The Other "Black Music"

14 Sep 2005

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I recently stumbled across African Hip Hop Radio. I’m certainly no authority on hip hop, but while I find the African hip hop interesting, I wouldn’t call it good. (Yet.)

It makes me wonder, though… how much of the interest generated in the African hip hop scene (both in Africa and around the world) is based on the racist assumption that if blacks in America (or elsewhere) can do it, so can blacks in Africa? Such an assumption denies successful black hip hop artists the credit they deserve and simply feeds into a “black people have rhythm” stereotype. It also ignores the role of the United States and other countries in creating a cultural atmosphere conducive to the production of such music.

Personally, I would be much more interested in African music that was completely devoid of some (imagined) cultural/ethnic/racist link. African country music, African punk, African emo… now that would get my attention. I would also expect the African interpretations of those genres of music more innovation and adaption of those music forms.

On the other hand, African musicians may just be seeing this as an “easy in.” Because it’s hip hop and the rest of the world has some interest in hip hop, they have hope of recognition. The racist idea that blackness functions as some kind of validating factor for the quality of the hip hop music produced works to the African musicians’ advantage.

Take the Chinese example, though. The rest of the world, in general, has little interest in traditional Chinese music. Chinese immigrants have not developed entirely new genres of music in other countries. Most modern Chinese music is often viewed as derivative of Western pop, Western rock, Western rap, etc. The few Chinese musicians that dare to be innovative receive scant attention overseas. The Chinese musicians have a difficult task ahead of them because they have no “easy in.”

I make these observations off the top of my head; my views are not researched. I’m interested in other opinions on this. Whatever the case, though, I am very interested in musical innovation coming from Africa, China, and anywhere. Even if I consider the music uninteresting, I respect the artists’ courage to innovate.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. I’m listening to the June 2005 show right now, and it’s not bad. Spoken word was (is, probably?) an important artform in Africa, so hiphop is a pretty natural evolution (as it was in black communities in the US).

    As for Chinese music that isn’t just an emulation of other styles, what about 十二乐坊? They’ve had at least some mainstream success in the West (my mom had heard of them, which is my “made it mainstream” litmus test). They mix Chinese traditional music and modern instruments and some beats.

    Try finding some South Asian (particularly Indian, but Pakistani as well) house music. Good stuff, a lot of strong local/traditional influences, blending into a nice mix of old and new.

  2. In my travels, as well as here in the States, just about all my male friends from the continent of Africa enjoy and relate to Hip Hop. I even have a couple of friends from Nigeria who are trying to get signed to a rap label. For them, they say, its natural to relate to other successful people who have African heritage. Unfortunately in the States most hip hop consumption has little to do with “the culture and atmosphere” and more to do with marketing and posing. I would venture that African Hip Hop has more realness to it than anything Ja Rule has ever spit.
    Totally unrelated is my inability to find any bumpin’ Scottish Hip-hop.

  3. You are aware, I hope, that hip-hop is just one of many genres of music being made in Africa. There are rap groups all around the world, why shouldn’t Africans embrace it also? Because they are black, they should resist black culture from other parts of the world?

  4. arg, I wrote up a comment but it didn’t go through, now im getting a no duplicate comments message appear when I try again 🙁

  5. John

    “I am very interested in musical innovation coming from Africa..” You could try to download something by Tinariwen, from Mali, there’s vintage rock in there but it’s different – they’re Tuareg. I saw them live about a year ago and I was impressed.

    Doom

    “..inability to find any bumpin’ Scottish Hip-hop”. It’s bound to exist but I can’t think of any – would Welsh Hip Hop do? (on a Celtic tip) – try Goldie Lookin’ Chain

    John can you point me at some good quality Chinese music please? I know you’ve blogged about it before – some of your archives seem to have dissapeared.

  6. American rap & hip hop certainly have followers everywhere in the world, but Ryan, let’s face it, it doesn’t seem authentic, does it?

    Listeners don’t want to hear Elton John sing a country song about growing up on a farm in Texas & how he lost his dog and the pickup, and they don’t want to hear a middle class japanese trust-fund hippee sing about growing up in Harlem or the “projets”. It’s not even close to authentic. Sure, the rap might sound good, it might rhyme, but give me a break.

    As for African music, it’s actually really good RIGHT NOW. South African music stands out for the cool sounds of steel drums, the a capella refrains, the innovative percussion, and the vocals. It’s amazing to hear those songs in languages most people have never even heard of.

  7. Éoin,

    Thanks for the suggestion; I’ll look into Tinariwen.

  8. very nice music. It reminds me of some songs from Mauriitus. But then again, we kinda have some African influence .. Many people in Mauritius are descendants of slaves from Africa.

