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Journal of Multicultural Discourses
ISSN: 1744-7143 (Print) 1747-6615 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rmmd20
Beyond language crossing: exploring
multilingualism and multicultural identities
through popular music lyrics
To cite this article: Felix Banda (2019): Beyond language crossing: exploring multilingualism and
multicultural identities through popular music lyrics, Journal of Multicultural Discourses
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17447143.2019.1645144
Published online: 24 Jul 2019.
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Beyond language crossing: exploring multilingualism and
multicultural identities through popular music lyrics
Linguistics Department, University of the Western Cape
Popular songs are loaded with critical social, cultural and historical
information and provide blueprints for future semiotic practices. I
draw on notions of language as social practice and
poststructuralist performative identities to show how language
practices in popular music intersect with multicultural practices
and meaning making in ﬂuid African multilingual contexts. I
illustrate how multilingual and multicultural practices bring into
dialogue the traditional and the modern, the rural and the urban,
and the interconnectedness in the translocal and transnational
cultural worlds. I unravel the layered and multidimensional
conﬁgurations of new forms of ethnicity and ﬂuid social identities
and related multiple aﬃliations. Beyond the dualisms and time-
space-age ﬁxed language practices projected in many studies on
urban youth languages in Africa, I maintain that these languages
are connected to adult and rural languages. Otherwise, studies on
urban youth languages risk being uprooted from local socio-
cultural systems of meaning making, hence being a-cultural and
a-historical. I conclude that the rural languages and traditional
music styles are not just reﬂected in urban languages and modern
music styles; they provide the framework on which new ways of
languaging and music styles ﬁnd connections with the
transnational/global world of music.
Received 28 October 2018
Accepted 10 July 2019
identity; popular music
In its original conceptualisation, ‘language crossing’has been deﬁned as referring to a
speaker using a language that does not belong to him/her (Rampton 1995). According
to Rampton, language crossing involves sharp feelings of traversing social or ethnic
borders so that questions of legitimacy come to the fore during social interactions
(Rampton 1995). In the early study, the notion of language crossing was used synony-
mously with code switching, and that ethnic categories and groups were seen as auton-
omous and distinctive. This means that Indian, Pakistani, African Caribbean and Anglo
informants in Rampton’s study, although they shared the neighbourhood of the South
Midlands, were seen as living autonomous linguistic lifestyles but for momentary crossing
into the ‘other’s’language during interactions. However, in his later publications (e.g.
Rampton 1999,2011), he embraces a more material and processual approach in which
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CONTACT Felix Banda email@example.com
JOURNAL OF MULTICULTURAL DISCOURSES
he plays down the divide between the social groups. In suggesting that the language prac-
tice he observed in his earlier studies was not a passing phase, but a ‘vernacular’, Rampton
(2011) questions the validity of notions such as ‘youth language’and autonomous ethnic
groups, each with its own language. Rampton (2011) also seems to question the idea of
one-to-one relationship between language and identity, which was in trend the time he
ﬁrst conducted the research.
The aim of the article is to evoke the idea of performative multiple identity aﬃliations to
account for ﬂuid multilingual and multicultural discourses as found in many interactions in
Africa, Zambia in particular. While not denying the existence of ethnicity as social con-
struct, the article suggests a focus on the transformative nature of multilingual discourses
in constructing multidimensional reconﬁgurations of various forms of social identities, sta-
tuses and diversity. In this conceptualisation, ethnic groups as social constructs, and the
rural-urban and modern-traditional binaries and dimensions are not seen as made up of
autonomous and homogenous groups (Makoni 2017). Looking at the pairings as auton-
omous and made of homogenous groups would get in the way of unmasking novel
forms of solidarity and diﬀerentiation that are mitigated by mobile multicultural capital
resulting from the blurring of boundaries. It would also stand in the way of unravelling pro-
ductivity resulting from performativity in what constitutes modern or ‘urban’and tra-
ditional or ‘rural’identities; or indeed local and global culture. In this regard, this article
will show that the urban-rural and traditional-modern divisions are tenuous and unsustain-
able as there is constant and continuous cultural ﬂows and shuttling of artifacts and
people between urban and rural areas, and between modern and traditional ways of com-
munication (Makoni 2017). This formulation is in line with scholars such as Makoni (2017),
Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg (2010) and Banda (2016), who in their study of language
use in everyday practices and in popular music, have shown linguistic, cultural and other
semiotic ﬂows across regional, national and ethnic boundaries. The argument is that
through musical and lyrical performance, and a musician can index urban-rural, tra-
ditional-modern, the local-global and multiple aﬃliations in a single setting.
I should like to point out from the outset that in line with the objectives of the Journal of
Multicultural Discourses (JMD) (see Shi-xu 2007,2009,2016), in this article I move away from
the binary characterisations of phenomena often associated with Western discourse analy-
sis to examine the local speciﬁc conditions and desires surrounding Zambian musicians to
successfully market Zambian music as a cultural artefact locally and internationally. I hope
not only to show how cultural diversity is manifested in and through popular Zambian
music; I also intend to demonstrate Zambian music as discourse of cultural transformation,
innovation and translocal and transnational aspirations. In this regard, I show the strat-
egies local social actors in this case musicians use to achieve multilocal and transnational
aﬃliations and thus mitigate the possible hegemonic and unequal power relations
between for example American Hip Hop music and Zambian style popular music.
