What first appealed to me about hip-hop is its universality—that despite being born out of a specific time and place it has spread to literally every part of the world. But even more than its pervasiveness, it is hip-hop’s adaptability, its tendency towards “glocality” —to borrow an academic phrase—that makes it so unique. Hip-hop is everywhere but it also takes on the specific issues, personalities, sounds and concerns of different youth cultures. I spent the last nine and a half months trying to understand how that applies to Botswana and while I surely have a few more insights, as an outsider I can never really know what it all means.
So for my final video, I decided to keep things simple and ask some members of the hip-hop community what hip-hop means to them. You may recognize some familiar faces from previous blogisodes, but in this video I also posed the question to other people in the community. I will be the first to concede that I am still only scratching the surface. Despite Botswana’s small population, hip-hop in all its forms is everywhere and means different things to different people.
Some may recall that when I was first getting ready to come to Botswana I was planning to focus on how the hip-hop scene here addresses the AIDS epidemic. However, as I began to talk to people involved in the hip-hop and motswako scenes in Gaborone, I found that artists were concerned about a great deal of issues and not just HIV/AIDS. Perhaps I had been essentializing the scene based on my own preconceptions—AIDS is one of the most dire issues facing the country, so I assumed it must be what the hip-hop heads, the social commentators of youth culture, are talking about. I quickly found out that artists here are concerned about an array of issues like government ineptitude and rising crime as well as, yes, public health problems. So instead of focusing on what I thought the issuesshould be, I decided to take a step back and focus a wider lens on the scene and try to understand it gradually. I believe I succeeded in gaining and sharing some of that understanding.
For this last video, I decided to let the people who have created this scene from the ground up speak for themselves. You will notice that if there is one common thread that runs between the responses in the video it is that, most importantly, hip-hop is a form of expression. In Botswana, hip-hop’s widespread popularity is testament to how strong that desire for expression is among its youth. With no local industry strong enough to support musicians and international exposure only in its infancy, these musicians are pushing against the odds just to be able to say what is on their minds and the collective mind of the country’s youth. Nothing—whether it is censorship laws, an uncooperative music industry or a demanding day job—is going to stop that. Hip-hop just means too much to them.
What does hip-hop mean to you?
Thank you to everyone who followed along over the past year. I hope you continue to open your eardrums to the world—it is full of the unexpected. And most of all thank you to everyone in Botswana who made my time there such a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Sala sentle!