. He, however, mentions that he has trained journalists to use
their sources in more critical ways.
The rapper, on the other hand, argues that these two groups are opinion
leaders with certain responsibilities. Music can help in understanding society
and seeking for new alternatives, and research should also improve people’s
lives. Azagaia tells that he is pleased that he has been invited many times to
seminars where the issues he sings about are discussed: ‘I see myself as a social
critic. While society cannot evolve without critique, I see myself as an actor of
evolution in society, of which I am a part myself.’ (Azagaia ).
Macamo () does not accept the vandalism practised by the masses
in the Bread Rebellion, and he condemns not only the hard methods
of the police, but also the unwillingness of the opposition, including
Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM) (Democratic Movement
of Mozambique) of which Azagaia was a member, to condemn rioting. He
says that he understands the anger of the rioters because of their economic
situation, but emphasizes the fact that Mozambique’s fragile democracy
cannot withstand such violent rebellions as well as wealthier nations, such as
France, for example. The point of view taken by Azagaia () concerning the
rebellion is based more strongly on the social rights of the people. He sees that
the power of the people materialized in the riots, as the government eventually
scrapped the planned price raises. The rapper, however, does mention that he
prefers peaceful methods.
The differences between the points of views of the interviewees could
be interpreted through the concepts of professionalism and liminality. The
views of the sociologist represent a professional position, which, according
to anthropologist Ulf Hannertz (), is typical for the professional-class
‘intelligentsia’ – contrary to the ‘intellectuals’ who generally fit poorly into the
capitalist distribution of labour. In that sense the latter resemble artists and
activists who remain quasi-liminal.
Patrício Langa () represents even more hierarchical professionalism
than Elísio Macamo when he analyses the lyrics through logical analysis.
Azagaia’s position is more liminal. He is a young rap musician, but also an
activist with a university background. Azagaia does not emphasize his work in
Liminality is known particularly through the work of anthropologist Victor Turner (,
) and refers to social states and experiences outside of everyday structures. Liminality
comes from the Latin word limen, which means a threshold. Liminality can be found outside
of its original context in scenarios such as initiation rites or, for example, in the lack of
defining positions for intellectuals and artists within social-class structures.
Anna Pöysä & Janne Rantala
itself, but rather the social critique it forms, to which he is committed as a part
of social movement. Sociologists are easy to define as a part of professional
middle class, but Azagaia is more difficult to locate, although we know that
he is from a middle-class family from Maputo, and that he sympathizes with
the revolt.
Perhaps the sociologists who criticize Azagaia haven’t observed that
the meanings of music are not constituted only of words but, according the
concepts of phenomenological philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (),
they have also a pre-conceptual aspect. Sounds, rhythms, melodies and tones
precede the textual significances and act as a frame of interpretation for them.
Ethnomusicologists have widely observed that the significances of music are
not limited to partial factors such as melody or lyrics (Cooley and Bartz ).
Probably the irritation of the sociologists is partially a result of bodily reaction
to the musical whole, and not so much to lyrics, although academics often
find it easier to focus on textual aspects. In this case, however, an essential
part of musical experience, of which artistic impression is constituted, and
which in rap and hip-hop constitutes its social phenomenology, ‘the CNN of
the poor urban black people’, remains outside of perception. It is, however,
understandable to experience a rap rhythm negatively if we take into account
that the rhythm is aggressive and, in this case, associated with riots, especially
if one perceives at any level that one’s social class, and in the case of the riots
also one’s property, is a target of this aggression. Although the sociologists
Macamo and Langa do not directly refer to a struggle between ‘high’ and ‘low’
cultures, we can also read at least an implicit irritation with popular culture,
particularly in Langa’s texts.
We illustrate the mentioned aggressiveness by Azagaia’s song A Marcha
(‘The March‘), which could also function as a slogan for the demonstrations
(or may actually turn performative situations into demonstrations): Ladrões –
fora/corruptos – fora/assassinos – fora/gritem comigo pra essa gente ir embora.
(‘Thieves – out/ the corrupt – out/ assassins out/ shout with me to get rid of
these people’.) (Azagaia a).
The artist and the revolution
Azagaia’s songs and the events of September are clearly in conflict with the
development narrative of the elite and international donors. This situation
can be approached through Gayatri Spivak’s (1994) concept of the subaltern.
