It is a conflict at once cultural, generational and political: rap music in DR Congo is staging a frontal assault on rumba, accusing its ageing stars of only singing of love and other banalities.
DRC’s growing army of rappers say their urban lyrics reflect a gritty realism edged with angst as one of Africa’s biggest and most unstable nations heads towards a troubled presidential election.
At the back of a courtyard in Bandal, a popular and trendy district of the capital Kinshasa, a DJ called DDT has opened Kinshasound, a recording studio which is about the size of a toilet.
At the mixing deck, beat maker Kratos is playing around with a mix of ethnic rhythms caught somewhere between the big sounds of the Bronx and the driving drumbeats of Afrobeat or Afro-Trap.
This tiny studio has attracted rap artists like Sista Becky, Alesh and Magneto, who electrified the crowds at last month’s Red One urban music festival in Kinshasa.
But Kinshasound has also attracted other visitors — among them officials responsible for music and events at the national censorship board who shut it down in August, DDT explains.
It was eventually reopened after a series of negotiations, which involved handing over some cash.
And their complaint? That DDT was producing “obscene songs which were an offence to common decency” and violated a law on censorship dating back to 1996.
‘The boss got no heart’
“I asked them which (lyrics were problematic) and they didn’t know what to tell me,” DDT said — although he himself has a pretty good idea.
“We are basically putting out a lot of popular songs,” he says, referring to one track released late last year by Alesh called “Mokonzi o’a Motema Mabe” — which means “The boss got no heart” with a chorus that includes the phrase: “Stealing is not good”.
The track came out as the Democratic Republic of Congo was in the grip of a political crisis over the contentious rule of President Joseph Kabila. He refused to step down at the end of his mandate and repeatedly delayed the elections — although a date has now been set for a vote on December 23.
For the censors, the track went too far and they banned it, although only for a time.
‘Making your brain dance’
“They’re afraid that urban music will change things,” DDT explains.
“The old rumba stars sing about love most of the time, but for us, it’s mostly about social matters, like needy youngsters in the street, the lack of electricity, about illness, about the current political system, about things that aren’t working.”
Rap’s subversive rise has shaken things up for the rumba scene, which has long been regarded as DR Congo’s national music and which has had ties to the ruling classes since the country won independence from Belgium in 1960.
One of its most celebrated hits, “Independance Cha Cha”, which was written by singer Le Grande Kalle to celebrate the nation’s newly-acquired freedom, remains widely recognised as one of the best-known examples of Congolese rumba.
Widely respected for the genius of Grande Kalle and his L’African Jazz band and fellow founding fathers Tabu Ley Rochereau and TPOK Jazz as well as extraordinary vocals of the late Papa Wemba, rumba underwent something of a revival after the millennium.
During that decade, several beer companies sponsored stars like Werrason and JB MPiana, and the genre continued its commercial trend with “libanga” — in which the artist drops the name of an influential sponsor into a song in the hope of earning a fistful of dollars.
“I am a dissonant note in the country of rumba. Ok, rumba is fine but in the end, it’s too much: I love you, I love you, I love you…” says rapper Lexxus Legal.
An emblematic figure within Congolese hip-hop, he has made a name for himself with music that “makes your brain dance.”
‘We have the power’
Like Smockey, a hip-hop artist and political activist in Burkina Faso or Uganda’s singer-turned-politician Bobbi Wine, Lexxus Legal has long been engaged in political activism, and is running as an independent candidate in December’s legislative elections.
“When President Kabila addresses the nation, the word ‘culture’ has never passed his lips, not even once,” he rails.
“We no longer have the right to switch off. The words should be about us, we’ve got the power!”
But in the world of music, like in politics, the boundaries are sometimes blurred.
These days, rap’s “rebels” are more likely to come from the nicer neighbourhoods of Kinshasa like Gombe or MaCampagne than from the slums of Masina or Selembao. And some of them even have a job.
On the other hand, the country’s most established rumba artist, Koffi Olomide, 63, recently took everyone by surprise by getting political. He lashed out at the voting machines which have sparked widespread controversy in the run-up to the election.
Lauded by the government, the machines have been rejected by the opposition as open to abuse and fraud.
Old Moroccan City of Fez, lures tourists from across the globe
The imperial city, Morocco’s “spiritual” capital has been overlooked by tourists in favour of Marrakesh.
In recent times the imperial city of Fez has been overlooked by tourists in favour of Marrakesh, but now Morocco’s “spiritual” capital is bustling with visitors due to major renovations and low-cost flights. “It is an open-air museum, with the largest pedestrian zone in the world and its 10,000 alleyways,” said Yassir Jawra, vice president of the Fez tourism commission.
