Poppa’s Song

‘Poppa was a playa’ is the title of Nas’s song, which made me think; is polygamy in African cultures somewhat similar to the concept of being a playa? Maybe nyumba ndogo is a better comparison.

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‘Poppa was a playa’ and ‘Dingi’ (Swahili slang for father), by Man Dojo & Domo Kaya, are songs both dedicated to their “poppaz”.

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Nas raps about his love for his father, despite of the troubles, while Man Dojo and Domo Kaya rap about their father who abandoned them. These two songs speak of the void of fatherhood that’s left in their lives. There are “poppaz” and “dingi” in both societies, as their stories are told by the sons. In both cases, it’s the sons who are rapping about their pain. But we also see how their poppas’ actions have affected the family structure.

The problems of fatherhood in the African American communities can be traced back to slavery; but where can African fatherhood problems be traced back to? Now whether one agrees with this article or not, casual relationships seem to be the trend, which some end up in “baby daddy” situation instead of fatherhood. And this seems to be a popular trend growing within our own Tanzanian communities, too.  While the West is always seen guilty of spreading such immoral cultures, we always forget to ask ourselves if Western cultures promote such behaviors at all. Don’t most of us follow the same culture called religion — that discourages casual relationships? Then why is the finger being pointed at one direction?

A young man Nas appears to accept the reality of his father’s weakness with the ladies. He acknowledges that “poppa loved the ladies”, but doesn’t condemn him for that. This affects the family, as infidelity usually does, with his mother having to sacrifice “all she got to feed us”, because their father was busy playing “the streets all day”. Poppa’s playa behavior has definitely affected the family. The “fighting yelling” only makes the home environment hostile.

But Dingi was not a “playa”, at least at first. Their father’s problems’ started with his redundancy at work, which lead to “maisha magumu”, since he no longer had money. Dingi became alcoholic, something that is not uncommon. However, this always fascinates me, because, although women are deprived of opportunities in many societies, it’s uncommon to see them seek refuge in alcoholism in order to ease their frustrations and stress. But why men?

Dingi is obviously frustrated for not being able to take care of his family. This could also be justified with the argument that he felt ashamed in front of the society, that shun against men who cannot take care of their families. But it might not be the case in the modern societies. But interesting enough, his actions are also not uncommon among men who have good jobs. For instance, being alcoholic, sleeping with a maid, also known as “hauz geli”, etc. are all behaviors that many households can relate to. Nas’s Poppa plays with women away from home, Dingi plays with the house help. Any worse?

But there is a significant distinction between Poppa and Dingi. Although Poppa loves the “pretty brown round”, he cares for Nas. He was present in his life, as he recalls, watching him “crawl till I took my first step, to the first grade”. He also taught him to be a man, “made me fight you like a man”, but also protected him from being “jumped by shorty’s fam”. Nas is proud that his father was around, unlike Dingi who disappeared. And that’s why Man Dojo and Domo Kaya are asking, “mbona ulitukimbia”? He ran away from his responsibilities; he was not there when they “fucked up” unlike Nas’s poppa.

His presence probably even influenced Nas’s music, because he was also a musician. Fathers are usually their sons’ first role models. Moreover, sons usually aspire to become like their fathers. This is true, although “we all came from a woman”, Tupac raps in ‘Keep Your Head Up‘. Unfortunately, Dingi’s actions are far from instilling positive influence onto his two sons. Nas raps “night after night, fighting yelling at each other”. Nas is suggesting domestic violence here, again, something that is not uncommon in African households. With that said, is domestic violence or violence against women more prevalent among minority households, for example African American households, and in the Eastern world, Africa in this case?

The children are left to suffer because of their father’s frustration due to unemployment, while Nas grew up witnessing his mother being emotionally and physically abused. But his father’s wisdom can be sum up in the following few lines that he taught Nas before he left. Nas raps, “A child’s young years the most important time to be there”. And that’s the reason why “he stayed till we grew”; and Nas can see how his presence affected him, because despite his weaknesses, the respect he has for him “is still here”.

The bond between him and his father clearly transpired to more than just father son relationship — but a homie-kind of friendship, as Nas calls him “that’s my nigga”. But both Poppa and Dingi are the type of fathers that “one day they can be in your life, next day they be out”. With Man Dojo and Domo Kaya still asking him to come back home, because, just like Nas, they have already forgiven their Dingi, despite all the hardships he has put them through.

Considering Nas situation, how much is his father a baby daddy and a father-hood figure due to his love for his son? Dingi appears to be long gone — although he was a father before he lost his job — and turned his back on his family. Nas is grown, and appreciates his father being around when he was young. But it’s unclear how the disappearance of Dingi will affect his children, we can only speculate.

Is the “baby daddy” mentality slowly creeping into our African cultures that have always advocated traditional family? More African youths are having children at young age, and even before marriage. Why?

In conclusion, is Nas playful Poppa and Dingi the common type of men in our societies? Is it also fair to argue that  infidelity, promiscuity and alcohol abuse is more prominent among men than women? I hope there will be more songs that praise the fathers, because there are a lot more songs that praise the mothers and not so many praising the fathers. I can only wonder why that seem to be the case…

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