Therefore, I argue that multilingual and associated multicultural discourses in Africa
should not be seen from a deﬁcit model of a ‘traditional, cultural singular perspectives’
but as ‘interconnected and ….interpenetrated and hybridized’(Shi-xu 2007, 9). In this
conceptualisation, what in Western analyses are seen as binary and autonomous logics
such as in ‘self and the other’will be seen as a continuum, and whose resolution is a
site of extended meaning making and identity construction. Linguistic and cultural diver-
sity is seen as semiotic material on which local actors construct multiple identities and
aﬃliations (Banda 2016). Rather than seeing the observed multilingual practices as reﬂect-
ing contradictory binary constructs such as West versus East or African, and English versus
African languages, I view conﬂicts where they exist as subject to local socio-cultural
systems of meaning making. This necessarily involves adapting external cultural material
to the local socio-cultural contexts (cf. Banda 2016; Rudnick and Boromisza-Habash 2017).
Merely copying or replicating external cultural material would mean cultural stagnation
and lack of creativity in music production, and would only promote rather than mitigate
the hegemonic and unequal power relations between urban and rural Zambia, and
between Zambian musicians and American popular musicians.
The rest of article is arranged as follows: the next section highlights the sociolinguistic
and the history of ethnic diversity and multilingual make up of Zambia, followed by theor-
etical and methodological issues, and the choice of popular music as source of multilingual
and multicultural data. Thereafter, is a discussion of multilingual music lyrics as evidence of
multi-ethnic and multilocal aﬃliations, followed by a brief discussion of dialogicality and
multivocality as discourse practice in multicultural contexts. The last section summarises
and concludes the article.
Language and diversity in Zambia
Zambia is located in South-central Africa. Large-scale migration into what is now called
Zambia is not new. Migration into Zambia started around 1500 AD and peaked in the
late nineteenth century (Roberts 1976). The ﬁrst wave of migrations were from the
Great Lakes region in East Africa around, and the second wave was from Luba-Lunda King-
doms found in today’s Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (Wotela 2010). The third wave
was from the south. It was made up of two main groups –the Ngoni and the Sotho-Lozi
groups, whose movement was triggered by events related to Shaka’s rise to power. The
movement called Mfecane ‘crushing’in Zulu, or Difaqane in Sotho which means forced
removal or migration or scattering, took place between 1815 and 1840 (Wotela 2010).
However, I want to add a fourth wave of migration inspired by missionaries, colonialists,
the money economy and the emergency of urban areas. The colonial government and its
agents, required cheap labour for administration, while their agents needed labourers to
work on farms, mines, homes and other business concerns. The towns and places of
employment became sites at which diﬀerent languages were spoken and ‘mixed’.
As people speaking a range of related Bantu languages were brought together in urba-
nising areas where they could ﬁnd paid work, they began to speak new languages in
contact and their language practices had linguistic features from diﬀerent named
languages. Those who worked or lived in urban people did not necessarily cut oﬀties
with their rural areas. They cyclically moved between urban and rural areas, as they
were deemed ‘migrant’labour (Kashoki 1975). However, this trend has continued as
many Africans maintain contact with their ‘traditions’and rural areas, either through
visits or get visited by rural-based relatives, or through information technology aﬀor-
dances such as cellular phones (Banda 2016).
The eﬀect of migration and years of inter-ethnic and linguistic contact is that as people
move they not only transform the languages in their repertoire, but also in those of whom
they interact. Zambia is said to have 72 ethnic groups and associated languages, seven of
which have been designated oﬃcial regional (provincial) languages for local government
JOURNAL OF MULTICULTURAL DISCOURSES 3
administration and early primary education (Banda 2016). However, in each of the 10 pro-
vinces, there are more than three indigenous languages spoken. This explains why a
typical Zambian is said to have at least three languages in their repertoire: two or more
indigenous languages (the regional oﬃcial language and two or community languages)
and English (the colonial and national and main oﬃcial language of education and
business) (Banda 2016). Zambians also listen to and are exposed to other languaging prac-
tices and music styles from other African countries, the United States of America, the Car-
ibbean and so on, some of which they incorporate in their musical productions. This puts a
spotlight on notions of speech community, linguistic biography, lived experience of
language and linguistic repertoire as currently conceptualised, which focuses on an indi-
vidual’s life history in time and space (Blommaert 2008; Busch 2012,2017). The issue here
is whether linguistic repertoires are always necessarily due to lived experience or linguistic
biography resulting from movement across space or boundaries, as illustrated in some
studies. This information is critical to understand the dexterity in which Zambian musicians
operate within and across named languages depending on the meaning and identities
they wish to project.
Theoretical and methodological issues
In some of his recent writings on language crossing, Rampton (1999,2011) opens up the
possibility to draw on Bakhtin’s notion of multivocality for a more comprehensive account
of language practices in urbanising and linguistic/culturally diverse communities. Rampton
(1999, 112) suggests, however, that Bakhtin’snotion‘needs to be enriched with ethnography
and interaction analysis so that performance is described as a situated time-bound event in
which the audience is an active participant, itself partly shaping the product’.Rampton(1999)
adds that language crossing should be seen as one among a range of performance practices
to account for social creativity in the stylisation of identity options.
In addition to the idea of multivocality, I draw on recent sociolinguistic thinking that
perceives language as a social practice (Heller 2007; Pennycook 2010) and poststructuralist
approach to multimodal/multisemiotic to performative identities (Pavlenko and Black-
ledge 2004; Makoni 2017) and a more dynamic notion of linguistic repertoire. In develop-
ing his arguments about language as social practice, Pennycook (2010) perceives language
as a local practice linked to social and cultural activities in which societies participate.
