Real Elements is a hip hop group from Malawi. Although the hip hop scene in Malawi is small, Real Elements paved the way for many artists to get their music out and get the youth listening. The group toured the UK, but broke up to pursue personal goals. Many released their own solo albums. One of the group members left in order to dedicate himself to religion. He is now a gospel rapper.
The group’s lyrics are mostly in the native Chichewa, but they also use English in their songs. Their music is heavily influenced by American beats and rhythms.
This song is by Real Elements.
In the article, Is Kwaito South African hip hop?, Swarlene Swartz writes about Kwaito in South Africa. There is an ongoing debate in South Africa as to calling “Kwaito” music South African hip hop. Many people argue that it is not, saying that it is merely mainstream European house music with reggae and rock elements. Others in South Africa say that Kwaito may be influenced by hip hop, but the sounds and rhythms are very different from one another.
Those who defend Kwaito say that it is a way for them to show their African-ness, instead of just “copying” the American styles of music. One person who was interviewed in the article says that Kwaito is the only music that is unique to South Africa, “it is ours, it is local”. Kwaito is rooted in South Africa, while hip hop was made in America. Many of the lyrics in Kwaito music are rooted in mysogyny, money and power (much like American hip hop), but South African youth say that Kwaito is “not as bad” as American hip hop in their portrayal of women and ostentatious wealth. Kwaito is also different than hip hop in that many artists do not focus on political issues, which many South Africans say that they are tired of listening to. Many people are alarmed by this growing trend and fear that Kwaito is encouraging youth to focus on material gain, rather than exacting change in their communities and societies.
Kwaito is often sung in native African languages (never in English) because artists maintain that they want to create their own identity from African culture–English is seen as a foreign language which has no history in South Africa and should not be used in Kwaito music.
Although people will continue to debate about how much or how little Kwaito and hip hop are related, it is clear that they borrow elements from one another. There are many hip hop artists who write lyrics only in the native language and incorporate traditional African instruments, just as Kwaito addresses topics that are commonly discussed in hip hop.
Gidi Gidi Maji Maji is a hip hop group from Kenya consisting of two members–Julius Owino and Joseph Oyoo. Their lyrics are mostly written in their native Luo, with some English and Swahili. They incorporate African rhythms and beats in their songs. Their most popular song is “Unbwogable” (“Unbeatable” in Luo) which was used during political elections by Mwai Kibaki, who ended up winning the presidential election. The group have also worked together with members of the community to help youth who are living in slums. They encourage young people to explore their talents and have even made their own entertainment club where kids can come and play music.
Kalamashaka is a hip hop group from Nairobi, Kenya. They become extremely popular with their song, “Tafsiri Hii“, and have made Swahili hip-hop become mainstream in Kenya. Their lyrics are written in Kiswahili and the group have shown themselves to be very socially and politically conscious. They have influenced many artists such as Gidi Gidi Maji Maji and K-South. They have also encouraged many young people from Nairobi to start their own rap groups. Many of the group’s songs are not even played on the radio in Kenya because of their criticisms of the government, but this did not stop them from becoming more popular than artists who were played on the radio. Kalamashaka have also worked with other rap groups in Kenya and released songs discussing their repressive government and other issues that the youth face.
There are few rappers in Africa that are as well known as Professor Jay. He began his career in Tanzania, and his lyrics focus on a variety of complex issues. His lyrics are written in Kiswahili, and his rhyme and rhythm draw large crowds to his shows. Professor Jay is a “voice of reason”, often pointing out political corruption and social injustices in his songs. He is an extremely influential artist in East Africa, especially in his native Tanzania, where he is called one of the representatives of “Bongo Flava” (a fusion of Western hip hop and traditional Tanzanian elements). Professor Jay is an activist for many issues such as HIV/AIDS, corruption and even women’s rights.
Awadi is one of the most popular and well-respected rappers in Africa. He’s originally from Cape Verde and Benin, but lived most of his life in Senegal. Many of his songs starts with clips of speeches made by famous Black or African leaders–eg: Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. His lyrics are written in Wolof, French and English, but he addresses many problems that are unique to African nations. For example, in his new album, he dedicates a song to the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 called “Comme Nasser” (“Like Nasser”).
Awadi hopes to use his success to bring people together and help in the creation of a unified African state. He has been heavily praised for his song “Sunugaal” (“Our Canoe” in Wolof) which examines issues related to immigration. Awadi says that many Africans risk their lives to move to Europe. His song addresses the political corruption in African countries that fail to offer citizens adequate opportunities. People then risk their lives to go to other countries in search of a better life. His song has had over 100,000 views, with many people praising him for bring awareness to this issue.