  9. “spoken word” is a form of music?? i thought it was more like poetry. i was invited to attend an open mic session, but so far have not been able to go. but i did get to hear a sample of some original work by the guy who invited me, and there was definite rhythm and flow to it. i was quite impressed!

    michele, the music you describe that sounds like it is music indigenous to africa sounds good. i personally am not much of a hiphop fan; i would rather hear more “tribal” sounds.

    hey, john, make me a sample c.d. of some of the chinese artists who dare to be innovative! esp. if they include traditional instruments. 😀

  10. Hip-hop is essentially spoken word with beats.

  11. Hip Hop is a worldwide phenomenon originally created to bring together all races of people underneath one flag (that flag being a metaphorical flag of course, representing hip hop) There’s no reason why anyone can’t get into it, saying that an African Punk band would be truely unique is simply stating the obvious, considering that right now hip hop is taking over TV’s across the globe, selling products to impressionable teenagers and being exploited so badly it no longer stands for it’s origins, but completely contradicts them. It pleases me, as a fan of any TRUE Hip Hop, to see that there’s independant hip hop scenes worldwide that I can rely on NOT to be ‘jiggy’, ‘bumpin’, or pretending to ‘keep it real’. That being said, a lot of people within these scenes are blind to the truth and still perpetrate these acts of nonsense.

    Someone mentioned earlier – Goldie Lookin’ Chain. A perfect example of “where the hell did that come from” Hip Hop. A bunch of guys from Wales who happen to have quite a strange sense of humour become overnight sensation and reap the glory, yet they are still shunned by a lot of the UK’s Underground scene. Yes! I said “The UK’s Underground scene”! The problem with Scottish, Welsh and even Irish Hip Hop is not accents, it’s not lack of fundamental hip hop knowledge, it’s the fact that the majoirty of ppl in these countries will undoubtedly walk past a hardcore, under-exposed Scottish MC at least once a week if they live in Scotland, without knowing who he is. Same with an Irishman or Welshman. No one caresi n these countries enough to realise what TRUE hip hop is and give it the correct exposure! In England there is a bigger population, a bigger national interest in homegrown talent, and there seems to be a certain respect for homegrown artists that you wouldn’t always find elsewhere in the UK. I see the point of the guy who said he “couldn’t find any Scottish Hip Hop that’s bumpin'” as a Scot, and unsurprinsingly, an MC aswell. Unlike Africa though, Scotland is a small developed country, and there will always be two sides of the coin. Those who participate in the exploitation of Hip Hop by rapping about hustling and ho’s with their fake accents and false stories, or those who realise that staying true to yourself is ten times more important in hip hop than what your accent sounds like, part of the skill and fun of being an MC is using your accent to your advantage, playing with words and how they sound when YOU say them. Because if everyone rhymed the same words the same way, then we wouldn’t have African, Scottish, US, or Welsh Hip Hop, we’d just have a few dudes who rhyme the same words in a back alley.

    peace.

  12. Check out http://www.dopegroup.co.uk for Scottish Hip Hop

    Peace

  13. Thanks to all of you who are making sure that I get to listen to bumpin Scottish hiphop. I can die happy now…and alone.

  14. “..inability to find any bumpin’ Scottish Hip-hop”. It’s bound to exist but I can’t think of any – would Welsh Hip Hop do? (on a Celtic tip) – try Goldie Lookin’ Chain

    OBVIOUSLY not looking around enough. High quality scottish records and remixes at http://WWW.KON-TEMPT.COM or http://www.urbanscot.com/index.php?id=10&artist=15&section=5

  15. Anyone looking to find the real deal with respect to hip hop from wales should go to http://www.dialuprecords.com the home of optimas prime,h.s.g,dead residents,blaktrix,4dee&many more top notch artists………

  16. Johnny Doobs Says: November 6, 2005 at 11:31 pm

    Im not going to get into a debate as to what qualifies as ‘real’ or ‘underground’ hiphop, because its silly titles like that which hold back the music in the first place.

    For Welsh hiphop, check out the HEADCASE LADZ, MR STOPHE, FLEAPIT, WEZ & MYKES, LEWS TEWNS…most of them have sites with some free downloads.

    For Irish hiphop, check out ScaryEire, MJEX… actually thats about it at the moment, loads of folks are rapping but only a handful are doing it right.

  17. Yes man, Africa is no stranger to hip hop, the world will have to accept that regardless.. This is not just about music and spitting lyrics. This is about a mission to restore dignity to Africa, this is about getting rid of our corrupt governments, this is also for the world to take a look at the continent and realize that Africa is never gonna go down, never ever.
    Despite all the wars and stupid genocides, the youth is determine to change our living conditions and any drum beat plus a microphone is all needed right now

  18. Da Xiangchang Says: November 10, 2005 at 2:48 am

    Sandstormja,

    More power to the African hip-hop musicians, but reading books will help out the African “youth” a lot more than playing hip-hop, methinks.

  19. Anyone interested in Irish hiphop check out http://www.irishbeats.com
    http://www.hiphopireland.com or the audio forum on http://www.irishhiphop.com

    enjoy.

  20. Also in relation to the topic, I have worked with many African artists based here in Ireland and I have to say they are up there with the rest of the world talent-wise. I’ve seen very talented guys from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Congo, Senegal and South Africa.
    Its not about where your from or the colour of your skin, as someone else said above its about the Universal music that is hiphop and talent.