Locality is deﬁned as a complexly established place in which language practice is seen
as ‘mediated social activity’(Pennycook 2010, 1). Language becomes both an activity
and a resource for organising activities in which people are engaged. Doing language is
not only a result of how people interpret space, it is also how they reinvent language, con-
texts and space as they relate with their physical, institutional, social and cultural spaces
(Heller 2007; Pennycook 2010). Language as social practice, thus, means envisioning
doing language as meaning making, enabling us to move beyond language borders,
and place individuals at the centre of enquiry. In this conceptualisation, language as a
social practice for meaning making extends beyond linguistic repertoires to semiotic
repertoires, that is, what Heller (2007, 15) summarises as:
Sets of resources called into play by social actors, under social and historical conditions which
both constrain and make possible the social reproductions of existing conventions and
relations, as well as the production of new ones.
In this conceptualisation linguistic repertoire goes beyond an aggregation of autonomous
languages and linguistic forms to the dynamic interactions of linguistic features from
named languages and other social semiotic resources for meaning making, such as
dress, gestures, music type and cultural artefacts. This means that the analysis envisaged
must involve a poststructuralist approach and multimodal/multisemiotic representations
of social activities (Makoni 2017). This is in line with Otsuji and Pennycook (2010, 248)
idea of communicative repertoire, which is conceptualised as ‘conventionalised constella-
tions of semiotic resources for taking action –that are shaped by the particular practices in
which individuals engage’.
In this article I emphasise performativity so that the semiotic resources
constituting the repertoire is more than spoken or written named language. In this
regard, I view identities as performed through language and other semiotic resources
by an individual or group, or in this study musicians ‘to self-name, to self-characterise,
and to claim social spaces and social prerogatives’(Pavlenko and Blackledge 2004,
19). Identities are seen as not ﬁxed, but are performed and ‘may be contested or main-
tained on account of cultural, socio-political and economic contexts and the local and
global relations of power’(Pavlenko and Blackledge 2004, 15). Therefore, following
this poststructuralist perspective, I take linguistic, cultural, ethnic, spatiality and locality
(urban,rural,local,global),modernandtraditional, and so on, as semiotic material on
which identities are performed and constructed in local social practice. The resulting
identities are for self-documentation and for aﬃliations with multiple other local and
global social groups.
Popular music discourse is increasingly attracting attention as a site for studying multi-
lingualism and multicultural identities in Africa. Studies have recently focused on Hip Hop/
Rap music as a site of multiple identity performance. Whereas the lyrics of American Hip
Hop/Rap music are mostly in African American English vernacular, scholarship has shown
that the version in Africa draws on its multilingual and multicultural heritage (Higgins
2009; Gbogi 2016; Williams 2017). I want to contend that successful popular African
music including Hip Hop/Rap music does not replicate American Hip Hop/Rap music, or
even traditional African music. As I show in this article, it is more a case of repurposing
elements of traditional African music, American and African Hip Hop/Rap styles, and
other styles to create an original song style.
In a study closer to this article, Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg (2010) draw from
popular music from Eastern and Southern Africa to illustrate how musicians are able to
transcend linguistic, ethnic, regional and national boundaries. Although their study was
focused on the possibility of urban languages as used in music becoming the language
of education in multilingual Africa, Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg’s(2010) study is impor-
tant for this article as it touches on performative multiple identities and aﬃliations that
artists are able to index through linguistic choices. Noting the dearth of applied language
and linguistics studies that have used music lyrics to explore aspects of African lifestyles
and culture, Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg (2010) show how musicians strategically
draw on various languages (both standard and non-standard) to appeal to a wider audi-
ence locally and internationally. Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg (2010) analyse lyrics
from Zambian musicians and group, such as Amayenge, Shalawambe and Paul Ngozi, Zim-
babwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi, Kenyan artist Eric Wainaina, Comorian songwriter
Abou Chihabi, Tanzania’s Hukwe Zawose and South Africa’s musician Yvonne Chaka
JOURNAL OF MULTICULTURAL DISCOURSES 5
Chaka, to illustrate how the musicians use linguistic repertoires to construct glocal identi-
ties that blur linguistic, ethnic, regional and national boundaries.
The advantage of using popular music discourse is that it gives us an instant snap-
shot of language practices in time and space and multi-layered contemporary conﬁgur-
ations of individual and group identity options. It also magniﬁes the intricate layers of
individual and diverse group socio-cultural identities in place. This is in addition to high-
lighting tiers of intersecting ethnolinguistic aﬃliations across regional and national
boundaries. For a musician, multiple identity aﬃliations make economic sense as a mar-
keting strategy so that the sales are not limited to a particular region, age group or eth-
Thus, there is no better platform to capture linguistic innovations and other semio-
tic resources used in the construction of multiple identities than in popular music,
which draws on current issues and language practices, historical, traditional and
modern, rural and urban, and generally local and global semiotic material in the con-
struction of the songs. JK’s (featuring Salma) song Kapilipili (2010/2014) is selected
because it captures these issues. It illustrates the local construction of multiple identi-
ties and localities (urban and rural, and traditional and urban/modern) through exploit-
ing local (traditional) and transnational music and lexico-grammatical features of urban
and rural forms of Zambian languages (Bemba and Nyanja in particular) and forms of
Music lyrics as multilingual data
My interest is in how Zambians draw on diverse linguistic and cultural materialities from
their multiple universes for use as semiotic material as reﬂected in music lyrics. The idea is
not to look at centripetal and centrifugal socio-ideological forces as mutually exclusive, as
that would give credence to the idea of a ‘unitary language in the triple sense of mono-
discursivity, homophony and monolingualism’(Busch 2011, 3) and hence acquiescence
to cultural domination and to hegemonic existence.
