Afrolution: The World Will Listen
In the wake of the release of Afrolution 2, a compilation bringing together the best of a new wave of African, and frequently Francophone, hip hop, the co-founder of Afrolution, Marie-Agnès Beau, explains the project.
(Pictured above: Malian rapper Amkoullel)
Rockfort: What is Afrolution?
MAB: Afrolution is a brand dedicated to the promotion of authentic and conscious African hip hop. It’s mainly a website, the first bilingual site dedicated to African hip hop, and has the largest concentration of filtered African hip hop videos online, a social networking site, store widgets and business tips. In a couple of years it has reached 15,000 unique visitors a month. It’s also a label, although we don’t feel strong enough to sign artists yet. And hopefully some parties and gigs, merchandising, whatever we want to do.
Rockfort: How did you go about collecting music for the Afrolution 2 compilation?
MAB: We literally let our ears and hearts make the choices: we receive so many excellent sounds from all over Africa, without even asking! They just arrived in our letterbox, mailbox, and on the community site of Afrolution.com. My South African Afrolution partner and I fell for the same acts: good production, good conscious lyrics or fine humour, and a strong African identity. We are also keen to promote artists who are committed to supporting their community.
Rockfort: What are your objectives with this compilation?
MAB: This compilation is aiming to show the world the great quality and diversity of the African urban scene, with a level of production that can easily compete with any western production. We even feel that the use of traditional instruments, rhythms and melodies sounds much better than most top American productions. Moreover, it is about this new cultural and social entrepreneurship that is driving the youth to build a sustainable future, all over Africa. The message is positive and strong, quite political, sometimes angry, but always very responsible. And it’s not only appealing to the African youth but also to a larger audience in Africa and outside. It’s time to get it heard loud outside the continent. African hip hop deserves to have its place on the international musical scene; until now it was too hip hop for the world music fans and too ‘world’ for hip hop music fans. Now it is finally starting to exist by itself.
(Pictured above: Negrissim, based in Senegal
Rockfort: What is special about African hip hop?
MAB: I don’t want to make generalisations, but it’s quite amazing to see that hip hop in poor countries is conscious and socially committed, especially towards education, compared to our rich countries. And the music is contemporary and still includes the local instruments and sounds. It manages to mix hip hop beats and traditional music, but also many other musical styles: jazz, pop, dance, funk etc.; a proper kaleidoscope.
Rockfort: Can some musicians make a living from their music?
MAB: The movement is so strong in Africa, it is definitely getting more and more structured: labels for sure, venues, festivals (I listed 16 hip hop festivals in Africa). It’s not difficult to be played on the radio. The main problem is the publishing issue and the collection and redistribution of rights. There are quite a few organisations trying to help them with training and promotion. The guys are extremely active on the net and that’s how they also encourage each other and become more professional. They are extremely keen to learn. That’s one of my main jobs on Afrolution, giving advice and information. Yes quite a lot of artists and producers can live from their music as there are quite a lot of live opportunities, more and more sponsors especially with the mobile phone industry that is huge in Africa.
Rockfort: What is the biggest challenge African hip hop artists face when it comes to exporting their music?
MAB: It’s economic and geographic. I think the biggest challenge is the cost of international promotion: touring is even more complicated and visas are extremely difficult to get. It’s very difficult to get a label in Europe when the artist is not living here and quite impossible for artists who produce themselves to afford independent promotion. Of course, the problem of rights collection is another main problem. We just hope that online distribution and promotion will finally solve most of these problems. A lot of artists who have opportunities in Europe also want to keep up their work at home, therefore it becomes complicated and costly.
Rockfort: Has interest developed from the recording industry outside Africa?
MAB: Yes, Germany is the country that is releasing African Hip Hop artists. The UK is waiting for hits and is still a bit too segmented to accept such a fusion of various sounds. France is overloaded with hip hop and artists... However, I’m extremely surprised and happy with the great reaction of French media to this compilation. It’s a first step!
Rockfort: Do you think the World Cup has benefited African hip hop?
MAB: Definitely with K’Naan – his huge hit is now sung all over the world. Good for him! He deserves it and it helps to promote the movement. I hope he will use this success to support other African rappers. Generally, the international media has definitely been more open to African contemporary culture since the World Cup. It seems it has discovered that the young African generation is extremely dynamic, positive and full of creative entrepreneurs. Also, I believe that the World Cup effect has given a boost to our own promotion.
Interview by Ludovic Merle