Hip hop in Cen­tral African Repub­lic brings hope in cri­sis

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Lionel Fo­tot once watched a crowd kill a 6year-old Mus­lim boy with a ma­chete. He can't shake the mem­o­ries of the bru­tal­i­ties he wit­nessed as Cen­tral African Repub­lic col­lapsed into sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence. So the young hip hop artist was heart­ened when his One Force group, com­prised of Chris­tians and Mus­lims, per­formed to a packed crowd at the largest venue in the cap­i­tal, the 20,000-seat Barthelemy Bo­ganda Sta­dium. "Our mu­sic is like a medicine that can heal the coun­try," Fo­tot said. "Be­fore they dis­arm their weapons, the youth have to dis­arm their hearts."

Cen­tral African Repub­lic has faced in­ter­re­li­gious and in­ter­com­mu­nal fight­ing since 2013, when pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim Seleka rebels seized power in the cap­i­tal, Ban­gui. Anti-bal­aka mili­tias, mostly Chris­tians, fought back, re­sult­ing in thou­sands of peo­ple killed and hun­dreds of thou­sands dis­placed. The sit­u­a­tion has wors­ened in re­cent months, with more than 300 peo­ple killed and 100,000 peo­ple dis­placed since mid-May af­ter at­tacks in the im­pov­er­ished coun­try's south­east and cen­ter. Mu­sic is one ap­proach in try­ing to pull the na­tion to­gether again.

Twenty young rap­pers from Cen­tral African Repub­lic re­cently at­tended a jam ses­sion and cul­tural ex­change with vis­it­ing Con­golese-Amer­i­can rap­per and aca­demic Omekongo Dibinga. Or­ga­nized by the US Em­bassy and UN peace­keep­ing forces in the coun­try, the event was meant to "try to in­spire them and to give them hope," said UN spokesman Herve Ver­hoosel. "Some­times peo­ple here lack con­fi­dence in them­selves and their fu­ture, be­cause all that they have known since they were born has been con­flict, peo­ple dy­ing," Ver­hoosel said.

One of the young rap­pers at the event was Mar­lon Bis­seni, who prac­tices ev­ery day at home or with mem­bers of his rap group Enig­ma­tique. The 21-year-old also stud­ies hu­man re­sources at a lo­cal univer­sity, know­ing he needs a way to sur­vive in a coun­try where most peo­ple make less than a dol­lar a day. "I love hip hop. With­out mu­sic, I am noth­ing," said Bis­seni, also known as "Rym Thug." The coun­try's grow­ing com­mu­nity of hip hop artists looks to­ward a brighter fu­ture. "We say, 'No. Stop. We don't need war,'" said 23-year-old artist Felix Ngobo. "We say, 'It doesn't mat­ter if you're Chris­tian or Mus­lim.' We are all the same."

Ngobo per­forms as "Fe­lika Joker" in his LK City group, with songs en­ti­tled "We need peace" and "Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Street." Dibinga, the vis­it­ing rap­per and aca­demic at Amer­i­can Univer­sity, ad­vised the young rap­pers in Ban­gui to stay true to their voice and draw on their own ex­pe­ri­ences in­stead of em­u­lat­ing US artists. "Art is com­mu­nity," Dibinga said. "Whether you're Mus­lim or Chris­tian, whether you're what­ever ... you have more things in com­mon than things that are dif­fer­ent. That's how we start to build. And when peo­ple are pick­ing up the mi­cro­phone, they're not pick­ing up the guns." — AP

In this photo Lionel Fo­tot, wear­ing a brown leather jacket and white pants, poses for a pho­to­graph with other mem­bers of the One Force Hip Hop band in Ban­gui, Cen­tral African Repub­lic. — AP pho­tos

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