When Stephanie Meyer conceived Twilight she probably wasn’t aiming to shift the way in which people consumed media; or if she was, she must not have imaged the reach of that shift coming as far as these shores; or be, to Twilight fans or not, the lasting legacy of her vampire and werewolf love triangle. Yet here we are in 2017, and more than book sales and film grosses, what has preserved Twlight’s cultural imprint for close to decade can be reduced to single four letter word: team.
That this benign word, team, has come to resemble a tribalist drawing of the line in pop culture spheres worldwide is largely thanks to the ingenious marketing of the second film in The Twilight Saga, New Moon, in 2009. For those those in need of a refresher this was the one where the wolf boy becomes a rival to the girl and vampire boy’s perfect love.
The chronology is not quite clear; it might be the marketers were drawing on book fans’ use of the term or just decided that the word side wasn’t hashtag friendly but the fact remains that team, as it exists now, as a sectioning of supporters between rivals, first gained wider prominence on the billboards and adverts in the lead in up to that film, which, on the back of the success of #team-ing, went to be highest opener of all the the Twilight Films.
The word and its meaning struck home; with the advent of social media fan loyalty and infatuation had more currency than ever before and it was only a matter of time before all the energy was effectively channeled into a readily identifiable hashtag, through which fans could join waves of support for something they liked. And so as the film and books were forgotten the word team has endured for this purpose; as applied, close to ten years later, for interests far ranging as nature (#teamfiona), technology (#teampixel) and infidelity (#teammafisi).
In fact anyone in need of some bandwagon to jump on can just type #team in google and wait for autocorrect to do the rest. There is, out there, a #team for just about anything short of an actual team.
In Dar, and East Africa as whole, this revised form of the word has become all consuming, so frequent at each turn as to seen indigenous—as if Stephanie Meyer was from Mtwara. At this point it is hard to even remember what the industry looked like before #team-ing and those bands of fans operating around stars as if around a cause; to the extent that the concept of supporting has began to shift, come to prioritize knee-jerk loyalty to names over any objective enjoyment of music, film or other media.
The most visible and inescapable cause of all this are the colliding talents at the top of the Tanzanian music industry. Diamond and Ali Kiba. In the mid 2000s, as Tanzania moved to the fore of East African music the name at the head of the pack, the hit-maker leading that initial pre-social media charge, was undoubtedly Ali Kiba.
His reign, beginning with Cinderella, went undisputed for half a decade peaking with a spot in One 8, R.Kelly’s 2010 uniting of the biggest names in Africa music. It seemed at the time that all possible limits had been reached with the debut of One8’s Hands Across World on which Ali Kiba stood equal among the likes of 2face and Fally Ipupa; but slowly, coinciding with a 3 year absence on Ali Kibas part, Diamond came to exceed them with hit after hit and discerning use of social media. In fact so inexorable was Diamond’s rise, so far ahead was he of other other artists in the industry circa 2010, that it was only the absent Ali Kiba who could be perceived as his challenger. Thus fans of Ali Kiba, backed to an outsize extent by non fans of Diamond, used a certain nascent hashtag to form#teamkiba, urging Ali Kiba’s return, and avidly pushing online numbers with likes, clicks and shares once he came back with Mwana to drive him to greater heights than before. Fans of Diamond responded in kind, joining non fans of the returning Kiba, to form their own equally activist collective under #teamdiamond, later #teamwcb.
And from there, from the constant back and forths of these teams, came a new, indiscriminate brand of fan, loyal less to music than online metrics of their chosen artist’s success.
Far from being the driver for further innovation, as some have suggested such rivalries might be, the effect of this kind of teaming has been a subtle kind of stasis. The stakes in any battle as rarefied as one the between Ali Kiba or Diamond, or Davido and Wizkid, are so subjective on the upper end, and victories so fleeting, that more than hits, radio play and awards, the ultimate vindication of a team is to precipitate or witness a rival’s failure. Earlier this year Diamond and Ali kiba released two songs mere hours apart, Zilipendwa and Seduce Me, and comments below from their various teams broadly focus on how many more or less views each video each has compared the other one. Even the briefest of reading of them shows teaming for what it truly is; as members of the two sides belittle or dismiss one another achievements in the guise of celebrating their own— with any music between incidental, entirely taken entirely for granted.
To paraphrase the great Nyerere himself; to divide a people once, is to prove, indefinitely, that they can be divided again.
In East Africa the establishing such a solid divide between two artists has encouraged a natural divisiveness that has sought to establish further divides. Ali Kiba’s most die hard teamkibas are also part of #teamwema, a group whose support of Diamond’s actress ex-girlfriend Wema Sepetu, in the form of online abuse, often involves threats to Wema herself whenever she is perceived to have stepped out of line, or somehow undermined their support, to the extent Wema once furiously and categorically disowned them, rebuking them for ruining her life and sounding genuinely troubled on an infamous voice note.
A team, in the modern Twilight inspired social media sense, almost always acts like a sect, encouraging a form of winning that involves some avid and wide ranging search of all possible losers; and by doing so promotes the familiar, however mediocre, over anything new or challenging, even from the artist themselves. Breeds, in the end, the kind of fan who wants nothing more than a music scene lead by their favored artist, with others so far behind as not warrant any thought; at which point, inevitably, would begin the further divisions Nyerere spoke of, with those same fans dividing themselves over something as mundane as which day of the week is the best to support their artists and actively abusing those who disagree; and battles between #teamtuesday and #teamwednesday from fans of the same person; boycotts from these very same fans each time their artist is perceived to be disloyal, or seen to favor another section of fans. And copious more such divisions; by hour, minute or second, each as joyless, arbitrary and tragically removed for music as the last. In the kind of rot that should really be stopped and discouraged before spreading too much further. So for any on either side, those policing social media as part of a team, Twilight was six years ago, it’s about time to grow up.