Mozambique: Behind the Detention of MC Azagaia

You can even kill me but you can't silence the Truth.” Azagaia on the song As Mentiras da Verdade (a play on words meaning “True Lies”)

All links lead to Portguese language pages except when otherwise noted.

The authorities have had their eye on Azagaia  (real name Edson da Luz - one of the brightest  and most polemical [en] hip hop musicians from Mozambique) ever since he decided to use his songs for social intervention. On Saturday 30 July, he was arrested by the Police of Criminal Investigation (PIC) for allegedly possessing a few grams of “suruma”, a drug scientifically known as cannabis sativa, and whose possession and consumption is considered illegal in the country [pdf].

That night, Azagaia was going to present his most recent work in Maputo, about the so called “geração da viragem” (turning generation) which,  according to the musician, refers to a youth generation “that has represented and represents the center of the checkerboard of this political game which will be won by those who know how to occupy and explore it“. The blog Fobloga announced:

A prisão aconteceu algumas horas antes do início do concerto que ele faria no bar Gil Vicente, onde lançaria um novo clipe chamado “A Minha Geração”, contendo, como sempre, duras criticas ao governo. Azagaia é um forte crítico da política e da sociedade moçambicana.

The arrest took place a few hours before the concert that was supposed to happen at the Gil Vicente bar, where he was going to release a new video called “A Minha Geração” (My Generation), containing, as always, harsh criticism towards the government. Azagaia is a strong critic of politics and society in Mozambique.

Illicit Substances as Arrest Pretense

Many Mozambicans who had been following Azagaia's detention through the media were talking about a possible trap, or as the Brazilians say an “arapuca”. As the teacher Yussuf Adam wrote on Facebook:

se for por posse e uso de canabis sativa tinham que prender uma boa parte dos camponeses moçambicanos e muita gente nas cidades

if it is about the possession and use of cannabis sativa, they should have taken a large part of the Mozambican peasant population and many people [who live] in the cities

Another facebooker, Sérgio Bila shared on his wall:

Não quero entrar para o debate, nem especular sobre o sucedido com o Azagaia, mas a nossa Lei penaliza tanto o consumo como a posse de “cannabis Indica” (a variedade “sativa” não ocorre em África). Mas achei algo muito interessante no meu velhinho e amigo Dicionário do Estudante [Porto Editora, 1980]: “Soruma, (s. f.) planta africana cuja folha os Negros fumam em vez de tabaco.”

I do not want to enter the debate, or to speculate on what happened to Azagaia, but our law penalizes both the consumption and possession of “Cannabis Indica” (the “sativa” variety is not native to Africa). But I found something very interesting in my old friend, the Student Dictionary [Porto Editora, 1980], “Soruma (sf) African plant whose leaf the Black [people] smoke instead of tobacco.”

The relationship of many Mozambicans towards suruma is somewhat summarized on Facebook in the words of Tony Manna:

suruma é a droga do povo desde [há] séculos, e que eu saiba nunca ouvi dizer que aconteceu um acidente de viação, porque o motorista tinha fumado um charro…enquanto que o álcool é consumido duma forma boçaloide, provoca as mais diversas problemáticas, desde a violência de todos os tipos, acidentes, etc, mas é legal!

suruma has been the drug of the people for centuries, and as far as I know, there has never been a car accident because the driver had smoked a joint … whereas alcohol is avidly consumed causing the most diverse problems, from violence of all kinds, accidents, etc., but it's legal!

A few months ago the US State Department blacklisted one of the most influential Mozambican businessmen [en], who had been closely linked to the powers in the ruling party since 1975, for considering him one of the most dangerous drug kingpins in the world. While the subject was not even being addressed in the coffeeshops of the pearl of the Indian Ocean anymore, Azagaia insisted on loudly singing that the country “works on cocaine”. In the song “Arrriii” the musician rapped about the pipes and the business of Uncle Scrooge, stating that if the “big” are corrupt, then “the little ones also start getting involved” and “a corrupt state remains”.

