5 Hip Hop in Uganda
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165 The more time I spent with African musicians in Ukraine, the more I realized the importance of traveling to East Africa to close the loop for myself, so to speak, and to be part of their musical and social experiences at home and abroad. Familiarizing myself with hip hop in Africa through documentary films, YouTube, ethnomusicological research, and fieldwork in Uganda, I came to see that hip hop, along with its status as a genre of entertainment, is lauded by numerous advocates on the African continent as a form of therapy for young people who have experienced the traumas of poverty, AIDS, war, and violence. Drawing on fieldwork in the Unyama Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp established in 1997 and operated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees near Gulu, northern Uganda, this chapter analyzes the transnational impact of social activist hip hop across East Africa and draws parallels between the therapeutic uses of hip hop in Uganda and Ukraine for young people experiencing various forms of alienation.1 It situatesthesponsorshipofcertainhiphopprojectsbyinternationaldevelopment organizations in a historical loop of transactions between the United States, EastAfrica,andtheformerSovietUnionbyrecastingAmerican,African,and Soviet Cold War propaganda on equality, discussed in chapter 1, in terms of human rights discourse that draws inspiration from African American civil rightsandU.S.developmentaiddiscourse.Thestrugglesforeconomic,political , and social stability are similar in Uganda and Ukraine as both countries deal with the collective trauma of dictators, massive death tolls (under Idi Amin and Joseph Stalin), displacement through war,epidemics of AIDS, new forms of media technology, and dynamics of postcolonial rule. Though these parallels are drawn broadly, human abilities to deal with change and process pain, loss, and memories of violence are very similar in situations where such experiences are collective and prolonged. F I V E HIP HOP IN UGANDA 166 Hip Hop Ukr aine My own family history is rooted in loss and longing, with maternal and paternal grandparents having been forced to flee their homeland to escape political persecution from Soviet occupiers in western Ukraine. My mother ’s parents lost four young sons to bullets and disease in their escape west through Poland. My mother, their fifth child, was born in a displaced persons camp in 1946 in Erlangen, Germany, in the American occupied zone, from which the family came to Philadelphia. She returned to Ukraine for the first time in 1972 when she began working as a travel agent and used her growing network of connections with Intourist, the state travel organization in the USSR, to help reunite diaspora and their families. Tourists carried information ,goods,andpropagandaintoandoutofSovietUkraine.Sincethiswasthe familybusiness,Igrewuphearingstoriesoftripsinsearchoflostrelativesand of ways that travelers strategized to reunite with family without falling under the gaze of the KGB and the FBI, which allegedly kept track of U.S. citizens traveling to the USSR. My father’s family fled their village home near Brody, western Ukraine, in 1943. At age eight, my father was uprooted from familiar surroundings and family and escaped west on a horse-drawn wagon with his parents, brother, and two sisters, stopping only when they reached the U.S.-occupied sector of Bavaria, Germany. Perhaps because he experienced the trauma of uprootedness in his childhood and lived as a refugee in Germany until age thirteen, my father connected very strongly to Bavaria, never missing an opportunity to pass through it as an adult. My sister and I traveled with him many times to Murnau am Staffelsee in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the edge of the Bavarian Alps. He showed us the Bavarian places he remembered from childhood, becausehecouldnottakeustothevillage nearBrodywherehegrew up.Until the fall of the Soviet Union, it was forbidden for “foreigners” to travel to villages in the USSR. His longing for clarity and understanding came through in the staggering amount of literature and archival video footage he amassed aboutStalin,Hitler,theHolocaust,andthebattlesof WorldWarII.Hesought strength in trying to make sense of the loss and violence and of the war’s impact on his life. SOCIAL ACTIVIST HIP HOP AS “REAL” HIP HOP People resolving loss and trauma seek escape and may connect with nonlocalized forms of emotional expression when those forms grow from expres- 167 Hip Hop in Uganda sion of similar traumas. This chapter positions hip hop as a foreign form that has become localized and recreated to express and process local experiences. Though this can be stated about hip hop developments across the world, what ties together experiences in Uganda and Ukraine are the specific feelings of anxiety that hip hop helps frame...


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Subject Headings

  • Rap (Music) -- Ukraine -- History and criticism.
  • Hip-hop -- Ukraine.
  • Blacks -- Race identity -- Ukraine.
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