TITLE: East African Hip Hop
Youth Culture and Globalization
AUTHOR: Mwenda NTARANGWI
ISBN: 978-0-252-03457-2, Cloth $60.00, ISBN: 978-0-252-07653-4, Paper $20.00
PUBLISHER: UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS
PAGES: 176 pages
REVIEWED BY: Jackson BIKO
The book East AfricanHip-Hop, subtitle Your Culture and Globalisation" by Mwenda Ntarangwi is interesting reading because it presents hip-hop not only as a social tool for the youth but as a juxtaposed platform onto which the creativity of the East African countries is played out.
The salient influences of hip-hop in the regional society are underscored well, with insights into the genesis and development of the music in the region. This journey of hip-hop starts late in East Africa — circa the early 1990s — and is very much a product of globalisation. But even though globalisation is an undeniable force in the development of hip-hop culture, the book silently strokes the theory that ideally hip-hop — even though generally thought to have started in the boroughs of the ghettos of black America — seems to have some origins in African culture. And so Ntarangwi emphasises a musical artistry that places emphasis on the different diverse cultures of our region. He says in part: “Placing emphasis on cultural traditions within hip-hop helps us understand its role as a platform to discuss and construct African identity”.
East African Hip Hop also looks at gender and how it balances out in this genre’s arena, picking the biggest female names in the industry, such as Wahu of Kenya and Zay B of Tanzania and examine the elements of their songs that clarify the issues pertaining to gender identity in the music industry.
One of the critiques against hip-hop in East Africa is it reckless presentation of sexuality. It’s common knowledge that sex and sexuality are a hotcake in every culture and hip-hop seems to have bought into that idea wholesale; the more lewd a song, the better its reception is likely to be. The book doesn’t dwell too much on this, instead it presents a discussion on how hip-hop has been employed in dealing with the HIV scourge, one of the major issues in Africa at large. By telling a story about an experience that Kenyan artists Circuite and Jo-el had that involves condoms and the police, he opens up an interesting discussion of social matters that are often left out of public discourse. Hip-hop, as the book says, is a tool that, if used sufficiently, should engage the youth in a public discourse on sexuality.
And so after the three years of field work that involved interviews, analysis of live performances and over 140 songs, Mwenda delves into the growing cross-border exchanges within East Africa and the themes and messages that transcend just the local borderlines.
Quite often, in his quest to get into the meat of the subject, Mwenda is forced to be in situations where he mingles with the youth in clubs or elsewhere, and it’s amusing to note the sort of subtle discomfiture (if not entire disconnect) that he might feel during these times. These experiences, even though narrated in a detached, even cheeky, style, seem to lend much credence to his analysis
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