The selected song features linguistic forms from the named languages Bemba, Nyanja
and English. However, in terms of semiotic repertoire, cultural ﬂows and associated iden-
tities, the lyrical content and instrumentation have elements of traditional Kalindula music
by the Lunda and other ethnic groups from the rural areas of Luapula Province, Lovers
Reggae from Jamaica and the Caribbean, and Rap/Hip Hop/R&B from the United States
JK (real name Jordan Katembula) was born in Ndola, a mining town in 1978 on the Cop-
perbelt Province. Although Bemba is the main language of interaction in Ndola, many
other languages are spoken. Kashoki (1975) in his study of the interaction of town and
country notes that urbanisation and the mining activities attracted many ethnolinguistic
groups from diﬀerent regions and countries to the area. Like other Zambian musicians,
JK does not ﬂaunt a speciﬁc ethnic identity in his music, but sings in many languages
including Swahili, a language mainly spoken in East Africa. He has also featured on a
Shona language album with Zimbabwean musician, Oliver Mtukudzi. His biography on
The ZambianMusic.Net website (http://zambianmusic.net/artist?a=jk) indicates that he
only relocated to Lusaka, where Nyanja is the main language of interaction after 1997.
Salma or Salma Sky (real name Salma Dodia) was born in Lusaka in 1985, and is known
to sing in Nyanja, Bemba, Ngoni, Nsenga and English. It is noteworthy that the standard
forms of the seven oﬃcial indigenous languages are based on the versions spoken in
rural areas. For example Nyanja is based on the language spoken by the Chewa ethnic
group found in Eastern Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Bemba is based on the
language spoken by the Bemba ethnic group in Northern Province.
The lyrics to the song below provide the data for analysis.
In the analysis, I refer to stan-
dard forms without a qualiﬁcation of ‘standard’, so that it is Nyanja, Bemba or English for
example. Only the urban or non-standard forms are indicated as urban Nyanja and urban
Bemba. The English linguistic features will be indicated as ‘English’.
Kapilipili (JK featuring Salma)
(1) We kapilipili kandi/ kulibe wamene anganipatse cikondi/ ceumanipasa
My (little) hot pepper/ there’s no one who can give me the love/ you give me’[sung
in urban Bemba/ Nyanja/urban Nyanja]
(2) Angel wanga/ kulibe wamene anganipatse cikondi/ ceumanipasa
My angel/ there’s no one who can give me the love/ you give me [sung in English-
Verse 1 (sung by JK)
(3) Ba PK balimba: ‘We bushiku bulalepa ngataukwete/ akakwisalako, akakwisalako oh oh..’
P.K. (Chishala) once said in his song: ‘The night is long when you’ve nobody
[woman]/ to talk to’[Sung by JK in Bemba/urban Bemba]
(4) Notulo tulashupa ngatapali/ akakwikatako, akwalawilako oh, oh
Even sleep is hard to come by when you have nothing /to touch or play with [sung
in Bemba/urban Bemba]
(5) Eico ndetotela iwe mwandi walipangwa
That’s why I am grateful; you (my dear) are quite a creation/looker [sung in Bemba]
(6) Eico ndetotela, ala mwandi nalipalwa
That is why I am grateful; I am indeed blessed [sung in Bemba]
(JK Raps/Free styles)
(7) So, kukusiya mwandi/ Baby iyo/ ndi bigi no
So leaving you,/ Baby is no/ a big no [sung in English-Nyanja/ English-Bemba/
(8) Nikalibe kupeza cikondi monga ici/ so
I’ve never come across love like this [sung in Nyanja/English]
(9) Siumacinja olo ivute/cash ﬂow
You never change even when I have problems with my cash ﬂow [Nyanja/English]
(10) Ndiye pamene/ undikondelako/ Baby eh, eh
That’s when you love me even more. [sung in Nyanja/urban Nyanja/English]
JOURNAL OF MULTICULTURAL DISCOURSES 7
Verse 2 [Sung by Salma]
(11) Niwe/ doctor/ wandi, uwaishiba umuti wakumpela, nganalwala
You are my doctor, who knows the right medicine to give me when I am sick [sung
in Bemba/English/ Bemba]
(12) Niwe/ nurse/ wandi, uwaishiba epo ekata, ngapalekalipa
You are my nurse who knows where to touch when it hurts [sung in Bemba/
(13) Concoction/ umpela, ngabwaca ulucelo mbuka nensansa, ninshi nintemwa
The concoction you give me –when I wake up in the morning I’m joyful, I am happy
[sung in English/Bemba]
(14) So,/ kukusiya mwandi/ Daddy iyo/ ni bigi no
So leaving you/ Daddy no/it’s a big no
[sung in English/Nyanja/urban Bemba-English/urban Nyanja-English]
(15) Nikalibe kupezapo cikondi monga ici/ so
I’ve never, ever, come across love like this [Nyanja/English]
(16) Siumazanda olo ivute cash ﬂow
You are never out of favour even when we are broke
(17) Ndiye pamene undikondelako Baby, eeh
That’s when you love me even more, Baby, eeh
Reconﬁguring multilocal social identities
The title of the song Kapilipili, literary, ‘[small] hot chili’is a word found in many Zambian
languages, and is better referred to as a pan-Zambian word. However, many people in
Malawi, Zimbabwe and other countries will be familiar with the word because of shared
Bantu linguistic heritage. In Bantu linguistics, Ka- is a diminutive preﬁx to denote a
small thing. However, in urban Nyanja and urban Bemba, when the preﬁx is attached to
-pilipili ‘chilli pepper’the meaning extends to ‘hot chilli’and references a beautiful and
desirable young woman. In the song, Salma materialises as the ‘hot chilli’. In this regard,
Salma, the female singer functions as semiotic material to actualise social discourse
around ‘hot’women. In essence, through her vocal performance she not only gives
aural substance to the theme of the song, she becomes part of a semiotic assemblage
(Jimaima and Banda 2019; Pennycook and Otsuji 2017; Otsuji and Pennycook 2010) con-
stituting hot ‘babes’a staple of Hip Hop/Rap music video genre, but also of traditional and
popular Zambian and African music generally. African music is replete with music about
women or extolling the virtues of African women. The important thing is the manner
the various semiotic resources, whatever their origin, are used in the construction of some-
thing new and authentic.
