iMixWhatILike Host Jared Ball continues his discussion with legendary emcee and producer Shaheen Ariedien and Dr. Rico Chapman about the histories, similarities and mutual impact of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa and the Black Power Movement here in the United States
JARED BALL, HOST, i MiX WHAT i LiKE: What’s up, world? And welcome back to another edition of i Mix What i Like here on The Real News Network, where we’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Rico Chapman and Shaheen Ariefdien about the comparisons and connections between the black consciousness movement in South Africa, or Azania, and the black liberation struggles here in the United States, and where hip-hop falls into all of that. And if you’ve missed or want to catch up on what we were talking about in this segment, please go back to The Real News Network and check out our first segment.
Dr. Rico Chapman and Shaheen Ariefdien are co-authors of a new forthcoming or a new book chapter in a forthcoming book on hip-hop and activism, and they join us again for this segment of i Mix What i Like at The Real News Network.
Welcome back, fellas.
DR. RICO CHAPMAN, ASSOC. PROF. HISTORY, JACKSON STATE: Thanks.
SHAHEEN ARIEFDIEN, SOUTH AFRICAN RAPPER: Thanks.
BALL: So, Shaheen, I wanted to pick up with you and talk a little bit more about or start a conversation about the rise of hip-hop in Azania or South Africa. And something that I did not know until reading your chapter is that you say that hip-hop emerged out of the Cape Flats region of South Africa and out of the Coloured community. Tell us a little bit about that.
ARIEFDIEN: Well, hip-hop in South Africa can loosely be traced to the early ’80s, especially with the release of a song like “Rapper’s Delight” and a lot of images of B-boys and B-girls and aerosol art that came from the United States. But the actual history and connection between the so-called Coloured community and black America can be traced to, like, the 1800s and possibly before that. I’m sure Rico has more information on that. And so the–for a few reasons. (A) The Cape Flats, to a large degree, is part of Cape Town, and Cape Town is a port city. And so a lot of the information that we got, because Cape Town is this port city, came through, sometimes, sailors. We’d exchange with sailors, you know, cassette tapes or whatever. Sometimes it was exiled family and friends or pen pals abroad and so on. So that’s one reason. Another reason is I think that the so-called Coloured community outside of that historical connection, and because it’s a port city, it’s also more open to external influences and to make that part of the cultural expression. The same can be said for parts of Brazil and other parts of the world as well. So those are some of the connections.
In terms of its relevancy, I think that if you look at the conditions that gave birth to hip-hop in the South Bronx, it’s pretty much super similar to the conditions that gave birth to hip-hop in South Africa–forced removals, police brutality, exploitation. You had, basically, Reagan’s economic strategies and everything else that came with that. That’s essentially apartheid as well, right?
BALL: And, of course, the two supported one another, right?
ARIEFDIEN: Right. Exactly.
BALL: So it’s another perfect connection, unfortunately. Yeah.
ARIEFDIEN: Exactly. So there are those kinds of connections.
And I think one other strong connection is, well, that in both places it was the descendants of a people who has experienced and endured trauma after trauma after trauma after trauma. And so I think that hip-hop also provided this almost therapeutic outlook, for lack of a better term, outlet for young people on both sides of the Atlantic to be able to fashion identities, different kinds of identities, out of the kind of alienation where, on the one side, someone could be Grandmaster Flash, you know, as opposed to whatever the state said you should be called or the kind of identities and expectations that comes from a mixture of white supremacist ideology, capitalism, and patriarchy. And then, on the other side as well, in South Africa–you know, my MC name back in the day was, like, Dominator of Sound All Around, and there were all kinds of whatever names. And as trivial as it might seem, you know you are fashioning identities, you know what I mean, out of the fragments of what’s left by this kind of macro level factors and a yearning to tap into our humanity and our creativity.
BALL: No, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, before we switch out, just real quick, I’m very interested in something you mentioned that I’m not that familiar with. But in my own attempts to study the history of the mix tape itself as hip-hop’s first real national mass medium, I’m interested to what extent those cassettes, as you mentioned, that made it down to the Cape Flats had that impact. I mean, were these cassette tapes of actual artists’ recordings? Or were these DJ mix tapes? Was it a combination of the two?
ARIEFDIEN: Yup. Combination.
BALL: I’m curious about that. I’m–.
ARIEFDIEN: Yeah, combination of the two.
BALL: A combination of the two? Yeah, that’s–I know that’s it. That’s it.
ARIEFDIEN: Yeah, combination of the two. I mean, some of that were albums. Some of it was just mix tapes as in a DJ that spun stuff. Some of it was actually from a club as well. So, by the time there was a club called Teasers [spl?] and in the base in Cape Town, those were kind of these matinee clubs for hip-hop heads. Hip-hop wasn’t the only music that was played, but we had our sets. And those cassettes circulated. And it circulated to the point where the quality was so bad with the hiss and everything that people’s ears got accustomed to that. So when they heard the actual version, it kind of sounded weird. It sounded too clean.
BALL: Right. Right. Right.
ARIEFDIEN: You know?
BALL: This is almost too good. I can’t handle how good this sounds. Right. Right. Right.
ARIEFDIEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Where is the grime in your song, man? Yeah.
So the mix tape played a very important role in disseminating the music and information. And the same happened later on when I was involved with Gush Radio, a community radio station in Cape Town that essentially just broadcasted in a very specific region in Cape Town. But I find myself in Johannesburg or other parts of South Africa, and people in Cape Town would record the radio show and then send it to family and friends in other parts of South Africa. So I find myself walking around in Joburg and hearing a car drive by and hearing the radio show, you know, from a few weeks ago, blasting through the speakers.