With these songs constantly attacking the authorities, many Mozambicans believe that Azagaia is in danger. On Facebook, Norberto Gravata, wrote:

Já era sabido que algum dia ele seria preso ou mesmo morto. Muitos são os consumidores e portadores de drogas e muitos jamais foram presos.

It was already known that someday he would be arrested or killed. Many consume and carry drugs and many have never been arrested.

Handcuffed Words

An article written in September 2010 and republished on the Buala website, pointed out that Azagaia “26 years old [at the time], son of a Capeverdean father and a Mozambican mother… doesn't stick to denouncing corruption on the high spheres of political and economical power, but also the measures that directly affect the life conditions of the population.”

Azagaia's voice has troubled the government which has already tried to censor his songs on public television and radio, and even in some private media with close ties to the ruling party in Mozambique. He has even been intimidated by the Attorney General's Office on suspicion of “undermining state security” with the release of the song “Povo no Poder” (People in Power), where he sings about the death of the first President of Mozambique, Samora Machel.

Back to the detention of the musician, on @Verdade Online, internauts such as Muendhane were wondering “if this could be the end of freedom of speech? Or the exacerbated heroism of the police?”. A different netizen, who prefered to stay anonymous, wrote:

Esta para mim, foi uma tentativa frustrada de denegrir a imagem do rapaz, orquestrada por um punhado de gente que se sente atingida pelas letras do músico da maioria (o povo). Estes “polícias” querem mais é se vangloriar perante seus chefes, pois os mesmos são corrompidos por quantias muito abaixo do valor das duas bolinhas de “passa” que Azagaia trazia com sigo para o consumo próprio.

This for me was a failed attempt to tarnish the young man's image, orchestrated by a handful of people who feel affected by the lyrics of the musician of the majority (the people). What these “police” want the most is to glorify themselves before their bosses, because they are corrupted by amounts far below the value of the two balls of “pass” that Azagaia had for his own consumption.

Poster for the replacement of the presentation of Azagaia

Ivo Faiela commented:

Mais uma vez podemos ver a COBARDIA deste governo, sabendo que a quantidade de suruma que “ele” tinha era insuficiente para ser preso porquê o mesmo aconteceu? Se foi a PIC que aprendeu e encontrou-lhe com a dita soruma porquê foi a esquadra? Está aí claro que isso foi mais uma deste nosso governo, que diz haver liberdade de expressão enquanto, liberdade tem ele de fazerem e desfazerem sem que alguém possa algo fazer.

Again we see the cowardice of this government; knowing that the amount of suruma “he” had was not enough to be arrested then why did it happen? If it was the PIC who seized and found him with suruma, then why did he go to the police station? It is clear that this has only been another one from our government, which says there is freedom of expression, whereas freedom is what they [the government] have to make and undo  without anybody being able to do something about it.

A netizen who prefered not to identify himself vented:

No tempo colonial os poetas Mocambicanos que gritavam liberdade eram banidos, e escondiam-se em pseudónimos. Qual a diferenca entre o que Azagaia esta a ser sujeito e o que Kalungano e outros poetas do periodo de repressao colonial em Mocambique sofreram. Azagaia canta liberdade ensinada a geração de 75, quem o ensinou essa palavra e porque o querem amordaçar?

In colonial times the Mozambican poets who cried freedom were banished, and hid themselves behind pseudonyms. What is the difference between what Azagaia is going through and what Kalungano and other poets of the period of colonial repression suffered in Mozambique? Azagaia sings the freedom that was taught to the generation of 75, who taught him the word and why do they want to gag him?

The teacher Andre Dimas finalized on Facebook:

como está difícil pôr algemas nas palavras… algema-se o dono da palavra…

as it is difficult to put handcuffs on words … the owner of the word is handcuffed…

The musician has been released and will wait for the resolution of the criminal process in freedom. The presentation of his most recent work titled Aza-leaks took place on Thursday, August 4.

This post was proofread by Ayoola Alabi and Kevin Rennie.

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