In the Kapilipili song, we see linguistic and musical semiotic material used to construct
and perform multiple identities and aﬃliations to (1) Nyanja and Bemba, both of which are
associated with diﬀerent ethnic groups, regions and traditional cultures; (2) urban Nyanja
and urban Bemba are associated with modern or urban African cultures, and (3) English
associated with modernity and globalisation. The linguistic and cultural features of these
languages are fused in such a way that it is not possible to separate them, as the meanings
do not derive from individual parts but as components of the whole discourse. The
language practice involved is akin to what is called translanguaging (García 2014; Banda
2018), a notion that captures the ﬂuidity through which multilingual speakers deploy fea-
tures of named languages into a single unit for meaning making. Since the translanguaged
features are not conceived or produced in isolation of each other, they can be said to con-
stitute hybrid identities that are in a constant state of ﬂux that overlap across what are tra-
ditionally seen as autonomous and homogenous cultural, racial, ethnic, national and
gender categories (Barrett 2011).
In his analysis of online commentaries on news events, Banda (2016) characterises the
linguistic features from diﬀerent named languages found in Zambians’written and dis-
course as depicting the ﬂuid and multi-layered speaker identities, which are connected
to the multi-ethnic and the multilocal aﬃliations. The multiple speaker identities and
multi-ethnic and multilocal aﬃliations are evident in the song. This is seen in the inter-
weaving musical inﬂuences and linguistic features of Nyanja and urban Nyanja, and
Bemba and urban Bemba, and some English added in. Line 1 of the song has elements
of urban Bemba, urban Nyanja and Nyanja. The ﬁrst part or the ‘call’We kapilipili kandi
is in urban Bemba, and ‘the answer’kulibe amene anganipatse cikondi is in Nyanja and ceu-
manipasa and urban Nyanja. Ceumanipasa is a contraction and an urban Nyanja version of
Camene umanipatsa. The two forms mean the same thing. The resulting structure has lin-
guistic features from named urban Bemba, urban Nyanja and Nyanja. It needs to be
remembered that the ‘call’and ‘answer’structure is often typical of traditional music
across Zambia. In essence, the linguistic features in line 1 aﬃliate the musicians to
diﬀerent ethnolinguistic groups, and to both urban and rural areas.
In line 2, the ‘call’is in English-Nyanja and the response is in Nyanja and urban Nyanja as
in line 1. The movement between the urban and rural forms and across languages is so
‘natural’and smooth as to suggest a continuous rather than an autonomous relationship
between them. This puts into sharp focus the contention in the literature whether urban
and rural areas, and the language practices therein should be deemed autonomous.
There seems to be continuity between the rural, urban and global spheres of inﬂuence
Line 3 is not just in Bemba, but it also quotes a traditional Bemba or ‘rural’saying, which
some urban Bemba speakers may not have been familiar (till they heard the song), but
which nevertheless functions to connect the rural and the urban. PK makes it easier for
listeners by quoting another musician PK (Chishala) to povide a diﬀerent context for con-
sumption of meaning: ‘P.K. (Chishala) once said in his song …’ This is a reference to Peter
Kalumba Chishala, known by the acronym ‘PK’, who transformed traditional Kalindula
music of the Bemba speaking but ethnic Lunda people of Luapula Province, to national
and international levels. He infused electric guitars and other modern instruments to
the traditional oral, African drums and goatskin or oil-tin, banjo guitar based music. It is
noteworthy that in traditional African discourse in order to further prove a point or
advance an argument or instruction, etc., proverbs and sayings would be introduced in
the discourse (Banda and Banda 2016). In this case, it would be: ‘As our elders/ancestors
say: “The night is long when you’ve nobody to talk to”’.‘Nobody’is a euphemism for a
woman. PK Chishala’s song was banned in the 1980s for being too overly sexual. In
JOURNAL OF MULTICULTURAL DISCOURSES 9
spite of his using modern instruments, PK Chishala’s music is characterised as traditional
Zambian music (Katulwende 2015). This is understandable as PK Chishala merely moder-
nised the music through incorporating modern instruments into it. Other than that the
powerful vocal performances and traditional melodies, including the call-and-response,
characteristic of traditional kalindula music are evident in PK Chishala’s music (Katulwende
2015). These characteristics are also evident in the song Kapilipili. It is interesting that
despite his connection with traditional music, PK Chishala plied his trade as a musician
not in a rural area but in the urban mining cities on the Copperbelt Province and in
Lusaka the capital city of Zambia. This means one does not need to live in a rural area
to compose traditional music or modern music inspired by traditional music melodies.
The most important point to be made, however, is that it would be incorrect to assume
that JK’s sexual references are due to inﬂuences from American Hip Hip/Rap music alone.
In fact, Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg (2010) have argued that it is incorrect to assume
that ‘popular music is a mimetic commentary …as the artists are also contributing toward
creating alternative futures and, hence, aﬀecting the present and not simply passively
reﬂecting it’(4). There is evidence of innovation in JK’s song. The traditional saying as it
is sung in PK Chishala’s song, reads: We bushiku bulalepa ngataukwete akakwishanako
‘lit. The nights are long when you have not ‘something’[someone/woman]to talk to’.