Fez “is the spiritual capital of Morocco, famed for its culture and its (age-old) handicraft work,” he added. Since 2013, more than one billion dirhams (92 million euros, $103 million) of investment have been poured into the city of Fez to restore the 9th-century walled medina and develop tourism.
The medina, home to the world’s oldest working library, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 for its “outstanding universal value”. Guardian of priceless treatises in Islamic studies, astronomy and medicine, the library is nestled in the maze of narrow and dark alleyways which tourists and donkey-drawn carts can struggle to navigate.
Like many monuments it has been renovated after the authorities in the late 1980s sounded the alarm in a report saying that more than half of the buildings in the medina were crumbling and 10 percent were threatened with ruin following years of neglect and a lack of public funds.
Behind the high crenellated walls that surround the medina lie 9,000 historical houses, 11 madrassas, 83 mausoleums, 176 mosques and 1,200 handicraft workshops. Patrician palaces with their secret gardens and terraces, elegant fountains and ancient caravansary, or inns, are among the jewels lying there to be discovered.
According to Fouad Serrhini, head of the Agency of Development and Restoration tasked with rehabilitating the medina, “thousands” of buildings and monuments have been saved from ruin since 2013. “They were chosen according to their state of degradation and how urgently the work was needed,” he said.
In all, 4,000 buildings were saved between 2013 and 2018, while 27 monuments were restored. In mid-April, King Mohammed VI visited Fez to inaugurate some buildings that had been renovated and launch the second phase of the rehabilitation programme.
Following his visit, authorities issued a report insisting that the rehabilitation work respect the medina’s “authenticity” and “original architecture”.
“The ancient medina is a live treasure, hidden and secret, which cannot be taken lightly,” said Salim Belghazi, a 33-year-old who has transformed his 14th-century riad, or traditional family home, into a private museum. Belghazi, who hails from a wealthy background, said he hopes that despite the transformation, Fez will maintain its soul.
Ancient tanneries in Fez
Meanwhile, tourists are flocking to Fez, where the regional Fes-Saiss airport has undergone an expansion to accommodate the growing number of visitors and low-cost flights mainly from across Europe.
The number of passengers has jumped from 108,000 in 2004 to more than a million in 2018, according to official figures. But Marrakesh remains the country’s top tourist destination, with more than two million arrivals in 2017.
Tourism is a major source of revenue for Morocco, which received more than 12 million visitors in 2018, according to official figures. Abderahim Belkhayat, head of a regional body of artisans, said the influx of visitors to City of Fez “benefits” craftsmen, noting that three-quarters of the medina’s residents earn a living directly or indirectly from the sector.
Local authorities have mapped out a “vision” to revamp the sector by giving it a “new look” in order to produce “high quality” crafts, he said.
A 2005 official report indicated that in the long term, authorities hope to transform the medina into a “showcase” of handicrafts while the workshops themselves would be relocated outside the walls. So far, 6,000 potters and brass and copper workers have been moved into zones with modern infrastructure and tanners are expected to follow suit in a separate location.
The idea is to rid the medina of the cacophony of noise emanating from brassware and potter workshops as well as the pungent odours that rise from the ancient tanneries – the later a “must” stop on the tourist circuit.
Tourists, their noses covered with mint leaves to ward off the stench, congregate on terraces overlooking the tanneries to snap pictures of the men working below, using the same methods as their ancestors did.
The tanners stand almost knee-deep in large vats containing quicklime, cow urine, salt and water to clean the hides, which they will later soak in pigeon poop and water before the dying process can begin.
But the sight seems to delight the visitors and the end result, such as leather belts and bags sold in the boutiques, proves popular with buyers.
Nigerian musician, Alex Boyé drops two new singles
Alex Boye is fast becoming a popular figure for his uplifting and elevating musical sound
Alex Boyé is a Nigerian musician who has been in the music industry for 25 years. He became popular for his uplifting and elevating musical sound. Since then, Boyé has gone on to become an important voice in the Nigerian music scene.
And now, his support for mental health campaigns -by adding his voice to suicide prevention efforts -has earned him due commendations and honour.
Alex Boyé appeared on one of America’s best-known talent shows, America’s Got Talent. With his signature white mark under his right eye, a boisterous spirit and great charisma, he took to the stage and impressed the judges with his energy and music.
In 2017, he was named the “2017 Rising Artist of the Year” in a contest sponsored by Pepsi and Hard Rock Cafe.
His rendition of the “Lord’s Prayer” in Kiswahili three years ago has over 11 million views on YouTube, while his Africanized cover version of “Let It Go” has more than 102 million views.
In all, Boyé, an independent artist, has 1 billion YouTube views.