You know, you also mentioned in your chapter that hip-hop, much like everywhere else, wasn’t always overtly radically political and was not often seen as the initial soundtrack to the revolution there in South Africa.
And what I also noticed was a similarity, was that there was the old guard black activist community that you all talk a little bit about in your chapter that was a little hesitant to accept this new hip-hop thing as part of their movement. And similarly, that was the case here, where the old style or old guard of black activism and certainly black radio was resistant to hip-hop. I mean, it wasn’t just white commercial radio that kept hip-hop away; it was sort of this black bourgeoisie that was also saying, look, we don’t want to be dragged back down into the depths of our community as we struggle so hard to middle-class ourselves and civil-right ourselves away, in some cases, from the rest of our community. So I was interested in that kind of similarity that you all talk about in your chapter.
But Prophets of Da City, Shaheen, was clearly a radical group. And I was also wondering if–to what extent you all had, before I’m about to say it, were compared to Wu-Tang. In terms of the style and the large–the size of your collective, certainly it probably may be more overtly political in your case than they were. But that was just something that I noticed as well.
Either of you, I’d like a response, if you could, to that, to any of those ideas, this resistance of the old guard, hip-hop’s emergence as a political sound of the struggle. And then, Rico, I do want to come in and talk more specifically about these comparisons between the black consciousness movement and the black liberation struggles here.
ARIEFDIEN: Maybe Rico can start with some of those comparisons–
BALL: Okay. Sure.
ARIEFDIEN: –in terms of the resistance [incompr.]
CHAPMAN: Okay. I guess let’s talk about this old guard and the identity piece just a little bit to give us some context. So of course we know that black power influenced the nomenclature here in the United States, moving from negro to black. And there was this ideological struggle between Kwame Ture (then Stokely Carmichael) and Martin Luther King Jr.
And if you move that to South Africa, black consciousness, led by the South African Students’ Organization and Biko, they changed the nomenclature, the language, from nonwhite to black, even so that the newspapers had to stop using nonwhite and start using black to really be considered valid. Right? So this whole identity piece was led by the students.
But also the students managed to win the masses and win the older guard to their point, which struggle, of course, because if you look at the relationship between then Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King Jr., they had this ideological battle going on on the Meredith March, and it was freedom now or black power. And when they got to Greenville, Mississippi, and Kwame Ture shouted, black power, and the masses responded, when he said, what do you want, black power, what do you want, black power, and it just took hold, right, King had to take note of that. And in that whole discussion was Vietnam. And, of course, when King started to speak out against Vietnam, he was assassinated shortly after.
But I think that Kwame Ture managed to win–not as if it was a competition, but gained some sympathy from Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers–not that there was a real divide there, because I know media can give us this, like, cut-and-dried divide when it wasn’t that cut-and-dry. There were some commonalities of this whole theme of freedom now and black power.
But when it came down to affecting the language, which /dɛnz/ affect the ideology and identity of a people, I think you can give that credit to the black power movement and the black consciousness movement, because they managed to change the identity, the thought process of the masses from, no, now you’re not a Negro, you’re black; you’re not nonwhite, you’re black. So that’s moving us forward in terms of identity. And those who we consider old guard, they had to acknowledge that.
BALL: Shaheen, you wanted to get in on that question as well. Please do.
ARIEFDIEN: Okay. So, similar to what Rico just described now in terms of youthful voices being met with resistance and then later on becoming the norm, I think the same can be said about South Africa, especially with hip-hop. At first, we were met with resistance. I can’t really speak on the black bourgeoisie, because we didn’t move in those circles and we certainly didn’t give a damn what they thought about us. But elders inside the liberation movement, they weren’t really feeling hip-hop at the time, because they felt it was a tool of cultural imperialism. And if you look at the history of the Cold War at that particular moment and the kind of aggressive tone and character of U.S. imperialism, in some ways you can kind of understand why there was this kind of resistance. And I think coupled with that, when young people come out with particular kinds of art forms and particular kinds of expression, that’s just part of the history. That’s how things go down sometimes. You know?
And in terms of Prophets of Da City, I think we were probably more seen as a kind of a public enemy of South Africa, as opposed to Wu-Tang Clan, and there were times when we embrace it and times we resisted it because we didn’t want to be boxed in. So you can find lyrics by Prophets of Da City that’s, like, really out there and silly. And there was a conscious effort to not be boxed into any particular, you know, kind of pigeonhole and so on.
BALL: No, no. That was just my aesthetic comparison to the Wu-Tang Clan, you know, the numbers and the style and all that. But I hear you. Your point’s very well taken.
Well, Shaheen Ariefdien and Dr. Rico Chapman, thank you for joining us again on this segment of i Mix What i Like at The Real News Network.
CHAPMAN: And, Jared, I’m sorry, can I correct myself real quick?
CHAPMAN: Okay. When I said we moved from negro to black, actually we were using the term colored. I’m sorry.
BALL: Right. Right. Right.
CHAPMAN: In the United States we went from colored to black.
BALL: And I believe, as Kwali or Pharoahe said, we’ve gone right back to colored and negro and nigger. So, you know, it’s just–.
Well, Dr. Rico Chapman and Shaheen Ariefdien, thank you very much for joining us again on this segment of i Mix What i Like here at The Real News Network.
ARIEFDIEN: Thank you.
BALL: And thank you all for joining us at The Real News Network, where we will again see you before too long. Take care, everybody. Peace.
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