chapter  2
13 Pages

Rap, Cartoon and Rap Cartoon: Representations of the Maasai in Contemporary Tanzanian Popular Culture


One of Tanzania’s smallest ethnic groups, the Maasai are nevertheless ubiquitous in visual images, icons of an Africa unsullied by colonialism and undeveloped by modernity. In Tanzanian cartoons, the Maasai are frequently depicted explicitly as backward and ignorant. The hip-hop group X Plastaz,2 however, has appropriated the image of the Maasai in more positive terms to set themselves apart from other Tanzanian rappers, calling their fi rst album Maasai Hiphop and prominently featuring the sole Maasai member of the group in their promotional materials. In contrast, Mr. Ebbo (Abel Loshilaa Motika3), a Maasai rapper whose music has been labeled “rap cartoon” (rap katuni in Swahili), promotes pride in Maasai ethnicity in a comical way that plays with and subtly subverts popular local stereotypes. The analysis draws on interviews with Mr. Ebbo and X Plastaz, as well as their lyrics, promotional materials and music videos to examine how they represent “Maasai” through discourses of tradition, modernity and ethnicity, contrasting the representations they offer with the stereotypes of the Maasai so prominent in cartoons and jokes.