Keeping to his promise, Boye released two songs, “Still Breathing” and “Bend, Not Break”.
In a press release, Boyé says, “‘Bend Not Break’ is a song that encourages people considering suicide to look beyond their current circumstances and make a different choice; to bend and not break, while “Still Breathing” shares the thoughts of someone who attempted suicide but survived.
After some time, they recognize the gift of life again and are grateful that they’re still breathing.”
Robert Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, requested permission to use Boyé’s song as their main theme song for Suicide Prevention Week and its message during Mental Health Awareness Month.
On 25th April 2019, Boyé will be honored with the 2019 Erase The Stigma Leadership Award presented by the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services Agency.
Equatorial Guinea struggles to diversify economy with tourism
For almost a decade, Sipopo has been the crown jewel in a strategy to lure high-end visitors to Equatorial Guinea
Gleaming but eerily empty, the luxurious Sipopo resort with its five-star hotel and exclusive facilities rises from a tropical beach, symbolising the dilemma of Equatorial Guinea — a notoriously closed country that has turned to tourism to help fill its coffers.
The purpose-built town was carved out of an ancient forest in 2011 at a cost of 600 million euros, initially to host a week-long African Union summit and showcase the rise of the oil-rich state.
A 16-kilometre drive from Equatorial Guinea’s capital Malabo, the resort boasts a vast conference centre, the Sofitel Malabo Sipopo Le Golf hotel, as well as 52 luxury villas — one for every head of state to attend the summit — each with its own swimming pool.
There is also an 18-hole golf course, several restaurants and exclusive beaches guarded by police.
For almost a decade, Sipopo has been the crown jewel in a strategy to lure high-end visitors to Equatorial Guinea to diversify an economy badly hit by a slump in oil revenue.
But the town, seemed quite empty — an impression strengthened by conversations with people who live or who work there.
“It’s depressing, there’s no-one,” said a visiting Gabonese consultant.
A worker, who asked not to be named, said the complex was quiet year-round: “You can hear the sound of your own footsteps.”
The occasional visitors tend to be well connected, rich and in search of privacy, the sources said.
Many are guests of a government described by Human Rights Watch as corrupt and repressive.
One of the villas, according to the sources, was occupied by former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh after he fled his country in 2017.
At Easter, the 200-room hotel’s guests included a Spanish couple on honeymoon, a few families and some businessmen, who were all foreigners.
In the echoing lobby, a huge black and white portrait of the country’s 76-year-old authoritarian president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema — Africa’s longest-serving ruler — hung on the wall, watching over the vacant reception area.
A 1.5-kilometre beach — an artificial shore secluded from curious eyes — was virtually deserted, in contrast to a public beach near the capital. The three-lane highway leading from Malabo to Sipopo was mostly empty of traffic.
A hospital was added after the villas were built, but is unused, the sources said.
In 2014, a mall was built at the resort to house 50 shops, a bowling alley, two cinemas and a children’s play area.
But a hotel receptionist said the complex was not open yet, adding: “If you want to buy a souvenir, you will have to go to Malabo.” At night-time, shiny limousines arrived at a luxury restaurant to drop off diners.
Located on the mid-Atlantic coast of central Africa, Equatorial Guinea has flooded social media with messages of its allure as a holiday destination.
Plans to build a new passenger terminal at the airport in Bata city have also just received a 120-million-euro injection from the Development Bank of Central African States.
Figures for visitors are unavailable, and the tourism ministry in Malabo did not respond to requests for information. In the latest global compilation of figures posted by the World Bank, the number of tourists for Equatorial Guinea has been left blank.
But much of the tourism in evidence are business people, such as oil company workers, relaxing for a few days, or attending energy or economic conferences.
A few travel firms offer trips tailor-made for both luxury and adventure, but they also allude to the difficulties, notably of being allowed to enter the country.
“The country has been a mystery to outsiders, who were discouraged from entering by a difficult visa process and a lack of tourism infrastructure,” says the website of British tour operator Undiscovered Destinations.
The firm claimed, however, that “things are changing fast… with an excellent road network and numerous hotels springing up seemingly overnight.”
Few Equatoguineans have the chance of staying in such places. At Sipopo’s hotel, a basic room costs the equivalent of more than 200 euros ($224) a night, while exclusive accommodation tops 850 euros.
The discovery of vast oil reserves off the coast in the mid-1990s has boosted the country’s gross national income to a theoretical annual $19,500 per person per year, according to the UN Development Programme.
But that wealth benefits a small elite among the country’s 1.2 million inhabitants. More than two-thirds of Equatoguineans live below the poverty line, and 55 percent of the population aged over 15 are unemployed.
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