Between 5 and 12 November, Africanhiphop.com is reporting live from N’djamena (Chad), where a pan-African slam event brings together artists and representatives from over twenty African nations. This truly pan-African effort seemed like the right occasion to relaunch Africanhiphop.com after a hiatus during which we updated the site’s looks and started retrieving archived content from the twenty-one years since the site has been online.
Over the past four decades, the African continent has been host to an impressive number of festivals focusing on hip hop beyond the borders of the hosting nation. Countries like Senegal, South Africa, Guinee and Gabon have developed their own festival traditions, hosting artists and audiences from around the country, region and beyond, and in doing so they have contributed greatly to an integrated pan-African scene and industry. However, most of these festivals have merely flirted with the idea of pan-Africanism when trying to bring together performers from all corners of the continent. The hip hop equivalent of a FESTAC 77 (the legendary ‘culture of the black world’ festival held in Nigeria in 1977) has not happened yet. Budget restraints, logistics and lack of organisational infrastructure are all factors here, and of course the invisible gap between the anglo-, franco- and lusophone worlds plays a role. Somewhat ironically then, the first hip hop related festival with a real pan-African attitude is focused on slam, that one element of the culture that is not always viewed as a full-fledged member of the hip hop family tree. The Africa Cup of Slam Poetry (ACSP), or CASP (Coupe d’Afrique de Slam Poesie) in French, brings together slam artists and representatives of over 20 African countries during a five-day event in N’djamena, the capital of Chad. An essential ingredient of slam is competition, and ACSP is the apex of a series of national slam competitions around the African continent. The festival itself is wider in scope than just the slam competitions, with concerts, debates, workshops, graffiti, recording sessions and film screenings taking place every day. Apart from the performances by foreign guests, it has a solid program of local slam and hip hop artists, including N2A who just got released from prison after having been arrested over the supposedly inflammatory content of his lyrics, specifically the title of his album ‘popoulasson gay kor’, which means ‘the population cries’. Despite the apparent limitation to freedom of speech in Chad, this year’s Africa Cup of Slam Poetry has enjoyed the support of the local Ministry of Culture. While the ACSP initiative is owned by a group of artists and cultural entrepreneurs from a.o. Chad, Togo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Angola, this year’s edition is organised by Chadian association Chad+ who have been behind the N’Djam s’enflamme en slam events. Chad doesn’t have a lot of cultural events with an international focus, and its infrastructure is challenging (the use of social media such as Whatsapp is restricted, to name an example).
On the CASP website the full list of contestants can be viewed; an impressive 36 countries across linguistic barriers organised their own pre-selection events. Some of the winners of these local competitions weren’t able to organise their travel to Chad (they were asked to go and look for funding locally for the trip budget, which isn’t always easy to come by), but over 20 of them have made it to N’djamena while artists are still pouring in on Air France, Ethiopian and other flights, and that makes this festival quite possibly the largest and most pan-African hip hop event ever. Africanhiphop.com has traveled to Chad with Voice4thought, a non-profit that aims to support and promote critical voices from around the world. Over the next week we’ll be posting updates from the festival, collect music and talking to the organizers and artists. Also keep an eye on the Voice4thought website and the CASP Facebook page for updates.