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Tanzanian-Finnish weightlifter raises eyebrows with rap hit

A provocative hip-hop video by rapper Musta Barbaari (“Black Barbarian”) has scored more than 700,000 views on YouTube within a couple of weeks. Its creator says that the song, which began as a goof, has spurred debate about immigration and racism.

James Nikander
James Nikander Image: Yle

Titled “Salil eka salil vika” (“First at the Gym, Last at the Gym”), the tongue-in-cheek track by rapper Musta Barbaari, tells what it’s like to be a dark-skinned man in Finland – according to the tune, it's “the hardest job in the country”. The cut, which began as a joke during a student project, has spurred discussion about immigration and racism.

Musta Barbaari is 22-year James Nikander, who was born in Finland to Tanzanian-Finnish parents. Nikander ended up in a documentary made as a friend’s school project. The film portrayed Nikander’s day-to-day life and weight-lifting hobby, and led to him starting a video blog.

The idea of doing a rap tune came when Nikander worked selling T-shirts and other merchandise at gigs featuring Finnish hip-hoppers Karri Koira and Ruudolf. The in-your-face track was inspired by joking banter among his friends of immigrant background.

The nearly-instant popularity of “Salil eka salil vika” on YouTube came as somewhat of a surprise to the first-time recording artist.

“Well, we expected something, but not this kind of explosive popularity,” he told Yle. “There’s a lot of debate on YouTube about whether it’s brilliant or crap,” he says with a chuckle.

Consciously incorrect

The track frequently uses the ‘n-word’, which is common in American gangsta rap despite its derogatory roots. The use of politically incorrect language was a conscious choice, says Musta Barbaari.

“About 80-90 percent of people have reacted positively, but some have also said stuff like ‘go back to Africa all you immigrants and ...’. And we’ve also gotten some positive comments about this being the kind of gangsta rap that Finland has needed,” Nikander says.

So is it really that hard to be a black man in Finland?

“It can be a bit hard when you’re looking for a job – especially if you don’t know the language,” he says. “So it’s really important to study the language, at least for immigrants.” As to his own future job prospects in the music business, Musta Barbaari is tight-lipped, saying only: “There might be more songs...the fans want me to do more.”

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