What do you think about when you think about Africa? What do you hear when you listen to Africa? And what does one write about when they write about Africa? These questions are important questions. Single dimensions are rampant in many visions of Africa, particularly concerning the political and economic instability of many African nations. However, these common struggles don’t equate singular cultural expressions, an easy lens to pick up when few alternatives are offered.
African musics vary immensely, though what is often brought out of the continent is a window of African music that shines with a pop brightness most easily digestible by short attention spans and a low tolerance for abrasion. African music is Amadou & Mariam, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Fela Kuti, Ali Farka Toure, and all those groups Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel worked with, whatever their names are. These artists are legendary and important, however is that what Africa listens to? No. At least, not anymore. Since hip-hop’s rise to global prominence, most major urban centers in Africa—Nairobi, Abuja, Kampala, Abidjan—listen to rap music. 2pac, Biggie, and Jay-Z.
Dutty Artz co-founder DJ /rupture (Matt Shadetek is the 2nd half) helms the mixing in this introduction to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivore’s rap group CIAfrica, made up of producer Green Dog (Amadou Komara) and a host of rappers like Manusa, Barboza, and Prince Abraham. There could hardly be a better candidate to create a path through their music, as /rupture is best known for mixtapes like Gold Teeth Thief, where he fused the abrasiveness of breakcore and noise with American rap/R&B, dancehall, and Middle Eastern rai, offering a worldview that motioned for cultural/musical intersection while never claiming that it was as easy as it sounds.
CIAfrica are one of the few hip-hop projects to coalesce on the African continent that provide an evocative portrayal of political turmoil, cynicism, and outrage. Often filled with the chaos of compressed snares and drums, earth-shaking bass, and lyrical ferocity, CIAfrica is the raw underbelly of West African urbanity, where political frustration and economic unrest are channeled through the global music expressions of the colonized (dancehall, reggae, hip-hop).
The album opens ominously with “Negro Politicien V.I”, where the fire and quickness of Barboza’s delivery is at nice odds with the industrial dancehall production of Green Dog; fluidity of expression amidst gnarled soundscapes. Barboza stands out as a particular highlight amongst the various MCs featured on the record, his voice a malignant, smoky rasp that is well-matched to many of the broken beats he raps over. And when Green Dog adds the occasional melody, often a terrifying high-pitched synth that could either be a war-horn from a post-apocalyptic future world or an ancient, digitized organ, Barboza and his cohorts seem lifted out of the bass-muck.
Other highlights include Manusa’s “J’Fuck”, a piece of soap-box political rap that needs no translation—all the claims and sonic-clamor are palpable enough. A final sign of DJ /rupture’s curatorial expertise becomes apparent with two injections, each wonderful moments of musical meditation when the mix changes course. Once, early in the mix, /rupture adds a freestyle rap called “Cash” from the one female member of the CIAfrica crew, Nasty, who sounds both like a revelation and right at home among the brashness of the album’s beats and bellows. The other great editorial move from /rupture comes with the only instrumental in the mix, called “Epikstar Riddim”, which threads ragga vocal familiarities like “Rub-a-dub” over dubstep-style bass rumbles and a whip-cracking hip-hop snare from the future.
Traditional West African music is nowhere to be seen here, and why does it have to be? High-life rarely seems to sound like it came from the lows of West African urban life, and with the prideful, power-hungry energy of rap, dancehall and UK grime at CIAfrica’s backs, hope can be gleaned from honesty, harrowing high-hats, and the healing power of bass.