Sheng & Bongo Flava

I came across an article discussing Sheng (the Swahili and English mixed slang used in Kenya and Tanzania) and the idea of “proper” Swahili.

The article discusses the consistent evolution of sheng as new words are invented almost every week, some of which become popular via the Internet (through Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube). Radio stations and tv shows use sheng as their primary language. According to an article from the Daily Nation (one of Kenya’s main news sources), sheng will become “one of the most dominant languages in 2050.” This article (  states that sheng is not just a language, but it is also a culture. And sheng isn’t the first language to come out of a mix:

“In Nigeria, they have their pidgin English. In American inner cities they have their ghetto English. In London they have their cockney. All these are important expressions of a culture of a certain place, an identity that has its specific roots. In Sheng, we have our unique way of expression, and as long as the communicators are comfortable, it will be impossible to weed it out.”

According to the radio host, Sheng is a way to identify with other people. If you are able to communicate in sheng, then you are a part of a culture and will be accepted. Even in the video on the first site, the radio host combines English and Swahili when he speaks.

Also in the first article, there is a reference to bongo flava. I wasn’t sure what this was, but after doing a bit of research, I found this to be an interesting form of music in Tanzania that is a spin-off of American hip hop. The name ‘bongo flava’ is interesting: Bongo is the plural form of the Swahili word ubongo which means brain, and apparently is a common nickname used to refer to Dar es Salaam, where the genre originated from.

Check out this video…it almost looks like it could be on American MTV or something…

[youtube atsGXqwtG5s]

One of the most popular Tanzanian bongo flava artist is Juma Nature. In this song, he mixes English and Swahili, using English in the chorus. I’m not quite sure what the song itself means, or what “mugambo” means. Nonetheless, the song is a perfect example of bongo flava and the combination of English and Swahili in Tanzanian culture.

[youtube PHavKPiZByk]


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