Published February 24, 2017

Our episode, Listen Up: Music and Politics, featured a number of tracks, new and old, from African and African-American artists. Here they are in one place for your listening pleasure.

Beating Heart

In our interview with University of Virginia ethnomusicologist Noel Lobley, he mentioned his involvement with the Beating Heart Project. The project aims to rerelease recordings of African musicians made by colonial archivists to the next generation of African musicians for remixing as house and hip-hop tracks.

Noel sees in this project a chance to make archives, once a cabinet of curiosities for European colonialists, newly relevant to Africans, breaking the barriers to access facing musicians who want to connect with their own musical traditions.

The project’s first album, Beating Heart: Malawi, takes recordings made by Hugh Tracey among tribal groups in Malawi and remixes them as house music for European and African audiences. Part one is an album of the recordings as is; in part two, you can hear artists rose to the challenge of remixing 50 year-old recordings for modern audiences.

Profits from the albums are being redistributed to communities in Malawi.

Noel says the Beating Heart Project has more in the pipeline, including an album featuring South African recordings that he hopes will involve even greater collaboration with contemporary South African musicians.

Hip-Hop Diplomats

Arthur Romano, a guest on this week’s show, talked about the unique difficulties of taking hip-hop abroad as a diplomatic tool.

“While people may be relating to hip-hop as a music of resistance, they can also relate to it as a music of the West, or a music of privilege,” he said.

The political significance of hip-hop has only grown in recent years, in spite of increasing commercialization in the genre. Following police shootings in St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, grassroots hip-hop artists have become ambassadors for their communities, explaining the pain and confusion that follow the trauma of police violence.

Romano pointed to St. Louis rapper Tef Poe, who has been called the “voice of Ferguson.” In an interview for Mic, he put his role this way:

Me being a rapper, I don’t have to be politically correct because I’m not a politician… I can hop on a record and express that anger that everybody else is feeling and do it in a manner that isn’t corny and still has some integrity behind it.

In his track “Gas Mask”, Poe laments the militarization of police, necessitating black communities to live in a state of constant preparedness for potentially aggressive police action.

Please note: The track below contains adult themes and language. Listener discretion is advised.

Local St. Louis rapper Kas reflects on similar themes in his track “6 shots”. We played a segment of it on our show — you can listen to the full track below.

Please note: The track below contains adult themes and language. Listener discretion is advised.

In his work as a State Department consultant and an expert on non-violence, Romano encourages artists to reflect on the conflicts in their own work and how it can be used as a tool for dialogue and peace.

This becomes especially important when hip-hop artists are sent into conflict zones as part of Next Level, a diplomatic outreach program funded by the U.S. State Department. On the show, we played tracks from two artists Romano has worked with, G Yamazawa and Kane Smego (a.k.a. Novakane).

Smego’s American-focused work focuses on the issues surrounding whiteness and capitalism, but his work with the State Department has broadened his horizons. In this track, he talks about the experience of working with Zimbabwean hip-hop artists for Next Level:

Smego recently produced an album with producer Petey Green, which is where we found his song “Imaginary Borders.” You can listen to the full album and find that track here.

As for Yamazawa, searching his name in YouTube will show you just how involved he is with the Next Level program. The track we played for you on our show was called “Supa Dupa Fly” — here it is in full:

The Mouth Bow

One of the… weirder sounds in this week’s show was the mouthbow music of Lesothan shepherds, recorded by Hugh Tracey and stored in South Africa’s vast International Library of African Music. Our guest, Noel Lobley, compared the sound to acid house music. See if you hear the comparison:

Mouthbows are a big part of African culture, featuring in the musical traditions across the continent. And they sound a little different depending on where you hear them. This, for example, is a mouthbow in the Central African country of Gabon:

There’s even a version of the mouthbow here in the United States, in Appalachia:

Sounds pretty good, right?

That’s all the music we featured in this week’s show. Remember, if you like what you hear, consider supporting the artist and buying an album!


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