In JK’s song, however, we ﬁnd that in line 3, akakwishanako has been changed to akakwi-
salako:We bushiku bulalepa ngataukwete akakwisalako ‘lit. The nights are long when you
have nothing to close [it] with’. The traditional Bemba saying has thus been reframed. The
change is not because JK did not know the exact words of the saying; he could have been
trying to avoid censorship from Zambian authorities, the fate that befell PK Chishala
decades earlier, but also creating an alternative future, and making the song his own.
My argument is that he manages to do both. The Bemba saying undergoes a further refor-
mulation in line 4 in which ‘long nights’is reﬁgured as ‘sleep is hard/diﬃcult’, and akak-
wishanako as akakwikatako ‘something to hold [on] to’. The urban Bemba forms in lines
3 and 4 would not make immediate sense without prior knowledge of the original tra-
ditional Bemba saying and PK’s song. However, the linguistic co(n)texts make clear
what the lines mean. In this regard, there are connections between the kapilipili, a stun-
ning creation/looker and night nurse, and thus between the traditional Bemba saying
and its urban re-imaginations. However, the reformulations appear to have provided
additional layers of meanings to the euphemism imbedded in the traditional saying as
sung in PK Chisahala’s song, with the eﬀect of masking the ‘pornography’, which had
led to the banning of PK Chishala’s song in the 1980s. There was no discussion in the
media or from government and its regulatory bodies on public decency to ban JK’s
song even though the connections with the PK Chishala’s song in the 1980s are
obvious. Additionally, JK has used the traditional proverb as a semiotic resource (mode)
to create new meaning to be consumed in a diﬀerent time (now) and space. My argument
is that using traditional and rural semiotic material such as proverbs is part of musicians
such JK and other urban or rural people’s social practice (Heller 2007; Pennycook 2010;
Otsuji and Pennycook 2010; Makoni 2017) enabling them to make (new) meaning and
alternative life-worlds to the past and present for future consumption and alternative
references (Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg 2010).
It is interesting that JK and Salma sing in some verses, and ‘rap’in others. In the lit-
erature, this has been associated with American inspired Hip Hop/Rap music (Barrett
10 F. BANDA
2011). Some might be quick to associate the style with the American style, which a
careful examination suggests this is not the case. Considering the poststructuralist
and language/semiotic repertoire as social practice approaches (Pavlenko and Black-
ledge 2004; Heller 2007; Pennycook 2010; Otsuji and Pennycook 2010; Makoni 2017)
adopted in this study, the changes from singing to rapping, and changes in music
genres in the same song are strategically designed to create a local unique style, but
with transnational/global implications. JK has used traditional and rural, and modern
and urban (and American) music styles as semiotic material in the construction of the
In PK Chishala’s 1989 Kalindula hit song titled Bushiku Bulalepa from the album Church
Elder, which JK references, Chishala does not sing all the verses in the song; parts of the
song are delivered in monologue. That is, he ‘talks’the lines/lyrics as is often the case
with traditional Zambian music generally. In PK Chishala’s song, the man talks about
kisses, massaging of ears and playing around with cisasa (waist beads worn by traditional
African women). American Hip Hop/Rap music has also been known for its direct and sex-
ualised descriptions of women’s bodies and clothing. American Hip Hop/Rap music cannot
be said to have been inspired PK Chishala, as the technique is also common in traditional
African music. However, JK strategically appropriates the general topic of PK Chishala’s‘sex
talk’and the ‘talking’style of lyricism, rather singing, which is reminiscent of modern Hip
Hop/Rap music, to create new meaning and an original song for consumption in a glocal
market. This way he is able to connect or aﬃliate with the local, rural and urban, as well as
In verse 1 JK only sings praises about his woman, without being too ‘sexual’, while in
verse 2 Salma (the female) responds and sings praises of his man. Both sing in Bemba
and urban Bemba and Nyanja and urban Nyanja (interspaced with English). This reconﬁ-
gures both the modern and tradition, and urban and rural identities into complex new
forms of social structures, including the re-imagination of gender roles. In these new
conﬁgurations, not just men, but even women can show aﬀection to a partner in
public. Banda (2005) has indicated that in traditional Africa, men and women in particular,
may not show unbounded aﬀection to a spouse in public. I view JK and Salma singing side-
by-side, and verse 1 (sang by JK) and verse 2 (by Salma) and rap/free style 1 (sang by JK)
and rap/freestyle 2 (sang by Salma) as performing complementary rather than dualistic
competing (duelling) roles, as one often ﬁnds in American Hip Hop/Rap music. Rather,
the respect and praises for each other are mutual, thus creating a balanced or a relation-
ship built on equality and mutual respect.
Moreover, from the Bakhtin (1981) notion of chronotope, the lyrics in Kapilipili show a
connectedness of time and spatial relationships as represented in careful selection of lin-
guistic features in the construction of lyrics as discourse. In essence, there is a connected-
ness between rural and the urban ways of living and speaking; rural and urban areas, and
also, the multidimensional trajectories of cultural ﬂows can be traced from past traditional
Kalindula music, to PK Chishala’s song Bushiku Bulalepa in the 1980s and to contemporary
and modernised JK’s(featuring Salma) song Kapilipili. The reference to PK not only pays
homage to a past musician who popularised Kalindula music, it also has the eﬀect of repro-
ducing the traditional or the past in the present or the modern for alternative future refer-
ences (Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg 2010). The reference to the song ignites the image
described above as well as making the musicians and consumers relive the past in the
JOURNAL OF MULTICULTURAL DISCOURSES 11
present. This ensures continuity of rural and traditional African culture in the present and
in modernity and the urban.
