The Rough Guide to African Rap (World Music Network, 2002)
When rap music first came on the scene in the early 1980’s I found it refreshing as images of kids on the street married poetry to beats. I had grown up with funk and soul music, but had grown tired of its slick commercial studio arrangements. However, I lost interest in rap and hip hop music after gangsta rap came on the scene with its misogynist and violent lyrics pounding out of the stereo of cars passing by my house late at night. So I had mixed feelings when I found The Rough Guide to African Rap in my mailbox. Would it sound like its overly slick American rap brothers and sisters or would it sound distinctly African?
The African diaspora has married some wonderful musical traditions with contemporary sounds of the Americas, Europe and Jamaica. Tony Allen, Femi Kuti and Manu Dibango come to mind. And in fact, Nigerian Afro-Beat founder Tony Allen (Unsung Heroes & Ty) and Cameroon’s Manu Dibango are included on The Rough Guide to African Rap. Unsung Heroes track, Right Here in Front of You is an unabashed tune with Allen’s crazy beats, chiming xylophone notes and Ty’s social message. Dibango’s Senga Abele possesses a jazzy feel with saxophone and hypnotic electronic beats. He requests, "listen to the lion of Cameroon roar." And speaking of lions, this compilation exudes African pride and many of the groups sing in African dialects, embellish their songs with traditional instruments or styles. For instance, Mozambique’s Mabulu, a group that features 62-year old Lisboa Matavel and the 22-year old rapper Chiquito marries marrabenta style music with hip-hop. And the end result is more African than American.
The 14 groups that appear on the compilation hail from all corners of the African continent and while they might be influenced by hip-hop from France, the UK and the US, they have in many respects invented something distinctly their own. You will find poetry here reflecting on various social issues such as poverty, AIDS and hypocrisy, but for the most part, this poetry is rapped in African dialects, French, Portuguese with perhaps only 3 tracks rapped in English. Malian trio Tata Pound fuses traditional Malian fare with hip-hop while creating festive music inspired by the street, scientific and historic text. The Senegalese Positive Black Soul rap in the Wolof language over reggae beats. Senegalese Pee Froiss raps in French while blending indigenous percussion and kora with danceable beats.
And anyone who takes the time to read the liner notes will find plenty of intriguing musical groups coming out of the African continent. Hip-hop is still not my music of choice, but I will admit compiler Graeme Ewens did a wonderful job putting this compilation together. It is a multi-cultural experience that you don’t want to miss despite your musical diet. And it offers a refreshing gaze at African youth.
This archival review by Patty-Lynne Herlevi formerly appeared on Cranky Crow World Music