Tuesday, 28 April 2009

"Africa" doesn’t have to be the victim, it can be the rapper too!

The other night I was at a dinner party, enjoying the company of friends and the superior strength of their advanced air conditioning unit (these were engineers!). VH1 was on in the background and strawberries and cream was for desert. Things were looking good… Then a certain music video came on the television.

Fall Out Boy: I'm Like a Lawyer with the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me + You)

Not exactly the most obvious name for a music video about Ugandan war children but there you go. I did a bit of research and this is how the Ugandan newspaper, The Monitor accounts for this strange mix of romance and tragedy:

Originally, the plan was for Fall Out Boy to come to Uganda, see how their money given to the charity was being used and shoot a documentary to raise awareness about the plight of thousands of children displaced by the country's ongoing war, but they later decided that the best medium through which to portray the suffering in the north was through song (The Monitor, Dorene Namanya, 11 October 2007).

It goes on to say:

“The challenge thus, according to the Fall Out Boy official website was for the director Alan Ferguson and Invisible Children, the nonprofit children's aid group that sponsored the trip to "make a video that encapsulates two decades of war for a song that's chiefly about the ins and outs of a relationship gone awry." The solution was to make a video about a love story between two Ugandan teenagers.”

Well I am not entirely convinced to be honest…two decades of war in a six minute music video with very little narrative and explanation? A very fair treatment of a complicated conflict.

Anyhow, I want to represent an idea for my next music video (you didn’t know I had a music career? You obviously haven’t heard about the Khartoum’s theoretical jazz band):


A curious landscape filled with the victims of poverty, war and political corruption, waiting for you to save her.


The eternal location of our collective guilt, the place that needs our help, the place where the ultimate victim dwells.

“Save me VH1, Save me!” She calls out… 

OK, enough silliness. I know I am being silly.

Now let us compare this video with another musical endeavor that I came across this past week.

Fanfare if you please...


Last Saturday, the Goethe Institute and the French cultural centre organized a free hip-hop concert in the park of the National Museum in downtown Khartoum. Horay for free concerts outside! Horay for the chance to dance! Horay for funny German rappers (sorry Germans, I have just never heard rap in German before and it made me smile)!

The concert was the culmination of a workshop for young and aspiring Sudanese rappers and hip-hoppers to improve and showcase their talent with professionals from Germany and France: Sepalot Cajus of Blumentopf, 2 Bal from France. I don’t know the exact number of participants but there were probably about fifteen Sudanese performers on the night, including “Joyce” (yes, a lady rapper- a rare commodity and probably my favourite, and not just for the sake of the sisterhood; she was fantabulous!) Here is a picture of her performance:

The concert was followed by a three day UNESCO symposium on “Intellectual Property Righs in the Arts and Music” (slightly less exciting than a free concert, but nevertheless a useful pursuit).

To steal the Goethe institute’s words (and the fabulous translating skills of Google Language Tools) the conference was organized to “discuss Sudanese representative artist and musician associations, policy makers and recognized experts from Germany and France, legal frameworks for the development of cultural industry of Sudan. It focuses on issues of dissemination of copyrighted works over the Internet and the creation of an institution for collective management of rights, similar to the German GEMA or the French SACEM.” (Goethe institute: http://www.goethe.de/ins/su/kha/de4476989.htm)I know that the translation isn’t great but neither is my German. Thank you Google Language Tools, you’re my only hope.

ANYWAYS, I got to wondering…

Isn’t this the sort of thing that famous musicians and artists ought to be doing with their extra time? Engaging with local artists and helping them get ahead in the tumultuous world of music production. It certainly beats presenting the whole of the African continent as a land of starving babies, scary dudes with guns and the occasional maniacal genocidal president wandering past with a funny hat on his head. 

The concert was great. I haven't had that much fun in a long long while and it just went to show that musicians and artists can be found everywhere in the world. Africa is not just a place of tears, but a place of hip-hop too.

So I shall say this to any passing musicians or otherwise: if you want to change Africa for the better, you should stick to what you do best: music!! Come and share your talent and social capital with some musicians who want to get ahead. And actors and movie-makers: why not also share your skills (and oh-so-important connections) with young Africans. You don't have to adopt them to help them. 

Rant over. Peace out. Horay for multicultural hip-hop*!

 *side note: I must have spent twenty minutes figuring out the root of the Arabic word “HoB” before I realized it was the hop after the hip. Malish.

Me and Aymen trying to look cool and gangsta. 


  1. i dont think giving the camera the middle finger is "looking cool and gangsta"

  2. I am not giving the camera the middle finger! There is clearly more than one finger being raised there. I think three.