Diamonds in the Rough: A Ugandan Hip Hop Revolution
A film screening of Diamonds in the Rough: A Ugandan Hip Revolution. This documentary screening, part of the first annual Washington, DC Hip Hop & Peacebuilding Festival, was followed by a question and answer session with featured hip hop artists Silas Balabyekkubo and Fredinah Peyton, and filmmaker Brett Mazurek. Diamonds in the Rough follows the efforts of a group of young African artists using the poetry of hip hop to share their message of peace.
Silas Balabyekkubo, Featured Artist
Fredinah F. Peyton aka Rah-P, Featured Artist
Brett Mazurek, Director
Msia Kibona Clark, Howard University, African Studies
Betty Bigombe, Distinguished African Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Since gaining independence in 1960, Uganda has experienced decades of oppressive government, armed conflict, poverty, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Despite these trying circumstances, Uganda has begun to see the emergence of a youth-driven movement for change, as socially conscious hip hop gains popularity. Silas Balabyekkubo and Fredinah Peyton are two of many African and international artists now striving to produce more socially and politically conscious music and share it with the world. This was the subject of the documentary Diamonds in the Rough.
In her introduction, Betty Bigombe, who acted as chief mediator between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army in addition to her years of government service in Uganda, commended hip hop as an innovative way to engage youth in conflict prevention, reiterating that young people are among the most affected by violent conflict. She talked about bringing soccer balls to camps in Northern Uganda, believing that games teach youth to perceive each other not as combatants but as teammates. Hip hop has potential to be similarly beneficial because of its strong appeal to young people.
Msia Kibona Clark opened the discussion, introducing Silas Balabyekkubo, a Ugandan hip hop artist and founder of the Bavubuka Foundation, which helps to create opportunities for youth in the arts and uses hip hop as a means of transforming lives and unifying communities; Fredinah Peyton, currently the most popular female hip hop artist in Uganda; and Brett Mazurek, who directed the film and produced some of the featured music.
Hip Hop and Language
The Bataka Squad, the hip hop group co-created by Balabyekkubo and the cornerstone of the Bavubuka Foundation, distinguished itself early on with its creation of Lugaflow, a hip hop style using Luganda, the main local language of Uganda.
In the artists' view, language affects the cultural relevance and impact of the music and helps to assert a regional footprint in greater African hip hop. Balabyekkubo explained that using the native language empowers young people and gives them a reason to be proud of their heritage, giving the example of his work in war-ravaged northern Uganda where he encouraged Acholi youth to rap in their native language rather than English. Clark commented that usage of local languages gives a sense of cultural importance which can inspire youth to be more positive and proactive. Peyton commented that rapping in English can actually detract from the effectiveness of their message to a domestic audience. When the older generation hears hip hop, they are more receptive if the language is their own. She noted it is not necessarily an avoidance of English. Rather, in her own music she flows in and out of different languages to express herself.
The State of International Hip Hop
Balabyekkubo said that while he's unable to define hip hop's purpose for everyone, people all over the world are rapping, even those in desperate situations. Even in Iraq, young people are using hip hop to convey their feelings and ideas. Peyton added that hip hop doesn't belong to any one group or country. Mazurek mentioned that due to ever increasing availability of technology, youth are able to produce and distribute their own music from anywhere in the world. He expressed excitement, saying that global hip hop will be redefined as it takes on a more diverse and international character.
Having a Positive Impact
The Bavubuka Foundation was launched with the main objective of opening community centers around Uganda to connect youth with the arts and nurture the next generation of young Ugandan and African leaders. Balabyekkubo cited the YMCA in Canada as an inspiration, seeking to create the first of such centers in Uganda.
The audience asked Peyton about tackling women's issues through her music. Peyton's lyrics, popular in both Tanzania and Uganda, address many problems facing African women ranging from physical and emotional abuse, HIV/AIDS, and sexual violence. Peyton said that she has received a lot of good feedback from local women. Mazurek commented that Peyton has emerged as a very positive role model.
Engaging the International Community
This point may prove to be the most challenging for socially conscious hip hop artists, including those behind the Bavubuka Foundation. While holistic approaches to governance and community building are slowly taking hold, engaging the older generation still poses challenges. For now, he encourages the youth that he works with to reach their potential, while teaching them integrity and a sense of community.
Since the Film
Balabyekkubo said that since the filming of Diamonds in the Rough, the Bavubuka foundation has continued to reach out to children and many more have become engaged He also mentioned that his group had finally won the Pearl of Africa, the biggest music award in Uganda, given annually. He said that for the children of Uganda, the idea is growing that hip hop can be a positive influence. Peyton said she was now in college in Texas, in addition to continuing her music.