  21. Hey! Before I start, I’d like to point out one little thing in Iron Giant’s post. Unlike Africa though, Scotland is a small developed country, Africa, contrary to what most non-Africans might think, is NOT a country and it’s very inaccurate to refer to it as “Africa” when handling an issue such as music. I doubt you would ever say “European” music even though Africa has far more musical diversity than Europe (no offence intended). A ‘manding’ Senegalese would find it difficult to dance to a ‘bantu’ Congolese beat and vice versa.

    On a lighter note, I find it very uplifting when I can listen to artists from around the world who incorporate traditional themes into their music as it tells me more about them. I feel dismayed when I listen to average Jpop and can’t help thinking it’s simply Britney Spears in Japanese. I recommend a Malian artist called Rokia Traore. That’s an example of ‘manding’ music. Another unique uber-traditional artist is Tanya Tagaq of Inuit origin. Personally, my tastes lean more towards jazz, rock and electro and I am overjoyed when I see ‘black’ people in bands or as DJs. It seems to me that when a ‘black’ person declares their love for that kind of music, alot of people label them ‘bounties’ i.e. black on the outside white on the inside. I find that the people who do that are the ones who can truly be accused of being ‘fake’ because they try so hard to be ‘black’ by aiming to be the media stereotypes so much by e.g. only having ‘gangsta- rap’ albums on display in their room or never being seen without knee-hugging potato sack jeans or saucepan-like hats.

    Anyway, please feel free to give me recommendations on good original artists!

  22. I think your all too damn blind if yous cant recognise Scottish Hip Hop talent! Check websites like http://www.misterlowkey.moonfruit.com etc. and see even listen to Scotlands finest rappers! And stop thinkin yous all know Scotland inside out! Ther is lots of thingz about Scotland that are similar to even New York or California! And Goldie Lookin Chain arent rappers, just comedians!

  23. Check out http://www.unitednationsofhiphop.com for news, videos and MP3s of African Hip hop. Why shouldn’t Africans do Hip Hop? because it’s black music? All the more reason to, it’s not jumping on the bandwagon but recognizing yourself in it and embracing it. Don’t make it into an instrument of division, but of unity, especially between blacks in the Diaspora and those in the motherland! It is an avenue through which we can communicate. it would be a mistake to close it. I understand your fear about taking credit away from American artists but i don’t think anybody is trying to do that. What gets people interested i think is the flavor that Hip Hop has taken in Africa. Hip Hop as we know it started in America (Jamaica, depending on who you talk to), but still i think you shouls put these fears to rest, the only ones that have to worry are those artists who produce atrocious Hip Hop records,you know who i am talking about, and are being paraded around as thug rappers and whatever, those are the ,\people who are turning listeners away from that brand of hip hop and lead them to look for some more substantial hip hop, liek African Hip Hop. It’s a unity thing.

    One!

  24. Aiden MC Says: July 26, 2006 at 10:30 am

    When people say that hip hop is a black genre of music they are quite wrong. Maybe its mostly blacks that produce it in America (which it is) but in Scotland its 90% whites! Even in the UK as a whole its quite white! And whites, asians or any other races dont try to be lack by wearing new era 59-fifty hats or as someone called them “saucepans” and low jeans!!! Thats like saying because a black man wears trackies, burbur hat and lacoste shoes they are wanna-whites! Thats just mad!!! I think we should all look at hip hop as being just one big massive culture of many cultures! Who agrees???

  25. chris koruga Says: September 3, 2006 at 11:24 am

    I am looking for a soundtrack for a film I just completed. Need something that is cutting edge Chinese Hip Hop. Story is about a greedy chinese landlord who rules chinatown with an iron fist. Any Ideas?

    ck

  26. Chris,

    Where in China is the story set? Would Shanghainese hip hop be appropriate? ShanghaiNing has a “Shanghainese rap” section which might also include some hip hoppish stuff.

    Did you see my rapping flight attendant entry?

  27. -Aiden MC-
    Hip-hop draws from African musical roots, you know that right??
    Is it wrong to call classical music White music?? There are non Whites who play classical music, but most people who composed in this genre were Whites. Is it wrong to say Scottish music is White music???
    Please think a little bfore you speak!! Nobody has said non Blacks can’t do Hip-Hop, but PLEASE don’t try to whitewash the history of this music. It sounds like you are embarrassed (or ignorant?) about the roots of this musical current. Hip-Hop would never have existed without American Blacks because it draws from African music. Same as how country music would never have existed without US Whites.

  28. One thing to understand is that Hip-Hop is called Black music because African Americans have mostly lost their cultural roots apart from music. There is no difference between calling it Black music and calling Polka Western music. If let’s say Chinese-Americans developped a new genre which would become popular like Hip-Pop, it wouldn’t be called Yellow Music but Asian music. Because immigrants have stronger ties to their home countries. The identity of Afro-Americans has been mostly reduced to their colour because of the ways they arrived in America. So the reason it’s called Black Music is just that. It’s tied to the peculiar situation of Afro-Americans who are the group who was the most cut off from its roots. Doesn’t mean Whites can’t do Hip-Hop. Like saying Polka is Western music doesn’t mean non Westerners can’t do music in that genre if they want to, but it’s just acknowledging the cultural and spatial origins of the genre.

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