In this regard, I wish to point out that in the beginning Zambian Hip Hop/Rap musicians
struggled ﬁnancially and to ﬁnd recognition (Kapambwe 2018). The problem was that they
initially sang in English only and tried to replicate American accents and instrumentation.
Zambian consumers would rather buy American Hip Hop/Rap music than Zambian imita-
tions (Kapambwe 2018). However, things were to change after the 1990s when Zambian
artists began using local languages and drawing inspirations from traditional music and
infusing it with elements of American Hip Hop/Rap music. The artists also drew on every-
day social, economic and political issues, which made their lyrics relatable to local contexts
and consumers. The result was a distinctive Zambian Hip Hop/Rap, whose lyrical content
was rooted in the local and whose music sound constructed in the blends of traditional
music of Kalindula from the fertile grounds of Bangweulu wetlands in Luapula Province,
and others from other parts of Zambia, with American Hip Hop/Rap, West African, Carib-
bean, etc. music inﬂuences thrown in. With its new found identity, Zambian Hip Hop/Rap
music competes favourably with other Hip Hop/Rap music and other genres for airwaves
in Zambia and internationally (Kapambwe 2018).
Although the song Kapilipili is locally relevant and draws inspirations from traditional
music, the song Kapilipili has oblique references in instrumentation movement and
lyrical content to Marvin Gaye’s R&B hit Sexual Healing and Gregory Isaacs Reggae hit
Night Nurse.Kapilipili ‘Hot baby or girl’distantly echoes with Sexual Healing’s line ‘Baby,
I’m hot just like an oven’and the line bushiku bulalepa ‘nights are long’is similar to
‘let’s get down tonight’. The songs can be said to draw from a similar theme of love.
But the story is told diﬀerently, and thereby, again, providing an alternative and unique
take for future references (Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg 2010). In JK song the traditional
Bemba saying ‘The night is long when you don’t have someone to hold on to’is remade to
suit the modern love story that he is weaving. Thus, nights would be unbearably long
without JK’sKapilipili ‘hot girl’.InSexual Healing, however, Marvin Gaye is the one who
is ‘hot’. It is worthy of note that unlike Marvin Gaye, JK and Salma (the Kapilipili) are
locked in a duet, and essentially a dialogue and whose content unravels points of ‘com-
plexity of multiple, ﬂuid, intersectional identiﬁcations’(Dhoest, Nikunen, and Cola 2013,
13). The music is constructed in the local, but sources of ideas, instrumentation, linguistic,
and cultural capital are not limited to the local or the international: they are re-imagined in
the local multicultural discourses, which intersect both local and international cultural re-
sources. It is also noteworthy that the rhymes are across traditional/rural forms and urban/
modern forms of Nyanja and Bemba and forms of English as seen in akakwisalako/bigi no/
ici so/ cash ﬂow/ undikondelako. The rhymes are also across traditional and modern sound
vibes and American and Jamaican inﬂuences. The criss-cross rhymes of Kalindula instru-
mentation and highly pitched and modulating lead vocal call of traditional Kalindula
music made famous by PK is evident in JK’s performance and the song.
As noted above, there is also a subtle reference to Gregory Isaac’s Reggae hit song Night
Nurse. Unlike in Gregory Isaac’s Reggae song in which he calls her lover ‘My night nurse’,
Salma does not replicate the line but recontextualises the idea behind the love song and
resemiotises it in urban Bemba/English. Instead of replication and making a direct refer-
ence to ‘Nurse’, Salma describes her ‘lover’as both ‘Doctor’and ‘Nurse’. The use of the
word ‘concoction’is interesting in that it often has negative connotations in English, as
12 F. BANDA
to mean, for example, ‘a preposterous or implausible story’. In urban Bemba and urban
Nyanja, the word represents Salma’s ecstatic appreciation of the balmy and profound
love given her by JK, which are captured in the rest of lyrics.
Dialogicality and heteroglossia as discourse practice
In applying and extending the Bakhtin’s(1981) notions of dialogicality and heteroglossia in
his analysis of multilingual online comments, (Banda 2016) characterises the language
practices as multivocal and multilocal in the sense that the linguistic features in their dis-
course depict voices from diﬀerent named languages, which can be said to represent
diﬀerent regions, cultures and ethnolinguistic identities. The identities, cultural aﬃliations
and localities, and the contradictory logics they may represent are entered into dialogue in
order to create speciﬁc shades of meaning (Banda 2016).
Dialogicality enables JK and Salma to manipulate diverse voices, and to achieve ideas
that express a plurality of logics in diﬀerent ways, and hence to achieve diﬀerent mean-
ings. The dialogicality in the song is not just through juxtaposing the traditional and
modern lifestyles; prior texts and cultural objects are being brought into dialogue with
current ones. Salma as a ‘featured’musician is in dialogue with JK and at the same time
adds a diﬀerent voice and logic to the text, as the female and male gender roles come
to the fore. The reference to a past musician (PK) and what he said brings to the
present traditional proverbs and associated prior texts; and at the same time two
named standard languages (Bemba and Nyanja) and their non-standard or urban forms
are also juxtaposed. In essence, the languages (and with some English thrown in) can
be said to be having their own dialogue. Thus, the presence of Salma as a featured
artist and the linguistic choices are not random but carefully crafted for multilocal and
multi-ethnic appreciation, and hence for multi-ethnic, translocal and transnational consu-
mer appeal. In other words, the range of languages used in the lyrics and varieties of music
styles used in a song create feelings of belonging to aﬃliate local and translocal commu-
nities (Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg 2010).
