This music video for Big Frizzle’s ‘All Black Everything’, produced by London-based media house GlobalFaction made me wonder about GlobalFaction’s politics, and their use of imagery. I’m struck by the flood of historical images featuring in recent Congo-related music videos. Congo, in many music videos, gets often used as a stand-in for ‘Africa’ in general. And Big Frizzle’s, I’d say, is just one more example. The list is long. Especially but not exclusively, as this video shows, francophone rappers. It shouldn’t come as a surprise of course. Photos, documentaries from colonial archives, fiction films and clips of those films started to circulate ever since the arrival of YouTube or DailyMotion, and (music) video makers have been having a ball downloading and pasting them to conscious and less conscious lyrics.
One of those photos used here (around the 4:00 minute mark) is a portrait of monsieur ‘Nkazi’ by Stephan Vanfleteren. It’s a contested photo. It graces the cover of a massive tome by Belgian author David Van Reybrouck about Congo’s history (published in Dutch some years ago, recently translated in French and German, and soon available in English too). More than two-hundred thousand copies of the book have already been sold. Monsieur Nkazi died before the book came out. The portrait is contested because Nkazi’s family claims it reinforces a stereotypical image of “a poor African” and that they didn’t consent on having his portrait used for the book. And so they are asking for a compensation. The foreign language versions of the book won’t be carrying the photo.
Anyway, to return to the video, the use of these images, and the politics behind these kind of videos: I wanted to hear other opinions so I asked the Africa is a Country desk.
Sean Jacobs: At first it looks like a parody of Big Black Af (played by Mos Def) and his crew (whose fictitious members included Charli Baltimore, Cannibus and MC Serch as “One-Sixteenth Blak”) with its overbearing black global politics and “back to Africa” politics, but it is clear that it is a much harder version of what Kanye West half-heartedly wanted to do with ‘Diamonds of Sierra Leone’. Only problem, with much of rap, is that it doesn’t offer much else than consciousness and identity politics.
Wills Glasspiegel: What’s up with the link between massacres in Congo and the idea that he too seems to be down for the use of “any means necessary?”
Mikko Kapanen: I have been thinking about this a lot: what is the purpose of political music? I am interested in Hip-Hop in particular. I think at best it can be a soundtrack to political activity or politicising the audiences. Giving them references and pointers to find more information. There are some exceptions to this rule — I never get tired of sharing this link — but for the most part music and musicians just direct their audiences towards what they feel is important. Like said, I am specifically talking about political Hip-Hop, but did A Change is Gonna Come communicate hard information or just a mood of certain people in certain time and place? Or Public Enemy? The answer is ‘sometimes yes’ and definitely the artists themselves have consistently talked politics in the interviews and on stage, but more often than not, the lyrics capture something less easy to describe and that’s why many times these songs can work as a soundtrack to other struggles as well.
In my opinion this specific song and video are great. I enjoy them and I have enjoyed music from Big Frizzle before (he’s more of a chorus guy normally) and videos from GlobalFaction whose YouTube channel has at the moment nearly thirteen million views. We must realise that these guys have got a lot of muscle amongst certain audiences regardless of the fact that mainstream media don’t really support them in any way. What the mainstream media do support however is a whole lot of shallowness and I welcome any opposing force to that. That is why I think that there is a massive and massively significant connection between Congo and “by any means necessary”. It’s part of the same conscientising campaign these artist are on and I for one applaud that. I would also say that the circles that the artist and video maker represent are involved in other positive movements outside of their primary artistic expression.
It’s true by the way what Sean says about Bamboozled style Mau Mau anger; one is reminded of it, but I’d go as far as saying that the UK — I mean people elsewhere are still surprised that there are Black people in the UK — has a very different context to the US. Of course there’s no need to make more general statements, but I have observed in my four long years in Birmingham that the African-Caribbean community in the UK has got its own kind of identity politics and they don’t have a similar umbrella as, say, African Americans.
All in all as a fan of Hip-Hop — when it’s done in a progressive spirit — I always want to support positive movements. It’s easy to be cynical about music like this, but the market pressures around it are strong and they are directing all the attention and money to music that is between empty and hateful and this — together with many other songs of course — is a welcome interruption to it.
Dylan Valley: I think it’s a dope beat and conscious lyrics but it doesn’t feel very timely, it feels a little played out and a bit contrived. It reminds me Wole Sonyinka’s response to the French Negritude movement: “A tiger doesn’t proclaim its tigritude, it acts.” And although I’m still nodding my head to this, I prefer Hot Cheetos and Takis:
Boima Tucker: Hot Cheetos and Takis is cute… and real. Plenty youth I’ve run into out here think that’s what passes for a meal. American malnutrition. Let’s rap about it.
I think I still prefer to read a book (3.5 million views and counting) if we’re looking at novelty factor.
But if we’re talking about impact towards further action? I don’t know if any overt political message via popular culture can do that. These days especially, it seems that the subliminal (mainly fear) is what most moves people to action. A video like Big Frizzle’s is mostly useful, in our contemporary moment of digital identity politics, for those of us who are going to post it to our tumblrs and twitters. Now your followers can know you’re #fashionable #global AND #militant.
As far as militant Black British, it’s nice to see. Played out identity politics from the US perspective? Perhaps. But not being an insider to contemporary UK culture, it makes me want to find out more, and as Mikko illustrated, maybe collaborate with these folks. And that in itself I guess is a form of movement towards action.
I personally can’t wait for the video for Somali Malitia Mali Mob’s ‘Pirates’ to drop. The producer told me there will be lots of guns.
And all that’s why VYBZ KARTEL IS SO ENIGMATIC AND AMAZING!