Hip hop and diplomacy are just as unlikely a pair as heavy metal and Islam to the Western mind. Nevertheless, hip hop and heavy metal are popular forms of music among youth in the Middle East. As in every society, the younger generation struggles to find alternatives to tradition through travel, study, and rebellion. The next generation in the Middle East faces the pressure of rebuilding a region after years of war. They are playing metal and hip hop to rebel against the surrounding culture of violence and war. Popular music suggests that a lot of Muslim youth are choosing an alternative to political activism, living their daily lives apart from ethnic and religious conflict with politics in the West.
Hip Hop Diplomacy in Morocco
The documentary I Love Hip Hop in Morocco follows a series of hip-hop concerts organized by Fulbright scholar Josh Asen. Filmaker Jennifer Needleman follows his experience studying the indigenous Moroccan Hip Hop culture. The concerts have also inspired The Hip-Hop Diplomacy Project and there are similar organizations around the world. While hip hop diplomacy as U.S. strategy is only now getting buzz, blogger taamarbuuta for The Moroccan Report says that hip-hop is “nothing new in Morocco.” Looking at the movement from the bottom-up, hip-hop activists clearly stand for democratic values and concert festivals are popular because common values like free speech and equality are shared. Rapper Bigg takes a stand in an interview translated here and explains his message to fans:
I tell them not to be afraid of anything or anyone: “Baraka men al khouf!” [“Enough fear!”] I ask them to be citizens who fulfill their obligations and who dare to demand their rights. Real Moroccans who want to change their country, not those who want to leave at the first possible moment. In singing, I ask young people to interest themselves in what’s happening around them.
Ongoing foreign intervention, international aid, and other experiments in Western economic and political models have some positive effects but carry a high cost. Could concert festivals be the future ground for a stable, secure society?
- Movie trailer for I Love Hip Hop in Morocco
- Rapper Bigg performs “Badi Blade” at Festivale de Casablancas
- U.S. State Department and Hip Hop diplomacy on NPR
- Background on cultural diplomacy from “How Eminem can Save the Middle East”
- Global Voices: Jillian York highlights reactions to the film in “Morocco: Local Hip Hop Goes Global”
- Listen to Iranian hip-hop artist HichKas on PRI’s The Global Hit. He raps about politics and global diplomacy in “Patriot.” A sample of the song included in the audio clip.