North Africa's hip hop revolutionaries
From Algeria to Egypt, rappers have been protesting against the governments of North Africa through hip hop.
This story was originally covered by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.
By Clark Boyd
The poetic tradition in North Africa has woven its way into more modern forms of expression. Rappers and hip-hop artists from Algiers to Cairo have been casting critical eyes on governments and dictators for years now. In the wake of unrest across the region, their rhymes have become a kind of soundtrack for revolution.
Now, one group of Libyan exiles has assembled some of the best tracks into a compilation, called, in English, "Not Far."
Abdulla Darrat has spent the past weeks glued to his computer and his phone. The 28 year old Libyan-American watched as Tunisians rose up in protest. And he listened as Tunisian rapper El General wondered aloud -- in a track called "Long Live Tunis" -- if that protest might spread.
"This is a message to other rulers," El General raps.
"Those who have been betrayed," he continues, "Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Morocco... all must be liberated."
Abdulla Darrat shares that sentiment.
Young Libyan exiles
He's part of a loose group of young Libyan exiles who, a couple of years ago, created a website called "Khalas!" or "Enough!" as in -- enough of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
"It wasn't an organization in a traditional sense, with clear leadership, but rather a sentiment of enough and it has a sense of absolute," Darrat said. "The word Khalas has a sense of fed up, but also a sense of loyalty to that cause as well."
That sounds like the feeling in Cairo's Tahrir Square right now as well. A feeling that Egyptian hip-hop artist Ramy Donjewan captures in this track, called "Against the Government."
Donjewan's song sounds like a laundry list of complaints against the Egyptian government... well, that's because it is.
"Your blood, the government's shedding it," he rhymes.
"Your nation, they've exhausted it."
"Your religion, they've targeted it."
"Your portion... they've swallowed it."
Abdulla Darrat said that hip-hop, with its historical focus on the underprivileged, is a good artistic vehicle.
"You see really the frustrations," Darrat said. "That's where this music, it's wellspring or origin it comes from. I doesn't matter what I do, because no matter what I do, there will be somebody there to ruin it. This is an ongoing struggle that youth have taken upon their shoulders... because they see an opportunity to make their future better... and these are the voices of that youth."
And that's why Darrat and his colleagues at "Enough!" decided to make a "mixtape."
North Africa's hip-hop leaders
They collected some of the most powerful voices in rap and hip-hop from across North Africa, and made a compilation available as a free download.
Voices such as Algeria's Lofti Double-Kanon, a man who holds degrees in math and engineering, have been relentlessly sticking it to the Algerian government with his rhymes since the early 1990s.
Here's his "letter" to Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
"Mr. President, I have brought to you a message from the young," Double-Kanon says. "The young are only thinking about immigrating out, the majority see their futures and they look foggy."
"Enough!" is calling the mix "Mish B3eed," or "Not Far."
As in the countries are not far from each other. And neither are their leaders, says Abdulla Darrat.
You can see it, he says, in the image chosen for the cover of the mix.
"If you see the image on the cover, you see the faces of the different dictators in the region kind of almost like a slot machine -- you've got Mubarak's eyes on Bouteflika's face, and they're all covered in ash -- and that's the sense that there's a shared experience between these people, and we wanted to express that," Darrat said
Darrat added that there is a call for Libyans to take to the streets on February 17th.
That date, he says, commemorates two instances in recent Libyan history when Gadhafi's regime cracked down brutally on dissent.
The mix includes a track from a Libyan rapper who goes by the pseudonym Ibn Thabit.
"What do you say Ibn Thabit, about the people's hearts?" the song asks.
"Will they stand against the enemy? Will they sacrifice as they did in Tunisia?"
Ibn Thabit answers: "I know that only God knows how long I will live."
PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.