Written by Tola Ositelu
Révolution Rap: Une Histoire Africaine?
This autumn the Central Brussels hub Point Culture celebrates the transatlantic musical exchange that is African Hip-Hop. More specifically, rap as a form of protest.
‘Révolution Rap: Une Histoire Africaine?’ revels in the African-American phenomenon finding an iteration (or is that reiteration?) in the Motherland.
The modest sized exhibition covers much ground. There’s an overview of Hip-Hop’s genesis, explications of classic lexicon before moving on to its evolution on the African continent.
Those equipped with headphones can listen to current Afro-francophone permutations of the art form, whilst reading quotes from its contemporary pillars.
For Cote d’Ivoire’s PrissK, rap is combat music; not least in asserting herself in what is still male dominated terrain.
For Cameroonian MC Sadrak, rap is the latest expression of an ancient oral tradition. As he puts it, R.A.P: Réapprendre à parler – or re-learning to speak. Awadi from Senegal’s Positive Black Soul speaks of ‘tropicalising’ Hip-Hop; a sentiment that reverberates across the Continent’s scene.
The tension remains between the ‘real’, socially-conscious rappers and those who favour the ostentatious, American-influenced commercial fare. After two decades, they each hold their own within a broad church; albeit in an uneasy entente.
Many of the pioneers and the generation that followed have used their musical platform to agitate for political change, often to their peril. Amongst them is Cameroon’s Général Valsero, who was on death row for 10 months at the behest of Paul Biya’s government. There’s a screening on opening night of Laurène Lepeytre’s 2015 film ‘Piment sur les Levres’ (Chilli Pepper on the Lips) featuring the veteran rapper and three other community leaders. Part-documentary, part-extended promo, Piment… follows the men as they seek to address the socio-political challenges of their homeland. “A beautiful country run by a**eholes”, according to Valsero.
If his braggadocio charisma commands Lepeytre’s attention, it’s the observations of his compatriot Guy Parfait that pack a heftier punch. Parfait’s interventions about the colonial chokehold on the Cameroonian education system is the closest Piment…comes to a proper class analysis.
Following a Q&A with Lepeytre and Valsero, the evening rounds off with an exuberant PA from New Gen Belgian lyricist ONHA. “I’m not 50% Belgian and 50% Ivorian” asserts the young Liègois “I’m 100% of both cultures”.
Live music bookends the exhibition, with a slam performance by Lisette Lombé, and pan-African DJ sets scheduled for closing night on 29 October, COVID permitting.
Photos courtesy of fabonthemoon
Great Black Music:
Another celebration of Diaspora music takes place a stone’s throw away from Point Culture. Don’t be fooled by the Halles de Schaerbeek’s demure layout. This isn’t some quick jaunt through Africa’s musical offspring. The dynamic multimedia exhibition demands a good few hours to absorb. Moving past the first room is hard enough, where concise and informative bilingual bios of international icons are accessible through (bring-your-own) headphones. From across the African continent (Miriam Makeba, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Fela Kuti…) to Latin America and the Caribbean (Gilberto Gil, Kassav, Bob Marley, Celia Cruz…) to African-American titans of Jazz and Soul (Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, MJ, Aretha, John Coltrane…).
Notwithstanding the male-heavy focus and the rather quaint English translations of complementary information, it’s a delightful rabbit hole to lose oneself. If and when emerging, there’s more to discover in the sections dedicated to the interchange of music, culture and religious ritual.
Révolution Rap: Une Histoire Africaine @ Point Culture, Rue Royale 145, Brussels until 31 October 2020
Great Black Music @ Halles de Schaerbeek, Rue Royale Saint-Marie 22, Brussels until 20 December 2020.
This review can also be found at Tolita’s Musings.