South Africa: Hip Hop Revolution

27 June 2007

Washington, DC — South Africa's contribution to the 2007 AFI Silverdocs film festival held outside of Washington, DC came in the form of hip hop. Hip Hop Revolution chronicles the rise of hip hop through apartheid South Africa, showing how what started out as a youth rebellion in the Cape Flats in the early 1980s developed into today's indigenous South African hip hop community and culture.

As across most of Africa, when hip hop first came to South Africa many youths simply imitated what they saw and heard from American hip hop artists. But South Africa, unlike the rest of the continent, was in the throes of apartheid, and the hip hop revolution that gripped the United States inspired thousands of South African youth fighting their own revolution. The lyrics of American groups like Public Enemy and their song "Fight the Power" had a special resilience among South African youth.

Fighting apartheid and censorship, South African youth embraced all aspects of hip hop culture, including graffiti and break dancing. They also took the music and transformed it into local expressions of culture, frustration, and hope in order to tell their own stories. The film features interviews with artists like the influential Prophets of Da City (POC) and the all-female rap group Godessa.

The film also portrays the issues that hip hop music in South Africa addresses: class struggles, corruption, gender, HIV, violence, racism and poverty. It shines a light on the problems facing women in hip hop, problems echoed in hip hop communities worldwide. Godessa has found success, but still struggles with pressures including sexism and a lack of respect for the talents of female artists in what is perceived by many to be a "men's only " club.

One of the more controversial issues the film touches the way in which class struggles and racism have changed form, yet persisted, in post-apartheid South Africa. The rise of a black elite has not changed the conditions of the majority of black South Africans, many of whom feel they're now being exploited by both white and black.

Ironically, many of the black communities which were organizing to fight apartheid 20 years ago are now organizing to fight exploitation of the poor and working class. They are forming anti-privatization movements and committees for the working poor, and again fighting for living wages and against corruption. They are also fighting the move South Africa has made towards privatization and market-dominated economics, moves that many poor South Africans feel threaten labor unions and worker rights.

The film, shot in the Cape Flats just outside Cape Town, points out that racism and racial segregation in South Africa are still very real issues. The film gives a voice and a face to the anger and frustration among young black South Africans who feel that upward mobility is still being impeded by their class and race.

The filmmakers also show the diversity of the hip hop scene in South Africa, with differences most apparent between Cape Town and Johannesburg. While Cape Town has been seen as the birthplace of South African hip hop, with its more politically-charged & socially-conscious artists, the scene there has a bigger white following than in Johannesburg, where it is dominated by black South Africans who are increasingly controlling the buying market.

Hip Hop Revolution represents South Africa's contribution to the recent releases of films on hip hop in Africa. Films made just in the last five years include Counting Headz: South Afrika's Sistaz in Hip Hop; Hip Hop Colony (Kenya); Diamonds in the Rough (Uganda); and Democracy in Senegal. Hip Hop Revolution has yet to find a distributor, but is making the rounds of film festivals.

Hip Hop Revolution (2006) (48 minutes). Director/Producer: Weaam Williams

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