A comprehensive overview of the state of Hip Hop Diplomacy across the pond from one of my most admired mentors, Dr. Hisham Aidi (via one of my favorite observers of the Arab street, Jackson Allers & World Hip Hop Market)
The cauldron: Islam and Hip-Hop in Europe
The debate over Islam and hip hop in Europe is heating up as governments wade in.
By Hishaam Aidi (published first on Al Jazeera.com)
New York, NY - Three months ago, just as the French presidential campaign was heating up, the rapper Kery James uploaded a track titled “Letter to the Republic” (“Lettre à la République“) explaining what he and youth in the banlieues thought of the republic’s political class, or as he described them, “Pillagers of wealth, murderers of Africans, torturers of Algerians / The colonial past is yours, you chose to link your history to ours.”
Rappers provide anthems for the
- “Arab hip-hop, especially that coming out of Tunisia and Egypt, played a major role in creating the soundtrack to the so-called Arab Spring,” said Joshua Asen, a documentary filmmaker and writer of the Hip Hop Diplomacy blog.
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
TEHRAN — With lyrics that tread on ultrasensitive topics and an album cover that shows the dome of a mosque in the shape of a woman’s breast, Shahin Najafi is an international rapper who elicits an intense reaction here.
But Mr. Najafi’s latest song, “Naghi,” named after a Shiite saint, has prompted a particular uproar. Opponents of Mr. Najafi are using a recent fatwa by a leading cleric, Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpayegani, which labels all those insulting the 10th Shiite imam, Ali al-Hadi al-Naqi, also known as Imam Naghi, as apostates. An Islamist Web site then offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills Mr. Najafi, who was born in Iran, raps in Persian but lives in Germany.
|The US government wants to improve its tarnished image abroad by sending out ‘hip hop envoys’ [GALLO/GETTY]|
In April 2010, the US State Department sent a rap group named Chen Lo and The Liberation Family to perform in Damascus, Syria.
Following Chen Lo’s performance, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was asked by CBS News about US diplomacy’s recent embrace of hip hop. “Hip hop is America,” she said, noting that rap and other musical forms could help “rebuild the image” of the United States. “You know it may be a little bit hopeful, because I can’t point to a change in Syrian policy because Chen Lo and the Liberation Family showed up. But I think we have to use every tool at our disposal.”
The State Department began using hiphop as a tool in the mid-2000s, when, in the wake of Abu Ghraib and the resurgence of the Taliban, Karen Hughes, then undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, launched an initiative called Rhythm Road. The programme was modelled on the jazz diplomacy initiative of the Cold War era, except that in the “War on Terror”, hip hop would play the central role of countering “poor perceptions” of the US.
Reprinted with permission from author/editor Jackson Allers of World Hip Hop Market.
Cairo’s MC Amin playing to the crowd for the “Voice of the Streets” event (Lens ©Laith Majali/Immortal Entertainment)
CAIRO – Last November, 12 of the region’s best-known Arab rappers were set to perform together at a public youth center in the swanky central Cairo district of Zamalek. Organizers billed Voice of the Streets as a concert to remind people about “the continued struggle for freedom of expression in the wake of the Arab uprisings.” Indeed, it was an Arab hip-hop event without precedent.
Unlikely rap torchbearer, Tunisia’s MC El Général whose song Rayess Labled (Head of State) was a musical anthem for the uprisings, and MC Swat from Libya, who was featured in numerous international stories about the musical scions of the Libyan rebel movement, were both “prize-winning” elements to the stellar line-up.
But the day before the event was scheduled to take place, event organizer Martin Jakobsen, director of the educational NGO Turntables in the Camps and founding member of the legendary Danish DJ collective Den Sorte Skole (The Black School) told WHHM that neither rapper was going to make it.
The Egyptian revolution is easily one of the most significant uprisings in decades. Millions of workers, students and unemployed took to the streets demanding that the US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak step down; it’s a struggle that continues even now, several months after Mubarak was overthrown.
Like any true revolution, the massive demonstrations and strikes sent a shock wave through the nation’s culture. Left-wing reporters and bloggers gained global attention, revolutionary poems were written and performed often on the fly in Tahrir Square, and countless songs dedicated to the uprising rocketed around the Internet.
Two of these songs, “Rebel,” and “Not Your Prisoner,” came courtesy of the trio Arabian Knightz, widely regarded as the first hip-hop group in Egypt. Both quickly became anthems of the revolution. After being vaulted to a national and international profile, Arabian Knightz are preparing their first international tour, and are releasing their new album Uknighted States of Arabia on 25 January — the one-year anniversary of the protests that sparked the revolution.
The Mixtape of the Revolution
By SUJATHA FERNANDES
Published: January 29, 2012
DEF JAM will probably never sign them, but Cheikh Oumar Cyrille Touré, from a small town about 100 miles southeast of Dakar, Senegal, and Hamada Ben Amor, a 22-year-old man from a port city 170 miles southeast of Tunis, may be two of the most influential rappers in the history of hip-hop.
Mr. Touré, a k a Thiat (“Junior”), and Mr. Ben Amor, a k a El Général, both wrote protest songs that led to their arrests and generated powerful political movements. “We are drowning in hunger and unemployment,” spits Thiat on “Coup 2 Gueule” (from a phrase meaning “rant”) with the Keurgui Crew. El Général’s song “Head of State” addresses the now-deposed President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali over a plaintive background beat. “A lot of money was pledged for projects and infrastructure/Schools, hospitals, buildings, houses/but the sons of dogs swallowed it in their big bellies.” Later, he rhymes, “I know people have a lot to say in their hearts, but no way to convey it.” The song acted as sluice gates for the release of anger that until then was being expressed clandestinely, if at all.