Saturday, 9 February 2013

Is the musical genre and expression of Hip Hop, African?

I, for some reason, have grown to have an increased curiosity in the musical expression called Hip Hop. It’s mainly because I see a lot of young African people singing in this style of music nowadays on TV. You won’t go past channels such as Channel O and Trace without seeing one of these young people singing one of these hip hop lullabies. Apparently the musical expression called Hip hop, started as a musical culture in New York in the 1970s and was an expression of everyday inner city life and has historically been the voice of the African-American youth. To my surprise, I discovered that it also has deep Jamaican and African roots, seen in the rawness of its beats and the rhythm of its lyrics. It also has origins from the Caribbean that later gave birth to reggae in Jamaica. Looking back in history, West Africa in particular also has had some influence in the creation of hip hop, as the style borrows from African traditions evident in the lyrics and the delivery of the music.

It is believed that hip hop music and culture came to Africa between the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then it has spread with the energy and passion of a musical and cultural revolution. History has come full circle and rap music and hip hop culture are increasingly becoming popular among African youth in particular, who have added a new African twist to the genre. Of particular interest is that the word "hip" has been associated to the Wolof word "hepi" or "hipi" which means "to see" or "to open one's eyes". Wolof is a language of Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania, and the native language of the Wolof people. Wolof also refers to the Wolof Empire, a medieval West African state. Philosophers and scholars alike have debated whether the word "hip" is actually derived from Wolof or whether its usage is simply a coincidence.

Senegalese/Gambian woman

The spirit and passion which young African American rappers express transforms their minds and those of millions of their peers who related to the messages and stories being told through the music.
Tales of love, friendship, crime, politics and violence were also the stories of countless urban African youth. American rapper 2Pac became a legend across the continent precisely because of the social importance of his lyrics. There was no major city in Africa one could go to in the late 1990s and not see images of 2Pac or hear his music being played.

Hip hop was more than just another form of music -- the fact that it was also its own subculture and a transmitter of political and social commentary was absorbed by African youth who related to all aspects of this new musical revolution. Many young artists who would have once entered the music scene through the Afro-pop or traditional music genres have become hip hop artists and have contributed to the evolution of the musical form in Africa.

Alesh hip hop singer from DRC
Alesh, perfoming in front of fans and African youth

Of special note is that African hip-hop artists have remained true to their identity and culture through the music whereas others have lost that identity completely and adopted the style, tone and regalia of the American hip-hop singers. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, that remains subjective. However, hip hop remains an artistic form and should still be appreciated as it carries a lot of cultural and social themes. One thing for sure is that the musical expression and its growth is a sign that the youth in Africa are becoming more empowered and are using their talents to motivate and inspire their peers.

Akua Naru Hip hop artist and poet

No comments:

Post a Comment