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Academic Paper


Title: “I am Maasai”: Interpreting ethnic parody in Bongo Flava
Author: Katrina Daly Thompson
Institution: University of California
Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics
Abstract: In the Tanzanian Bongo Flava youth music scene, Abel Motika is a popular artist who uses both verbal and visual markers of Kisongo Maasai ethnicity to style himself as “the Maasai rapper” with the stage name “Mr. Ebbo.” Through analysis of his 2002 song “Mi Mmasai” ‘I am Maasai’, this study investigates his ethnic stylizing in playful use of Maa pronunciation and an understudied Swahili language game known as kinyume ‘backwards style’. The study finds that while Ebbo strategically disrupts the sociolinguistic order that privileges Standard Swahili, the Maasai persona he projects is humorously stylized as unable both to speak Standard Swahili and to engage with the urban lifestyle associated with Tanzania's de-ethnicized Swahili modernity, thereby leaving dominant ideologies of language and ethnicity intact. Moreover, in arguing that Motika's stylization of ethnicity has a contradictory effect, both affirming a local ethnic identity and preserving the logic of ethnolinguistic stereotyping, the study critiques approaches to hip hop that privilige authorial intent and assume linguistic subversiveness. (Swahili, Maa, Bongo Flava, parody, ethnicity, rap, kinyume)

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This article appears IN Language in Society Vol. 39, Issue 4, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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