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Impoliteness in Modern Taarab Music

Lilian Chacha
John Habwe


This paper is about impoliteness in modern taarab music. It focuses mainly on impoliteness strategies occasionally used by some artists of selected modern taarab music on the island of Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania; where politeness is culturally embedded. Although taarab music is composed, played and performed across the East African coast, we selected taarab from Zanzibar island and mainland Tanzania for this study because these regions are arguably the hub of modern styles, innovations, presentations, performances and singing of taarab music. Data for this study were obtained from YouTube where some lyrics from modern taarab were purposively selected for analysis. We selected a sample of eight taarab songs that we thought were representative in answering the question of impoliteness in taarab music. The data were qualitatively analysed using Culpeper’s (1996) impoliteness model. It was found that modern taarab music is a highly dialogic and interactive sub-genre which is sensational, has specialised lyrics and employs some impoliteness strategies for contestation, open correction, rivalry and grandstanding between fellow artists and their audience. Only four mega strategies were observed in the data, namely positive impoliteness, negative impoliteness, sarcasm and bald on record, with withhold politeness missing. Some of the impoliteness sub-strategies that were observed in modern taarab are ridicule, admonishing, open threats, segregation, exhibitionism, boasting, and teasing, blaming and name-calling.

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eISSN: 0023-1886