At the root, hatred, racism, exclusion, violence. An underlying difficulty of finding one’s place in a wayward society that is no longer capable of making its young people feel at home. « We are the living dead wandering in an impossible country », sing the Moonlights Girls from Algiers. A powerful echo answers back, welling up from the Cape townships to the Parisian suburbs, from the poor districts of Dakar or Douala… If you can’t live, you can at least cry out: the rage of speaking. If you have no possessions, you can at least play: the obsession with brands. If you aren’t integrated, you can at least live together: cultural blending.
The hip-hop movement has its values, its extremisms, its experimentations, its underground, and its commercial recuperation. In its desire to be a witness, it takes on a prophetic air, at times a radical religiousness even. On its fringes, its radicalism verges into sexism and violence. But above all, it remains a challenge, to itself and to society, expressed through verbal improvisation. Word is resistance, revolt, responsibility, and an affirmation of one’s subjectivity.
There is a risk of becoming too obsessed with the self, the ethnic group, identity. This radicalization is the result of exclusion, however. Deep down, its demands are clear: the desire to see society adapt to the changes of the modern world, recognizing its multicultural dimension, becoming more egalitarian. The different rappers’ song-speak spells out a moral of dignity, against self-destruction and for a more just world. A moral in the form of a challenge that is musical, gestural, but also existential and cultural.
As always, the African experience is an ambivalent one: a sterile mimicry or an affirmation of its roots in a vibrant syncretism. Fruitful combinations are born out of this, not in a worldmusic-style mishmash, but in the affirmation and integration of one’s own rhythms and intonations, of one’s own language. One’s own gestures too, and hip-hop dance is enriched by Africa’s contribution.
Venues daring to programme hip-hop are rare. The Rencontres des cultures urbaines de la Villette in Paris have become a centre. It seemed natural to join forces with them to compile this dossier, therefore.
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