|Story and Images by Moses Mbasu (Blaze), August 2005. Originally published at Baobabconnections.org
Also read the interview with Awadi by Blaze.
It was another glorious moment in Nairobi when former Senegalese rap group Positive Black Soul (PBS) member Didier Awadi was in town on a 13-country tour of Africa.
For those who don't have a clue who PBS is, dig into your African hip hop history archives and pull out the early 1990s. PBS is one of the pioneer African hip hop groups that came out at a time when many believed that hip hop was only an America affair. This group was started by former Dakar street gang rivals; former DJ; Didier Awadi and Doug E Tee. They made peace and decided to do hip hop music together. They formed the group Positive Black Soul; and rapidly became known around Dakar live hip hop circles for their positive messages and educative lyrics.
In 1992, French Rapper, MC Solaar (Originally from Senegal) was on holiday in Dakar when he heard their music. So impressed by PBS, he invited them to France to tour with him; that was the beginning of all their fortunes. They were the first African hip hop group to perform on the European circuit. Their name was growing so fast that by the time they recorded their first album, they had collaborated with heavyweights of African music such as Baaba Maal. They had just released their debut album Boul Fale on tape when Baaba Maal introduced them to Mango Island Label (France) where they got signed. They then embarked on a European tour taking their brand of music all over the continent.
On their first CD-album - Salaam they featured MC Solaar and it was then that they showed their full songwriting potential. Before not so long, they started getting requests to perform in non-Francophone countries. They went on tour all over Africa and became the first Francophone rap group to perform in Johannesburg. In 1997, they were invited to perform in Cannes at Midem; The International Record Industry Fair where they caught the eye of American producer; Van Gibbs (The Fugees). He loved their African sound so much that he immediately invited them to New York for the recording of their second album. The album titled Run Cool featured Jamaican stars such as Red Rat, Ky Mani Marley, and French-Cameroonian singer Princess Erika.
In 2003, they recorded New-York-Paris-Dakar that featured a host of guest MCs including KRS-1, K-Mel (Alliance Ethnik) and Manu Key (Mafia K1 Fry). Having performed internationally, they had made enough money on African standards that they built Studio Sankara. Studio Sankara is a state-of-the-art TV production studio, and music studio that they use to record up and coming musicians in Senegal. They also own all publishing and copyrights of every record they have ever been on. Studio Sankara also owns one of the best PA Sound Systems in Dakar and a Security firm which employs able-bodied jobless youth from the streets. Not only had they enjoyed the status of being the African hip hop crew that's toured the most but they also learnt a lot about the business side of music.
Soon after the New-York-Paris-Dakar album, they took time off to embark on projects that were close to their hearts. Amadi has since released two solo albums strictly addressing the plight of Africa. First it was Parole d'Honneur, on which he reflects his commitment to pan-Africanism. Early, this year he released an international album Un Autre Monde Est Possible meaning Another World Is Possible on which addresses African youth to follow the right role models and avoid those who lead them astray.
The 36 year-old rapper is the Winner of the 2003 Radio France Internationale 's World Music Award and during his Nairobi trip was awarded the UN Habitat 'Messenger of Truth' by Un Habitat's Nicholas You and Kenyan Minister for Local Government; Musikari Kombo. Apart from being a well traveled musician and businessman, Mr. Didier Awadi is now also an Ambassador of UN-Habitat. Sky is the limit for Awadi, and what a better way to reach the top than doing it with something that you love so muchâ€¦.to Awadi it's hip hop.
The African president's tour
As part of his pan-African vision Awadi has embarked on a 13 country tour in East, Central, Southern Africa and Indian Ocean using hip hop as a tool to bridge the gap between the youth of Africa and their history. Ever since he was little, Awadi was always amazed by the powerful speeches of elder African statesmen. He has in his days with PBS used Nelson Mandela's Freedom speech on one of his albums. He embraces the speeches of great leaders such as used Sheikh Anta Diop, Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie I, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba and Jomo Kenyatta because these were the outstanding words of leaders who meant what they were saying and that it came from their hearts. Most of the speeches contain very important connotations of freedom, justice, peace and unity; the same messages that he portrays in his music. To many people who grew up at that ecstatic time of freedom from colonialists, these were the words by which they built their courage to live. These could have been our grandfathers, our parents or our uncles so in one way or another, these speeches have affected us as Africans. Instead of just saving these speeches in our museums why not put them on hip hop album so that the youth can reflect back?