In the article, Singing their Way Out of Poverty: Africa’s Urban Youth Find a Voice, Rasna Warah writes about how youth all over Africa have embraced hip-hop. She cites numerous examples of artists who have been able to pull themselves out of poverty by becoming successful hip-hop artists. Many people in African say “hip hop has always had a positive influence on kids from the urban centres of the world”. Hip hop empowers young people because they are able to voice their concerns and educate others about the problems that affect them. Many artists do not just use their success as a means to alleviate their own economic problems, they give back to their communities. Many artists and groups use this money to go back to school and/or fund the education of their younger family members.
In South Africa, a new genre known as Kwaito has become extremely popular. Kwaito fuses rap and traditional African jazz, gospel and rock. Many artists also use South African slang to relate to many young people in the region.
Warah is optimistic about the growing hip hop culture in Africa. She hopes that people will be able to exact change by using hip hop.
In his article, A Historical Analysis of Hip-Hop’s Influence in Dakar from 1984-2000, Ben Herson discusses how American hip-hop culture has influenced youth and music in Dakar, Senegal. He also states that this new Western form of music is not necessarily “corrupting” traditional values. Rap is not forcing itself onto Senegalese youth, rather it has been adopted as a way for young people to express their opinions and beliefs. Rap has even changed the world of politics, opening up questions about money, power and religion–topics which were often considered too controversial to discuss.
Youth in Senegal do not merely copy their Western counterparts, they fuse traditional music together with rap–many of their lyrics are in the native language, Wolof. Rap has brought many people together. Since rap groups are formed based on neighborhood and class, they represent the ethnic mix of Dakar.
Many youth in Senegal have tried to use English in their lyrics to seem more “authentic”, but Herson claims that this is not merely because they want to seem American, rather, they recognize that many job opportunities are available to those that speak English. Senegalese youth find ways to display material wealth through the clothing and jewelry that they wear. Many young people save their money until they can purchase authentic brand-name clothing, even though there may be cheaper knockoff version available. Senegalese youth are painfully aware of the stereotypes that exist about them in the Western world and want to separate themselves from them. Their reinterpretation of hip-hop allows them to address their complex social problems and dispel these myths.
In her article, Being a ‘bitch’: some questions on the gendered globalisation and consumption of American hip-hop urban culture in post-apartheid South Africa, Lliane Loots explores how American hip-hop has impacted the identities of youth in South Africa. Loots begins her article by discussing her first encounter with hip-hop in Wentworth, South Africa. This town was historically colored and featured a dance studio where many of the local youth would hang out with friends and practice their moves. She noticed that many of the young men would attempt difficult breakdancing moves while most of the young women would “dance like Janet Jackson”, refusing to be labeled as ‘b-girls’ because they did not want to seem “unfeminine”. Loots claims that American hip-hop culture had not only affected the music scene in South Africa, but it had also affected the mindset of many young people. She saw the incoming hip-hop movement as a culture from the North that was being sold to South Africans as superior, and as “defining our entry into this global (American) village”. She notes that many of the songs contained misogynistic and vulgar lyrics. Loots claims that this hip-hop culture is a form of “cultural colonisation”.
Loots spends a great deal of time discussing the gender dynamics in the hip-hop culture of the US. She claims that many women are often objectified and relegated to sexy background dancers while males are the ones who make music. She criticizes American hip-hop because she feels it does not provide a space for black women to be treated as equals. Since many young people in the South are consumers of this culture, Loots argues that hip-hop could have a detrimental effect on the way women and men interact.
Many of the young people in South Africa have adopted some of this American hip-hop culture but they have also subverted traditional hip-hop by adding new sounds, lyrics and experiences. South African youth do have agency and have been using hip-hop as a way to express their own opinions instead of just blindly following American trends.
In the article, Morocco’s Hip Hop Revolution, Latifa al-Arousni writes about the emergence of hip hop in Morocco and how it has affected identity and culture. In the city of Rabat, bands gather for the annual ‘Mawazine Rythmes du Monde’ and perform in front of large crowds. Most of the music played is hip hop, rap and reggae. The author of the article admits that many of the bands are unskilled and perform simple songs but they draw a large crowd mainly beause they embrace this Western type of music and “Moroccan-ize” it by adding in rhythms and instruments from their own culture. She notes also that the people at the concerts are sporting baggy jeans, loose cotton T-shirts, earrings and gold chains–which are commonly worn in the West by hip hop artists and fans. But these artists are not merely copying Western styles of hip hop. Their lyrics are written in colloquial Moroccan Arabic and they address a variety of issues such as unemployment, prostitution, poverty and war. Many of these artists are very patriotic and nationalist, but they still garner an intense amount of disapproval from most Moroccans. Many Moroccans believe that hip hop is just a fad that will soon be forgotten. Others speculate that the reasons young people are drawn to hip hop are because it is loud and often talks about topics that are not normally discussed out in the open (such as politics, etc). People that attended the festival argued that the event allowed a wide variety of artists to perform, fusing contemporary and traditional music. As rap has become more widespread, there are more people urging artists to stay away from vulgar lyrics since they have noted that rap can have a significant impact on the social and political lives of Moroccans.
The article can be accessed through this link.