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Giving messages to small people: Hip hop music and identity in post-genocide Rwanda

Dr Andrea Mariko Grant, University of Cambridge

Wednesday 16 November at 5.30 pm

This paper explores the development of Rwanda’s post-genocide music industry, particularly the booming popularity of Kinyarwanda-language hip hop. Like elsewhere on the continent, hip hop in Rwanda has emerged as a salient form of identity-making and aspiration for urban young people. Yet while the genre has become an important form of political critique in places as diverse as Senegal and Kenya, Rwandan hip hop artists shy away from directly addressing politics in their songs. They do not name and criticise leading political figures, for example, or call for popular protest against the state. I argue, however, that this does not make Rwandan hip hop apolitical. Local rappers position themselves as ‘truth’ tellers who give important messages (abatumwa) to the country’s marginalised young people. In speaking about the hardships, suffering, and anxieties of everyday urban life, they implicitly – and occasionally explicitly – encourage listeners to contrast their own experiences with the ‘progress’ supposedly offered by the current government. In this way, I argue that hip hop creates new ‘bottom-up’ forms of identity and belonging outside of the top-down Rwandan (or banyarwanda) identity imposed by the state.

Bio: Andrea Mariko Grant is a research fellow at the Centre of African Studies and Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge. Her work explores popular culture in post-genocide Rwanda and the everyday lives of urban young people.

This event is free, but tickets must be booked. To book tickets please go to http://andreagreant.eventbrite.co.uk