October 5, 2012


Can lyrics in popular music be considered ‘hate speech’? Lyrics are often profane, they are also, increasingly, anti-something. Hate speech?

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Can lyrics in popular music be considered ‘hate speech’?

Can lyrics in popular music be considered ‘hate speech’?

Dr Joyce Nyairo, writing in The Daily Nation in July this year, drew attention to the changing times since the election of 2007 and the dilemma of what is ‘hate speech’ in a political song. It’s worth considering but then so is the question of the violent, sexual explicit, misogynistic and inciting lyrics of popular music that is daily rammed through our ears.


Joyce Nyairo recalled (‘The politics of popular music: When exactly does a song become hate speech?’) in 2002, she and hers ‘found a hymn in ‘yote ya wezekana bila Moi’ (‘everything is possible without Moi’) and how they ‘thundered unbwogable [‘untouchable’] and reeled off the names of politicians we declared unshakeable and worthy of our support’.

She posed the question, however; ‘Did we kill each other on account of those songs?’

Clearly not, says the Kenya Forum, but as Joyce Nyairo pointed out in her article, since 2007 the times have changed (surely ‘Are a changin’, Joyce?) and ‘we are now more aware of our differences than of the things that hold us together’.


Where do we draw the line between ‘literary taste and those of criminal justice?’ was in effect the question Joyce Nyairo put to her readers. Unfortunately she did not provide an answer, just more questions (well, she is an academic after all).

The whole ‘hate speech’ question is a problem that the Kenya Forum has raised before. We will try to provide an answer.

Our view is that a speech, song lyric, leaflet or article prescribes violence, i.e., “go and attack our opponents”, then it’s ‘hate speech’ (and incitement to violence which is and was covered under the law): anything less than that and we have to be very careful about trampling on freedom of speech.


Yet while we and many other commentators are getting up tight about ‘hate speech’ in the political sphere, what about the daily ear-hammering we get from the ghastly lyrics masquerading as popular music?

This Kenya Forum correspondent was filling up with petrol at a service station near Voi a few weeks ago and nipped into the provided facilities to deal with a call of nature. It was very clean and with piped music to help you pass the time away. There was just time to get a full rendition of some man singing about how he was going to ‘fuck’ is beau and she was going to ‘fuck’ him. Ah, how romance has changed.


Whether over the radio, or piped music into a public lavatory, it’s so often the same – a seemingly never-ending musical (is it musical?) diet of offensive trash.

Whether it be Daggerin exclaiming ‘Gal yuh mek me push it’ or expounding the idea to ‘beat her up with 25 lashes’; Snoop Dog singing the ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’ and calling some unfortunate girl to ‘Lick on these nuts and suck the dick’; or Young Jeezy calling on ‘my niggas on the block’ to ‘Ride wit me, fuck the city up one time’, and much more, and worse, we have to hear it every day.


What was the point of the feminist revolution, of the campaign for equal rights, education for all and so much else besides when we now, through popular lyrics, treat women as little more than whores to be violently abused, refer to a man of Africa origin as a ‘n*gga’ and call on the young to ‘fuck the city up’?

It would be one thing if we had a choice in the matter, i.e., as to whether we listened to this rubbish or not but often we don’t. From the matatu to the lavatory in Voi it is pumped into our ears – and those of children.

The Kenya Forum says end hate speech, in the political and the popular music sphere.


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