The majority of the population, especially women, do not have their voice
heard because of the social structure within which they live, and therefore
their opinions and living conditions remain without attention – or emerge
powerfully and violently in situations like the Bread Rebellion. The above-
mentioned way of speaking, in which the leaders of the country stigmatize
Who has the word? MC Azagaia, past and politics in Mozambique
those who participated in the rebellion, serves to maintain this silence. It can
be argued that Azagaia represents the stigmatized population, and this is how
he himself also sees his role. On the other hand, as Spivak (1994) argues, it
is also problematic that the experiences of this group of people are always
brought up by someone representing them. In this way, a situation arises in
which the description of the issues and suggested solutions involved do not
emerge directly from the experiences of those represented.
Azagaia () sees that the mission of an artist is to communicate the
opinions of the people and to be an opinion leader. He believes that social
criticism is a condition for social development. For him, the artist’s role is
to reflect people’s life, past and dreams. Azagaia’s views are similar to Frantz
Fanon’s () thoughts regarding the meaning of culture and the artists role
in decolonisation. Whereas Fanon wrote on culture’s significance during
colonialism, Azagaia works in a situation where the problems are not a
consequence of traditional colonialism, but a result of new combination of
local and international politics. For Fanon, the artist, and especially the writer,
needs to work among the people and work towards waking them up, so that
they start improving their conditions themselves.
Azagaia’s view of his role in the Mozambican society is similar to that of
many other African artists. For example, the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe
felt that African writers should consider themselves as teachers of their
people, and try to create and facilitate social changes. By setting his novels
in the past, Achebe thought that he needed to show his people that they do
have their own history which is different from the one written by colonialism
(Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin ). Azagaia, too, brings up cultures that have
remained in the shadow because of colonialism. For example, such references
are made by using local languages – Azagaia’s  album is titled Cubaliwa,
which means ‘birth’ in Sena, and his artistic name means ‘hunting spearin
Bantu languages. It can also be considered that Azagaia re-writes the recent
history of the country, which serves as a background for the current situation
and paves the way for the future.
Azagaia’s lyrics and the discussion around them show how Mozambique,
like many other post-conflict societies, is a country of contradicting narratives.
It is essential in our research to show how the contradictions, as well as
shared aspects, between the different groups appear in this discussion. As a
comparison, one could think about how long it took for a coherent research
tradition regarding Finland’s civil war in  to come into existence. In that
case, it took a long time to give up the opposing ideas of the liberation-war
tradition, sympathetic to the Whites, and the class-war tradition, sympathetic
to the Reds. For a long period popular views regarding the war were also
strongly conflicting (Lindholm ; Turunen ). On the other hand, it
Anna Pöysä & Janne Rantala
seems that in Mozambique there are unifying aspects too, as, for example,
both Azagaia and his critic Macamo amongst many others – give value to
José Craveirinha’s poetry, and agree on the nature of Mozambique’s problems.
Both also emphasize the role of education in Mozambique’s future. Therefore,
if it is assumed that cohesion of a national narrative has value, there are
elements to draw on for this purpose. However, there seem to be even more
elements for sharpening the contradictions.
Azagaia’s role in situations like the Bread Rebellion reveals how it is
possible to bring up silenced perspectives and also to generate important
social discussion through music. Regardless of the potential risks, the liminal
position of the artist makes it possible to introduce independent, objective
statements which embody the so-called power of the weak. His music also
brings up contradictions that are related to interpreting Mozambique’s recent
past, and in a larger context, the near past, present and future of other African
Our analysis also reveals cracks in the national narrative in a country
where the story of successful development is often underlined, while the
situation of the majority is still difficult. This sparks bread rebellions. On the
other hand, the reactions of those in power reflect the reluctance to take these
kind of situations seriously or to commit to improving the people’s conditions
and opportunities. It is of course difficult to say how much Azagaia, taking
the place of a ‘voice of the people’, can influence politicians, but at least many
questions have received attention because of him. If the people can afford
mobile phones but not public transport or enough of food, and if, on top of
that, they feel that they cannot improve their conditions by peaceful means,
the consequences in the future may be severe. Azagaia is right when he
says that it is necessary to listen to ‘the people’, or rather different groups of
citizens, and that art – and science too – can give them a voice. At the same
time, we are aware of the problematic nature of this approach.
