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In East Africa, Musical Superstar Diamond Platnumz Sees His Music As Much More Than Art

Mar 28, 2018
Originally published on March 28, 2018 7:39 pm
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Now we're going to meet a man who takes on his country's politics and problems through music. His name is Diamond Platnumz. He's an undisputed superstar in East Africa. It doesn't matter where you are in the region. His songs are playing on the radio. NPR's Eyder Peralta spoke with Diamond about how he sees his music as much more than art.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIAMOND PLATNUMZ SONG, "FIRE")

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Diamond Platnumz is the king of Bongo Flava. It's a distinctively Tanzanian style that mixes East and West and Coastal Africa and Central Africa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRE")

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: (Singing) I sing you're fire, baby. Fire, fire, fire, fire, baby. I call fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, baby. Your love is sweet. Fire, fire, fire, fire, baby (ph).

PERALTA: As Diamond describes it, in Swahili Bongo means brain. The music came out of the big, sprawling, urban Dar es Salaam where you need brains and street smarts to survive.

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: Bongo Flava is like a brain flavor. It's like a Tanzanian flavor. It's R&B, kind of have some Arabic-ish (ph) side, Hindish song - like, you know those romantic melodies and all that.

PERALTA: Indeed, much of Diamond's music thrives on that meld, like in this song, "Marry You," which is a collaboration with the American singer and producer Ne-Yo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARRY YOU")

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: (Singing) I want to marry you, oh, la, la, la, oh, la. I want to marry you, oh, la, la, la, oh, la.

PERALTA: It's got an R&B base and a big pop chorus that became the anthem of East African weddings last year. But if you listen closely, the song is built on the arpeggio guitar patterns so popular in South Africa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARRY YOU")

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: (Singing) When you smile, when you smile, when you smile, when you smile, baby. Oh, I want to marry you.

PERALTA: Diamond grew up in one of Dar es Salaam's slums. So in a lot of ways, that's why he takes a pragmatic approach to music. It means singing in English in search of a global hit or using more hip-hop beats as his audience in South and West Africa grows.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENEKA")

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: (Singing) You're my beautiful angel, African baby, sweetly, sweet mango, you beautiful angel, Tanzania baby.

PERALTA: Music to him is about more than art. It's an opening to a better life, he says. So across Tanzania, you see Diamond on ads selling furniture or kids' clothes.

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: I also have perfume, Chibu Perfume. I also have peanuts called Diamond peanuts. I've got some apartments. You know, life, how it is, you can't just depend on music.

PERALTA: Young Tanzanians, he says, view politics as the only way to break out of poverty or to do good. But he hopes that with his example, they can view music in that way.

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: Everybody think like the person who's supposed to make the road or the hospital has to be the politician or the leader. For me, I want to do it by myself because if I can do it, that means that I'm putting music system in the very right position.

PERALTA: What's left unsaid is that Diamond struggles with that. Last fall, some of his musician friends were arrested by the Tanzanian government for being critical. As a superstar, he felt a special obligation to say something.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIAMOND PLATNUMZ SONG, "ACHA NIKAE KIMYA")

PERALTA: Instead, he released a song, but it was not uploaded to YouTube and not played on the radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACHA NIKAE KIMYA")

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: (Singing in Swahili).

PERALTA: The country is stuck in mud, he sings, but he's too young, too scared to say anything. Instead, he remains quiet. In Swahili, that's kimya.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACHA NIKAE KIMYA")

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: (Singing in Swahili).

PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Dar es Salaam.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACHA NIKAE KIMYA")

DIAMOND PLATNUMZ: (Singing in Swahili). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.