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07 Sep 2001 00:00
I have been mauled publicly by a 12-legged, designer-label-clad, Mother Africa-idolising, American-talking hip-hop machine. And while it was ear-glowingly embarrassing, maybe I asked for it.
I am at a media conference at a casino for the first-ever “Black August” tour in South Africa a three-city tour by some of the top exponents of United States conscious hip-hop.
This brand of rap music is broadly socially aware.
On the tour are six men: top rapper Talib Kweli; M-1 and Stic-man who are Dead Prez; Black Thought, the rapper of The Roots; Jeru the Damaja; and Boots, The Coup’s mouth-man.
Sponsored by Levi jeans and organised by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, it’s linked to Black August a time when African-Americans celebrate their heritage and resistance to oppression.
Stic-man isn’t impressed being here in a casino. “Like, all this type of shit it’s all white people’s shit.”
The men are asked about the land question in Zimbabwe, the US government’s negative stance towards the Durban racism conference and the steep ticket price for the Black August gig.
The really nice promoter says I can get that really final question.
“I am an African,” I started off, quoting our president. “I was born here, Africa is my motherland. People like Nelson Mandela count among my heroes. What message have you got for me?”
Jeru grabs the microphone, but it can just as well have been a flame-thrower.
“You are not an African! We are Africans! You are a European! Listen!” This he punctuates with a PW Botha-style index finger. “I was born in America, my mother was born in America, my grandmother was born in America, but I’m no American! I’m a kidnapped African! These people have been here since the beginning of time, you’ve been here a couple of hundred years. So you can’t claim something that is not yours! What you did was take that!
“If I come where you’re living in your house right now, kick up in your living room, put my feet up and switch on the TV and say I’m living in your house and have kids and my kids say that’s their house you can’t do that!
“What you are is a European-African, like I’m an African-American you’re a European with residency in Africa like I’m an African who has residency in America!”
More PW-finger-prodding: “If you are an African, why aren’t you living in the township with the other Africans?”
Applause from the media audience, and Jeru is cooking now: “Check it out I can put a muffin in a freezer, but it won’t make it a piece of ice!
“Right, I can take an apple pie and put it on a baseball field and it can’t make it a pitcher!”
I have a dj vu moment back to my varsity days in the early 1980s at RAU: Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging-leader Eugene Terre’Blanche roaring at a lunch meeting that with my left-wing views, I am not an Afrikaner or a Boer.
Jeru’s twang jerks me back to Johannesburg 2001: “It’s a misconception you have, [that] you can take people’s things and say they’re yours and have the same rights to have it!”
M-1 is by now shuffling very impatiently on his chair. “I’m not saying we hate white people because we talk like this doesn’t mean we don’t like white people!
“No, we love black freedom and we’ll have it, no matter what!”
Applause and the media conference is over. I sit there with one of those dry mouths like after a rough night, and ears ablaze.
But the story has a happy ending. A colleague went to their show at Park Station in Johannesburg. “While inside the rappers were preaching racial separation,” he said, “outside white and black youngsters were sitting together in their own little circles, rapping up a storm.”
Yo, you little Africans!
Charles Leonard is a journalist at e.tv News
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