Monday, January 30, 2012

NY Times Op-Ed Speaks to Hip-Hop's Revolutionary Power in Africa

An op-ed in the New York Times today exposed the growing trend of hip-hop as a vehicle for expressing political and social discontents across Africa. Written by Sujatha Fernandes, an associate professor of sociology at Queens College, the op-ed points out that many styles of African music, from West African griots to Afrobeat to the Chimurenga of Thomas Mapfumo, have a long tradition of questioning their political leaders. Fernandes also points out that the oratorical style of hip-hop cuts through the “political subterfuge” that has ultimately made some rappers, like Keurgui Crew from Senegal (see our October coverage of them), across the continent become “voices of clarity and leadership.”

Afropop Worldwide has been on top of the growing trend that Fernandes points out for awhile now. In our "Trans-National Hip-Hop Train" program, Moroccan female rapper Soultana pointed out last summer to us that, “in Arab countries, hip hop is the reason why there is revolution” (read full interview). While Malian rapper Amkoullel spoke about the importance of including social criticisms in his lyrics in our interview with him in 2011. And in our forthcoming third Hip Deep installment on the music of Egypt, “Cairo Underground,” we will talk and listen to Egyptian hip-hop groups and MCs such as Arabian Knightz (see video below) who played vital roles in last year’s revolution.

The extent that hip-hop permeates Africa is enough to showcase the power of its influence. However, watching (and listening) it grow out of New York City in the 80's and eventually transform into a vehicle for expressing and inspiring real social and political change across the world is a revolution unto itself.  As we continue to watch hip-hop take hold across Africa as a mic for critical and poignant expression, the question logically arises: what will American rappers learn from their African hip-hop counterparts?

We eagerly are watching, listening and waiting to see.

-Saxon Baird
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