by Naboth Rimayi
After nearly a decade of its existence from its birth in New York, Hip Hop is believed to have reached the African continent and become popular in the early 80’s. With its widespread global reach Hip Hop is alleged to have entered the continent through a French-speaking country in West Africa known as Senegal, giving birth to rap mixed with Mbalax (national popular dance music of Senegal and Gambia) as artists such as MC Lida and MC Solaar were some of the first artists to spearhead its influence. Mbalax is a fusion of popular music from the diaspora or, put simply, it is a type of West African pop music. As you can see from inception, the African continent has always been welcoming to the Hip Hop culture to the extent of finding a way to accommodate it within its own way of life.
So why is this the case you may ask? Is it because Africa is overly friendly? We just seem to want to get with anything that’s foreign or seem to align ourselves with such? I certainly don’t believe one would just leave their customs and way of life that has kept them going generation upon generation just like that … Unless there are some traits that they can identify with or feel they can relate to. That the concept has a way it can infiltrate into the other because certain things are not so foreign after all. Hence the understanding that there must have been some common ground that the African locals could identify with within this American-based music. It must have been enough for people in Africa to want to fuse with their own culture because it somehow felt like something that gelled with what’s there and complimented what we already have.
By the time Hip Hop reaches the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, groups like Black Noise and Prophets of Da City had further spread the Hip Hop influence from the Cape Flats of Cape Town to the rest of South Africa. Once again Hip Hop is fused in the locals’ lifestyle and becomes the voice for a ‘conscious’ Hip Hop scene evident in the presence of the elements that always seem to have a somewhat African fusion in them. An example is when rappers start rapping in their native tongues in a bid to express themselves better, furthermore integrating the foreign culture into theirs, this time through language.
It’s no surprise that poor communication can yield conflict. So if you find a way to effectively communicate then it means you are one step closer to building good relations. In this instance good communication by way of language means you have a better chance of being fused into the lifestyle simply because you can understand each other. With Hip Hop boasting to have a universal slang understood all around the world could this have aided it being welcomed into the African culture? Most languages have their own slang words and phrases and since Hip Hop is well known for free expression without limit to language it’s no surprise this similarity means the same spirit of being part of a group, speaking a certain informal way, could have been more welcoming than being confined to express yourself in a language you don’t even understand, let alone speak. In Africa it’s nothing shocking to find people talking in different languages but still understanding each other. Yes, some dialects borrow from each other–words and phrases–but for the most part, just like with music it’s all about the vibe, the energy and the feeling you feel that helps in connecting these forces.
The above instances were just showing how accommodative Africans have been and the way they eventually find a way to include foreign cultures into their own and make it a part of their lifestyle. Look at how religion managed to infiltrate into the continent and now when you go to church it’s as if those religions were African to start off with. It’s not like they didn’t get resistance, because they definitely did, but with time that resistance had to fight against the new opposition which had taken the form of finding common ground within the lifestyle. The ability to find common ground has to be one of the factors aiding Hip Hop to fuse seamlessly with the African culture. So does Hip Hop share a lot of common ground with the African culture then?
Yes, this could be so. To the extent that some have even gone to the point of saying Africa influenced Hip Hop in New York and not the other way round. This is all because they believe cave paintings and hieroglyphics in Africa is what gave birth to modern day graffiti writing. They go on to also say trance dancers transcended to what we now know as B-boys and B-girls as the current break dancers. They also allege that the African drum is what gave birth to the rhythm. Most importantly they bring forward the argument that the African praise singers and orators is what you now have as the modern day rappers or MC’s, not forgetting poets. So from looking at all this you can see how they may have come to all of that, right?
So would it be wrong to think that, since all these things, like cave paintings, happened way before the Bronx birthed Hip Hop in the 70’s, Africa influenced Hip Hop in America after all? Just because you can trace certain traits to a group of people is that enough to let us be conclusive? Yes, the Africans did not leave their cultures and lifestyles behind. It’s a good case to say they somehow evolved with time, but is it enough to say they are the original influencers influencing modern day America to start thinking it was them who came up with these Hip Hop elements, when this is a result of having the African culture fusing with the American culture and over time exploding into what we now know as Hip Hop? It feels like this culture has always been within us. Hence its exploding into life is just a natural progression of what couldn’t be kept inside anymore. It had to reach the next phase, the next stage of its existence.
Break dancing, poetry and graffiti, just to name a few of the Hip Hop elements that make up this culture, did not come out of thin air. Could all this be mere coincidence? There’s no telling for sure but you can’t rule out the way these similarities are striking and could have easily influenced this chain of events. After all, these African Americans have roots in Africa right? Think about it. Does it not feel like more of a result of years of African culture evolving and finally finding an outlet that is relatable to what African culture already had? Hence this is why it was so easy for Hip hop to fit perfectly in Africa and the fusion is always somewhat natural, all because the elements that make up this foreign culture are elements not so foreign after all. This is why Hip Hop feels very relatable and accommodative than other foreign cultures. Why? Well, because it was influenced way before it was the influencer and that is why Hip Hop and African culture is the ultimate fusion.
Check out #BrownExcellence: Trapline by Snotty Nose Rez Kids for Insight on Indigenous Hip Hop