Mozambique’s Queen of Hip-Hop

Dama do Bling is sometimes called a Lusophone Queen Latifah and Mozambican Lil Kim. The comparison doesn't always work.

Still from Dama do Bling's "Pepetsa."

A young person with a university degree can’t sing, but a minister with a 6th grade education can legislate?,” Dama do Bling sang in her 2007 song “Sai,” a musical response to inquiries why, in spite of her law degree, she chose a career in the music industry. This statement is exemplary of Dama do Bling’s provocative personality that has sparked much debate, at least in the early years of her music career in her native Mozambique, where she’s a big star. Called a lusophone Queen Latifah and Mozambican Lil Kim, Dama do Bling (“lady of bling”) has become the Queen of Mozambican hip-hop, and through her collaboration with Pan-African superstars like Nigeria’s Sasha P, Kenya’s Yvonne, and Bleksem from South Africa she has become well-known all over the continent. Currently recording her fifth studio album and writing her third book, she is “one of the female voices to watch in 2013.” Her latest music video “Bad Girl” features her own fashion designs, some of which she presented at Mozambique’s fashion week in December last year.

Dama do Bling, born as Ivannea Mudanisse in 1979, started her career featuring on two tracks of the second album of Mozambique’s Queen of Reggae, Lizha James, in 2005. In 2006, she launched her first self-titled album, produced by Bang Entretenimento, with participation of other Mozambican stars, including Lizha James. Her first big hit was “Dança do Remexe,” which won two of South Africa’s Channel O Music Video Awards in the category “Best Female Video” and “Best African Southern” in 2007.

Before she became Mozambique’s queen of hip-hop, though, Dama do Bling was the queen of scandal. Standing for a new, younger generation of Mozambican musicians, she offended the “old guard” in several ways. Her sexy clothing and provocative moves on stage became the target of fierce critique, in particular when, despite being pregnant and starting to show, she continued to perform. One commentator in the country’s independent newspaper O País called Dama do Bling’s shows an “attack on moral decency and a crime” since she disrespected moral values of proper female public conduct and violated the dignity of the child in her womb. In another article, the same journalist called Dama do Bling’s way of exposing her body “anti-African” and a consequence of non-African influences that don’t value the female body. He called on the government to devise rules for musicians’ proper behavior on stage.

Dama do Bling’s law degree from Mozambique’s national university in Maputo, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UEM), made some commentators ask why she preferred appearing scantily clad in public, if she could help solve the country’s problems. Her music was accused of lacking a message. The need for well-educated people in Mozambican society and the fact that Dama do Bling received her education at a publicly financed institution made people strongly criticize her choice of pursuing a career in the music industry.

Although this debate didn’t go as far as the debate on Lady Gaga in the US, Dama do Bling challenged previous views on the role of women in society. It was clear that this critique was especially about Mozambican women, since (as far as I know) there was no criticism of the fact that you could watch South African music channels featuring similar performances to Dama do Bling’s in many of Maputo’s restaurants and bars.

Maputo-based sociologists therefore discussed the “phenomenon Dama do Bling” widely as a symptom of change in Mozambican society (e.g., Carlos Serra from UEM on his blog). The sociologist Patricio Langa spoke of a “silent revolution”—a change of social values, disguised in a debate about what Mozambican music should look like. Carlos Serra, sociologist at the UEM’s African Studies Center, ridiculed the debate about Dama do Bling’s “untraditional” style by posting pictures of traditional dances featuring women in short skirts with uncovered breasts. Serra argued that behind the discourse on what is (and should be) Mozambican was a deep concern over men’s loss of control over the female body. Langa called out for diversity in Mozambican music: “Just let people be!

This was also Dama do Bling’s reaction to the whole polemic. Asked for her response to the wide-spread accusations, she pointed out that she wasn’t scandalous, but “irreverent” and just said and did whatever she liked. “People tend not to receive new things well since it’s something that they have never seen,” she explained in response to the public outcry. Justifying doing things differently, she said: “We the young can’t build on those things from 20 years ago, because [if we did so], we would die.” Her first book, hence, was an autobiography with the title O Diário de Uma Irreverente (The diary of an irreverent woman). Beyond acting as she likes and defending the young’s inventiveness, though, her attitude didn’t seem to have much of a political or feminist message.

But all this seems forgotten now. Dama do Bling’s comparison to Lil Kim belongs to the past: “That was when I was young heheheheh. I’m a grown woman now… I must behave,” she said in an interview in 2010. And other Mozambican artists, like Ziqo, have taken over as targets of moral outrage. However, this doesn’t mean that Dama do Bling said goodbye to sexy moves or stopped standing up for herself. In a recent interview with Afroziky she explained the idea behind her newest video, “Bad Girl,” “A bad girl is a woman who fights for her ideas, a woman who is not intimidated by the opinion of other people. She does what her heart tells her to do. A bad girl owns her life.” And that is what many Mozambicans have become to admire her for. For her daughter (the first baby she lost in a miscarriage), with whom she was featured on the cover of the April/May 2012 edition of the journal MozCeleb she wishes that “she will be as irreverent as I am.”

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