Sunday, October 26, 2008
Waga Hip Hop 8 was the 8th Annual hip hop festival in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, October 13 -18, 2008. My Fulbright Fellowship is not only for teaching in Ghana, but also for researching hip hop in this part of the world. I had been aware of this festival as a part of Africa’s embracing of hip hop culture. But when I heard that it was actually happening while I was in West Africa, I made plans to attend.
I had a big lecture on October 16; but immediately after I finished the lecture (“Dance Ethnology: A Marriage of Social Science & Dance” for the Institute of African Studies here at the University of Ghana) I was on an air-conditioned fairly comfortable bus to Kumasi (second biggest city in Ghana) and then a second bus northward across the border to the landlocked Francophone country of Burkina Faso. The entire trip took nearly 24 hours. Do you see what we academics do for research (smile)?
When I arrived in Ouagadougou at the Ran Hotel Somketa, it was the last two days of the festival. I met Panji Arnoff (Ghanaian music producer who had informed me about the festival, and the only Ghanaian music artist, King Ayisoba from Northern Ghana.
Panji & Ayisoba in the Restaurant of Ran Hotel Somketa in Ouagadougou
What I realized when we got there is that the focus of the festival was women in hip hop; hence the image of the festival poster. What a surprise! Priss’K and Nash, two women rappers from Cote D’Ivoire had already performed the previous Monday. But I got a chance to meet them and took this photo in the lobby of our hotel. It was exciting, and truly showed me how much hip hop has taken over the world as a kind of second colonialization---but this time one that is creative and for the most part desired by the people. The emphasis is definitely on “indigenizing” hip hop, by rapping in local languages, and often using ancient African instruments.
Nash & Priss'K - featured Rap Artists from Cote D'Ivoire
Friday night’s concert at an outdoor amphitheater was a prime example: besides the obligatory turntablist (DJ Geebyss from Senegal, who was excellent), trap drums, and base guitar, there were a full battery of djembes, a balaphone, and King Ayisoba plays a two-string instrument known as Kologo in the Bolgatanga region of Ghana. He chanted his mysterious language (African rap) with singer/rapper Freddie Massamba from Congo Brazzaville and a wonderful female singer Awa Sissao from Ouagadougou.
King Ayisoba with his Ancestor Stick
The festival definitely featured artists from Francophone countries, and French was the official language of the festival. It’s something seeing the brothers and sisters “get down” in French and make it their own. Their opening song, “Mama Africa” needed no translation, and I got quite a bit of the concert on a DVD.
On Saturday, October 18, the last day of the festival and my second day there, I landed an interview with the main organizer, Ali Diallo, with the producing organization, Umané Culture. Since he spoke only French (and my French is about 8th grade level), our Translator was Jenny Fatou Mbaye of Senegal, who is attending the London School of Economics and Political Science to do her Ph.D. on hip hop. When I queried Diallo about why the focus on women emcees this year, he said that since hip hop is so male oriented, the past female rappers they had invited became invisible. So the only way to rectify this was to feature them, and there are a lot of female rappers throughout Africa. Besides Priss’K and Nash, they also had Ideal Black Girls from Guinea, and Naneth from Gabon.
Women dominated the concert that night, with Sissao returning to do a solo evening. She is like an African Sarah Vaughn, who sings beautifully in French and Mossi, and has a huge following in Ouagadougou.
Sissao from Ouagadougou
Before she came on there was a rap battle with six different male contestants. The winner was a rapper from Niger, Elgrintcho, who also won last year. He had a flow that was a combination of his indigenous language along with a fast Jamaican dub sound. This was a perfect example of the indigenizing process of hip hop going on in Africa, which brings together the best of African performance and the entire diaspora.
Elgrintcho from Niger - Winner of the Rap Battle
The festival ended with a beautiful French R&B singer from Benin called Zeynab. She went from Edith Piaf sounding songs, to a Beyoncé flow, to talkative rap, all in French.
Zeynab from Benin
I left Waga Hip Hop 8 reinforced that our young African sisters and brothers are definitely making new contributions to the globally circulating culture of hip hop, and that “black” comes in so many different cultures and languages.