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Endast avhandlingens sammandrag. Pappersexemplaret av hela avhandlingen finns för läsesalsbruk i Statsvetenskapliga biblioteket (Unionsgatan 35). Dessa avhandlingar fjärrutlånas endast som microfiche. Abstract only. The paper copy of the whole thesis is available for reading room use at the Library of Social Sciences (Unioninkatu 35) . Microfiche copies of these theses are available for interlibrary loans. Vain tiivistelmä. Opinnäytteiden sidotut arkistokappaleet ovat luettavissa HY:n keskustakampuksen valtiotieteiden kirjastossa (Unioninkatu 35). Opinnäytteitä lainataan ainoastaan mikrokortteina kirjaston kaukopalvelun välityksellä Työ on etnografinen tutkielma Dar es Salaamin kaduilla talouden epävirallisella sektorilla työskentelevistä nuorista miehistä. Tarkoituksena on selvittää maaseudulta Tansanian suurimpaan kaupunkiin mielekkäämmän elämän perässä muuttaneiden nuorten selviytymisstrategioita, verkostoitumista ja kulttuurisia keinoja tuottaa yhteisöllisyyttä olosuhteissa, jossa on käynnissä voimakas yhteiskunnallinen eriytymiskehitys. Taustalla on Dar es Salaamin kiihkeä kaupungistuminen, jonka johdosta kaupungin kadut ovat täynnä nuoria, joille ei ole tarjolla virallista työtä. Kaupungin kaduilla toimeentulonsa hankkiessaan katunuoret elävät lähes päivittäisessä yhteenottojen tilassa kaupunginpoliisin kanssa. Tutkielmassa esitetään etnografinen kuvaus yhdestä kadunkulman kohtaus- ja markkinapaikasta siellä päivänsä viettävien nuorten miesten näkökulmasta. He kokevat elävänsä voimakkaassa ristitulessa, sillä he eivät ole saavuttaneet taloudellista vakautta eivätkä kunniallista statusta tansanialaisessa yhteiskunnassa. Kaupungin kaduilla eläessään he pyrkivät kohti kunnioitetumpaa statusta ja samalla tuottavat oman yhteisönsä piirissä jatkuvuuden ja tasapainon olosuhteita. Tutkielmassa kiinnitetään erityinen huomio Afrikan ja Atlantin takaisen diasporan väliseen kulttuuriseen vuorovaikutukseen, joka näkyy Dar es Salaamin kaduilla jamaikalaisesta rastafariliikkeestä vaikutteita saaneissa ajattelutavoissa, maailmankuvassa, tyylissä, populaarikulttuurin ilmaisukeinoissa ja sosiouskonnollisissa representaatioissa. Rastavaikutteisten ilmaisukeinojen suosio ei Tansaniassa liity pelkästään globaalin populaarikulttuurin leviämiseen. Myös poliittinen panafrikkalainen liike, jolla on Tansaniassa pitkä historia, vaikuttaa taustalla. Lisäksi Tansania on yksi diasporassa elävien rastafarien paluumuuttokohteista Afrikassa. Rastavaikutteinen symbolinen toiminta muodostaa eräänlaisen katujen moraalikoodiston, jonka avulla katunuorten välinen yhteisöllisyys, "katujen kommunitas", tuotetaan. Rastaideoiden avulla hyvin erilaisista taustoista lähtöisin olevat katunuoret tuottavat ympärilleen eheän yhteisön ja käsityksen yhteisestä alkuperästä. Globaalin rastafarin afrosentriset myytit sopeutetaan onnistuneesti paikalliseen kulttuuriseen ja yhteiskunnalliseen kontekstiin. Rasta ei merkitse katunuorille pelkkää populaarikulttuuria tai tyylillistä erottautumista. Se on kulttuurinen keino tuottaa konkreettista ja kokemuksellista yhteisöllisyyttä, jopa keino eheyttää yhteiskunnallisen eriytymiskehityksen keskelle pakotettu sosiaalinen persoona. Edelleen rastavaikutteinen ajattelu ja toiminta - "rasta-bricolage" - tarjoaa keinon ottaa ympäröivän kulttuurin keskeiset symbolit haltuun ja muunnella traditiota. Sen avulla katunuoret haastavat hegemonisen auktoriteetin neuvotteluun kulttuurisista identiteeteistä. Tutkimuksen aineisto pohjautuu antropologiseen kenttätyöhön Dar es Salaamissa syys-joulukuussa 2003. Aineisto sisältää osallistuvan havainnoinnin keinoin hankittua informaatiota, teemahaastatteluja sekä valokuvia ja äänitteitä Dar es Salaamin katunuorten tuottamasta populaarista taiteesta. Työssä on hyödynnetty laajasti antropologista kirjallisuutta sekä internetlähteitä.