The most interesting thing that triggered him to start an African Presidents Tour is that while he was interacting with the younger hip hop listening audiences, he found that many of them had not heard the messages of these leaders. Even after listening to them, they did not see their significance to modern day life. He embarked on the tour in early May to take the message to the youth across Africa that those messages from our founding leaders are the reflection of who we are as Africans and should be proud of them. Through hip hop, those messages can reach the youth directly because they are the ones listening. For him it's more about using hip hop for social responsibility rather than just fun.
The African Presidents' project strives to create a bridge between rap and history, through the ideas proclaimed by these luminaries for the development of the continent. Awadi hopes to enable an interactive dialogue with Rap artists against the backdrop of "Where are all these dreams today?" and use the medium of urban music to communicate with the younger generation of Africans.
In every country he is touring, he has arranged hip hop workshops and recordings with local artists. He will also collect Presidents' speeches and put them on those recordings. Before arriving in Nairobi on June 7th; he had already been through, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa where he recorded with Skwatta Camp, Proverb and Prokid. He then proceeded to Mauritius, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda where he collaborated with Klear Kut and Crazy Native.
In Kenya, Awadi collaborated with the local crew UkooFlani Mau Mau and its members including Kalamashaka, MC Kah, Mashifta, Gas Fyatu. At the end of the tour, he will compile the album and launch it at Senerap; an annual hip hop festival in Senegal at the end of the year. The album will include Presidents' and other visionary leaders' speeches from all over the continent. Some of the artists from different countries will be invited to Senegal to participate in the launch. This will be an event to behold. With hip hop artists like Awadi, Africa would just go so far in achieving it goals.
After his hip hop workshops over three days, he embarked on community service which included visiting orphans in the slums of Dandora and planting trees there. On the 10th of June; Awadi held a fully packed high energy concert at Nairobi's entertainment Mecca; Carnivore Simba Saloon. It was a night of hip hop like no other.
Carnivore Simba Saloon, Nairobi: Friday 10th June 2005, 9pm
Starting off the night was Ukoo Flani Mau Mau members such as Mashifta who gave the audiences their hits; 'Pesa, Pombe, Siasa na Wanawake', 'Majambazi' and 'Sherehe Kea'. The crowd was so antsy because rarely do hip hop heads in Nairobi find themselves being entertained by some of their own at such a high profile entertainment venue. While Ukoo Flani Mau Mau got the crowd dancing and up on their feet, Kalamashaka got the venue in frenzy. They had been off the scene for at least two years and being the pioneer hip hop group in Kenya their fans had come out in plenty. The air was filled with chants of their classic jam; 'Wakilisha', 'Ni Wakati, 'We Tafsiri'. The climax of their performance was when they broke out with the Africa wide hit 'Fanya Mambo'. That was it for K-Shaka.
When Awadi arrived on stage the crowd was already on their feet ready to dance to his flavour of hip hop. While the Kenyan bands had arrived on stage with microphones alone, his band set up the stage with turntables, djembe drums and the Kora. This was an unusual thing in Kenya and it was evident that Awadi's band was about to give the audience a dose of West African music not just hip hop. So familiar with their tunes, the band consists of an amazing vocalist and back up hype man; Baay Sooley, the Kora player and part back up singer. Then there is the djembe player and off course the DJ.
When Awadi starts and breaks into songs like 'Jamais Vu', 'Ya Ko Laal', 'Back in Da Biz', 'L'Essential', 'Apocalypse' and 'Rosa'. He captures the attention whole audience with the voice power of an international star. He does it with the comfort of a veritable pioneer pushing back borders to create sounds that combine traditional cultures and modern technology. Awadi feeds his audience with his powerful mix of dynamic rap that the crowd can't help but start dancing. Although he sings in French and Wolof, his music has the spirit of the world, the whole crowd responds. You could see the satisfaction on peoples faces after they had danced to his music for over two hours. While the crowds started leaving, there he was still on stage rocking. With his type of music, he will sure reach out to the 300 millions of disenfranchised youth living in slums and inners cities of the Millennium Development Goals by 2008.
Awadi continued his President's by heading to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, then to the Comoros, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. He'll then proceed to Guinea, Burkina Faso and the rest of West Africa.
Didier Awadi is a true African musician, a perfect social Ambassador and a voice of the youth.
To learn more about Awadi visit his website www.awadimusic.com.