‘Rap-or­ters’: telling news, hip-hop style

The China Post - - ARTS - BY AMY FAL­LON

“Newzbeat” makes a catchy change from a stan­dard news bul­letin: Ugan­dans call the broad­cast­ers “rap-or­ters,” a youth team of hip-hop artists-turned-jour­nal­ists rap­ping the head­lines.“Uganda’s anti-gay law is mak­ing news/Some coun­tries have found it be­fit­ting to ac­cuse/Uganda of treat­ing gays as Ger­man Jews/Noth­ing to gain from this and more to lose,” rapped the artists in one re­cent episode.

That song fo­cused on a law signed by Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni ban­ning ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, which drew wide­spread in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion. U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry likened it to anti-Semitic leg­is­la­tion in Nazi Ger­many.

“Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni says he won’t bow down to the West/Uganda has a right to de­cide what’s best,” the rap con­tin­ued.

Hear­ing the news in hip-hop style may sound strange. But in Uganda, where the press faces cen­sor­ship pres­sures and the coun­try’s huge youth pop­u­la­tion of­ten takes lit­tle in­ter­est in cur­rent af­fairs, a pro­gram where “rap-or­ters” broad­cast with “rhyme and rea­son” has be­come popular.

“NewzBeat,” screened in both English and the lo­cal lan­guage Lu­ganda on chan­nel NTV ev­ery Satur­day af­ter­noon and evening be­fore the sta­tion’s tra­di­tional news bul­letins, took to the air last year.

‘Push the bound­aries’

The show is pre­sented by Sharon Bwogi, Uganda’s “queen of hip-hop” known as Lady Slyke, the dread­locked and elo­quent Daniel Kisekka, dubbed the “Sur­vivor,” and teenage rap­per Zoe Kabuye, or MC Loy.

It aims to “pro­mote di­ver­sity and visibility for marginal­ized groups” and “push the bound­aries of press lim­i­ta­tions” in Uganda, ac­cord­ing to Lady Slyke.

“At first we had some com­plaints, peo­ple were say­ing ‘We’re not re­ally un­der­stand­ing what you’re do­ing,’” the designer and artist, who was in­spired by church mu­sic to start rap­ping when she was 13, told AFP.

But Bwogi added that to­day peo­ple from all walks of life fol­lowed the pro­gram, in­clud­ing busi­ness­men and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters.

“Peo­ple keep ask­ing for more and ask­ing me ques­tions about cer­tain top­ics,” said Bwogi, 28, who also raps at venues across Uganda pro­fes­sion­ally. “I think they love the whole fla­vor.” “NewzBeat,” which runs for about five min­utes an episode, usu­ally fea­tures about four lo­cal, re­gional sto­ries.

Noth­ing is off lim­its. The pro­gram has “rap-or­ted” sto­ries on Uganda’s anti-pornog­ra­phy laws, the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine and Ebola up­dates from west Africa.

Chal­leng­ing Po­lit­i­cal Lead­ers

Cor­rup­tion is an­other fa­vorite topic. “All around the world this prob­lem re­mains/The abuse so far is keep­ing peo­ple in chains,” rapped Kisekka in a bul­letin on graft. “But lately some signs of hope have made the head­lines/Of cor­rupt of­fi­cials be­ing handed heavy fines.”

Bwogi said“NewzBeat” talked about cor­rup­tion since graft was a ma­jor prob­lem for Uganda.

“Some­times if you want to be at­tended to ... you need to pay a lit­tle some­thing,” she said.

Of­ten lo­cal re­porters run into trou­ble try­ing to high­light this prob­lem. Uganda’s Hu­man Rights Net­work for Jour­nal­ists and other ac­tivist groups have re­peat­edly warned that the space for re­porters to op­er­ate freely in the east African coun­try is shrink­ing. Last Oc­to­ber, one jour­nal­ist was or­dered to pay dam­ages or face jail af­ter ac­cus­ing a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial of cor­rup­tion, and there have been other sim­i­lar cases.

Kabuye, 14, who has rapped on ev­ery­thing from the Egyptian sin­gle mother who spent 43 years living as a man to the na­tional iden­ti­fi­ca­tion reg­is­tra­tion, said many of her friends are dis­in­ter­ested in the news.

“They used to say it’s bor­ing, but when they see ‘NewzBeat,’ they’re like ‘what’s the time?’” said the stu­dent, who has been rap­ping since 2009 and now jug­gles her “NewzBeat” com­mit­ments with her homework.

Kisekka, 40, said that in the be­gin­ning many view­ers dis­missed the show as “just en­ter­tain­ment,” but they have come to “ap­pre­ci­ate the art form and start lis­ten­ing to the news.”Peo­ple were now tak­ing rap more se­ri­ously, the artist said.

“It is not just talk­ing about women and booze and all that, it’s de­liv­er­ing the news,” said Kisekka.

For the fu­ture, “NewzBeat” staff are look­ing at re­cruit­ing spe­cial­ist “rap-or­ters” to cover fields such as science and tech­nol­ogy. They are also keen to ex­pand across Africa.

In Tan­za­nia, a mini-sea­son of four episodes re­cently aired and an­other four are set to run in the lead-up to the coun­try’s elec­tions, sched­uled for Oc­to­ber.

“Me­dia be­longs to the power of the day,” Bwogi rapped in one episode. “The Chi­nese have CCTV/the Bri­tish have BBC/And we too are mak­ing our voices heard on NTV.”

AFP

This pic­ture taken on April 17 shows Newzbeat’s host Sharon Bwogi AKA Lady Slyke, left, writer and pro­ducer Daniel Kisekka aka “Sur­vivor,” cen­ter, and rap­per Zoe Kabuye aka “MC Loy” pos­ing at the com­pany’s of­fice in Kam­pala, Uganda.

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