Summary and conclusion
The kind of analysis in this article captures the ﬂuid and multiple identity experiences lived
and performed by Africans, and Zambians in particular. The complexities in the shifting
identities and multiple allegiances (Barrett 2011) can only be captured if we move from
consideration of identity as resulting from moving across language boundaries, to multi-
dimensional and multidirectional cultural ﬂows. Semiotic materials from urban and rural
areas, from translocal and transnational worlds, and indeed from standard and non-stan-
dard named languages constitute the semiotic repertoire (Makoni 2017) of cultural
material in the performance and consumption of multiple identities. I see the cultural
ﬂows as ﬂuid and continuous across the traditional and the modern, the local and
global, and Nyanja and Bemba as named languages including their diﬀerent forms and
associated cultures. In this conceptualisation, multilingual language practices are indexical
of shifting identities and multiple aﬃliations.
Rather than conceiving production and consumption of identities as involving move-
ment across sharp ethnic and social boundaries; in the alternative take, languages or
JOURNAL OF MULTICULTURAL DISCOURSES 13
linguistic features and choices used in interactions belong to all those who use them for
whatever reasons. The choices are driven by speaker intentions and perhaps expected out-
comes in interactions. The older categories of bounded ethnic groups, each with its own
language; or of domains, each with its language style or ﬁxed norms or language regimes;
or ‘ﬁxed relations between ethnicity, citizenship, residence, origin, language, profession,
etc., or to assume the countability of cultures, languages, or identities’(Juﬀermans 2012,
33), have given way to new forms of social relations and ﬂuid identities, which challenge
the Western and colonial inspired hierarchies, rigid vertical social structuring and power
relations, as well as institutionalised monoculturalism.
Although it is recognised that over the decades transportation and their modes have
improved and increased, and that new and instant modes of communication keep
coming on board, the dearth in studies on language practices and cultural ﬂows in rural
areas of Africa is the worst indictment of sociolinguistic and cultural studies generally. It
means the world of academia is denied a comprehensive understanding of meaningful
interactions of town and country. The rural languages and cultures as connected to,
and in many respects nurturing urban culture and language practices, and modernity
and lifestyles in urban areas of Africa are not a matter of enquiry and interest. The
problem is that cultural ﬂows are constructed as ﬂowing in one-direction from auton-
omous urban to rural areas, and from the Western world to Africa and the rest of the
world, and not vice versa or both ways. This leads to an incomplete understanding of
‘meaningful exchanges’(Butcher 2010, 510) between town and country, between
named languages and their forms (such as ‘standard’versus ‘non-standard’), between
the West and the global south, and more importantly the vitality and advancements in
African culture, and the development of shared and pluralistic identities (cf. Taylor-
Gooby and Waite 2014).
In this conceptualisation, the so-called urban youth language is not completely
divorced from the language used by adults and rural people, as is implied in the many
studies on youth language. Makoni (2017) is dubious about the credibility of the notion
of urban youth languages being limited to urban areas. There are constant cultural
ﬂows between rural and urban areas, with mutual inﬂuence. As this study has shown
rural forms of semiotic practices (linguistic forms, proverbs and traditional music styles
[kalindula]) are used in urban settings and to create a song that was an international
hit. She adds that the concept of youth language becomes diﬃcult to apply as older
people who can hardly be called ‘youth’also use the language. Since as people grow
older they do not necessarily grow out of their semiotic repertoire, urban languages are
better conceived as used across the lifespan (Makoni 2017).
The language usage in the song reﬂects both the everyday languaging practices of
many Zambians and the complex and dynamic multilingual and multi-ethnic inter-
actions in place. Undoubtedly, the dynamic multilingual practices point to the multi-
ethnic heritage that has developed over hundreds of years, and keeps evolving
(Makoni, Makoni, and Rosenburg 2010; Banda 2016). Speaking ‘across’what are seen
as linguistic or ethnic boundaries is not entirely new in Africa. People spoke across
related and not so related African tongues before the colonial era and studies on
language practices such as Makoni, Brutt-Griﬄer, and Mashiri (2007) and Banda (2016)
among numerous others, suggest they are still doing so. Thus, such languaging practices
are unlikely to involve sharp feelings of social or ethnic border crossing. This is because
14 F. BANDA
this way of speaking is already part of the way people do in their everyday language
It is not just that there are connections between local and global worlds; JK drawing on
traditional music and sayings also shows that the urban and modern and the traditional
and the rural lifestyles are not disconnected. This puts into spotlight the growing research
on so-called urban and youth languages, which characterise them as diﬀerent and discon-
nected from rural and adult languages. The problem with such studies is that they essen-
tially construct urban and youth languages as if they are a-cultural and a-historical. This
makes the conclusions drawn from such studies ﬂawed. If such studies cannot ﬁnd any
cultural and historical precedents in their data, it means they have not looked hard
enough or need to go back to the drawing board and examine the tools of analysis and
the ideological and theoretical frames they are using.
1. The author adapted the translation from Kitwe Online (http://kitweonline.com/discover-kitwe/
culture/zambian-music-lyrics/kapiripiri-by-jk-ft-salma, in consultation with the song itself.
Accessed 8 September 2018). Note that the slash / is meant to demarcate linguistic features
from diﬀerent named languages.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes on contributor
Felix Banda is a senior professor in the Linguistics Department, University of the Western Cape,
where he teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses in sociolinguistics, multilingualism in
society and education, critical media studies and technology-mediated business communication.
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