Hip Hop Is ‘Mixtape of the Revolution’ in Africa and the Middle East
Sujatha Fernandes has written a fascinating op-ed for the New York Times on Hip Hop’s influence on the waves of revolutions and protests across the Middle East and Africa.
According to Fernandes, Rappers have become highly influential spokespeople for a generation of youth disillusioned with an establishment deaf and blind to their concerns. Emcees are resonating with young people by concerning themselves with the experiences of those on the street, and give a voice to the voiceless.
What we are witnessing is the continued power of Hip Hop music and culture. It may have been co-opted by the establishment in America; but in Africa and the Middle East Hip Hop is setting off one revolution after another.
“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.
During the recent wave of revolutions across the Arab world and the protests against illegitimate presidents in African countries like Guinea and Djibouti, rap music has played a critical role in articulating citizen discontent over poverty, rising food prices, blackouts, unemployment, police repression and political corruption. Rap songs in Arabic in particular — the new lingua franca of the hip-hop world — have spread through YouTube, Facebook, mixtapes, ringtones and MP3s from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya and Algeria, helping to disseminate ideas and anthems as the insurrections progressed. El Général, for example, was featured on a mixtape put out by the dissident group Khalas (Enough) in Libya, which also included songs like ‘Tripoli Is Calling’ and ‘Dirty Colonel.’”
What is behind Hip Hop’s global appeal?
Does American Hip Hop still possess this kind of revolutionary power?
Sound off below!