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The African diaspora through Portuguese Hip Hop music: a case study

The present work is part of a wider investigation on the specificities of the Portuguese hip hop movement and on its current representatives. Our project aims at understanding how the young generations in Portugal have received and integrated the
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  EXODUS : CONTO E RECONTOS 13 RECEBIDO 14102016 · ACEITE 25112016 The African diaspora through Portuguese Hip Hop music: a case study  A diáspora africana através da música hip-hop portuguesa: um estudo de caso Federica Lupati CHAM, FCSH, Universidade de Lisboa e Universidade dos Açoreslupati.federica@gmail.com Palavras -chave:  Hip Hop culture, African diaspora, Music of the African diaspora, African dias - pora in Portugal, Portuguese hip hop, Valete. Keywords: cultura hip hop, diáspora africana, música da diáspora africana, diáspora africana em Portugal, Hip hop português, Valete. The present work is part of a wider investigation on the specicities of the Portuguese hip hop movement and on its current representatives. Our project aims at understanding how the young generations in Portugal have received and integrated the creative strategies that came as a consequence of the global spreading of hip hop culture. We would also like to discuss the relevance of hip hop as a marginal, but very powerful, device. We believe that its contributions to the reinforcement of new identities and new cultural spaces allow us to question issues related to capitalism, globalization and migration ows in the modern  world while they undermine the traditional beliefs and dynamics of legitimation. Our intent is to restore a reliable view on this urban, non-canonical and highly pragmatic cultural manifestation. This being said, the following paper is structured in two main sections. The rst part is dedicated to some brief, general considerations on hip hop culture,  with the intent to highlight some of the social and cultural factors that led to its appearance in New York in the 1970s. We believe that having a clear view on the historical path and development of this subculture is necessary to understand how the phenomenon reached Portugal in the mid-1980s and why some specic socio-political circumstances favored its reception and appropriation by the young generations of that time. This will inevitably lead to some observations on the close relationship between the African diasporic cultures and youths, and their evolution into new, srcinal – oen subversive – creative manifestations. Parti - cularly, we intent to observe the relationship that the young afro-descendants in Portugal have developed with hip hop, and how this nds its realization in some recurring themes, creative strategies and general apprehensions.  FEDERICA LUPATI Yet, in the second part of our work we will have a closer look to the track Quando o sorriso morre , by rapper Valete. This will allow us to contribute with some solid examples to our postulates and observations. In this perspective, we intend to observe how this Lisbon-based rapper – who is currently an established artist, involved not only at a musical level, but also at a social one – rebuilds the perception and the memory of Africa and of the African diaspora, as well as its relationship with the Portuguese history and culture.When approaching the study of hip hop culture, the rst thing we notice is that in the last four decades it has grown stronger and more powerful, becoming nowadays a global phenomenon with a very peculiar code (a mixture of language, clothes, attitude, and values, in one word, a “style”) recognized and adopted worl - dwide. As M. Morgan and D. Bennett say, hip hop is today “a lingua franca for popular and political youth culture around the world” (Morgan & Bennett 2011) representing a transnational community with which youth groups identify and thanks to which they nd their own ways of expression. Being a result of the reaction to dierent forms of subalternity (spatial, political, cultural and social) it can also be considered as the response to what Roberto Francavilla points out as being “the congenital faults of the city plans, […] the failure of capitalism […] and the decits of democracy” (Francavilla 2012; our translation). In his view, the  young inhabitants of the urban peripheries manage to overcome their “state of exception”, transforming their urban areas in “cultural workshop[s] in constant agitation, where new languages are being produced, a territory for redemption and armation in which the subject, although inuenced by the constraint of subalternity, manages to build his own strategies” (Francavilla, 2012). In fact, the motives and impulse of the political frustration and creative fer - ment of the young Afro-Americans and Latinos that led to the rst block parties   around 1972 in the South and West Bronx can be traced back to some radical urban changes, to the lack of employment due to New York’s economic paralysis, as well as the migratory uxes that from the Caribbean, and more specically Jamaica, drew entire families to the United States seeking for better quality of life in the 1950s and 1960s. In this sense, Je Chang’s book Can’t stop, won’t stop  (2005) oers a more detailed analysis of the intricate network of factors that led to the appearance of hip hop culture in New York in the late 1970s. Literary in style, the book oers an engaging text lled with valuable historical data, as well as many srcinal inter -  views. In Chang’s view, the man responsible of causing the major damages to the citizens of New York at that time, was named Robert Moses, who the author describes as “the most powerful modern urban builder of all times” (Chang, 2005). Chang argues that, on one side, Moses’ project of the Cross Bronx Expressway (built between 1948 and 1972) was “a modernist catastrophe of massive propor - tions” that “le behind a wake of environmental violence […] destroying entire apartment buildings and private homes” (2005). This led to what he calls “the  white exodus out of the Bronx”, also drastically lowering the property value in the area. On the other side, Moses’ proposal was part of a bigger plan of urban rene -  wal that gave him the right to relocate the poor African-American, Puerto Rican and Jewish families living in Manhattan’s ghettos in new “tower-in-a-park” vast 680  THE AFRICAN DIASPORA THROUGH PORTUGUESE HIP HOP MUSIC: A CASE STUDY housing complexes, a concept by the modernist architect Le Corbusier as part of his vision of a “Radiant City”. As a consequence of “the Manhattan decontami - nation”, by the mid-1970s the ocial youth unemployment in the Bronx hit the ocial rate of 60 percent, one of the highest ever. With Chang’s words, we can say, “if blues culture had developed under the conditions of oppressive, forced labor, hip-hop culture would arise from the condition of no work” (2005). This plan of urban renewal ended up increasing the social and political gap within the population exacerbating the urban space as a eld of segregation and exclusion. Due to the state of abandonment and dissatisfaction, the young generations of the neighborhoods found their response to this situation through new, alterna - tive ways of self-realization that allowed them to reinvent themselves as well as the space they were living in.However, despite being ocially rooted in the Bronx, hip hop is part of a long line of black American and African diasporic cultural traditions. As The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music explains: “many of the hip-hop pioneers were Caribbean immigrants, who brought some of the musical practices from their native countries and adapted them for their new situation” (Noreet, 2001). The Encyclopedia is here referring in particular to the Jamaican traditions of toas - ting and mobile disk jockeys, which were for themselves African-based musical traditions that could be traced back to the ancient African oral arts, such as the art of chanting over a beat. Back in Kingston, social events where true arenas for DJs competitions: using large sound systems, they battled one against the other through volume and song choices, using toasts to capture the audience’s and dancers’ attention and to give information on the next dance. Therefore, when Dj Kool Herc – who had arrived to the West Bronx precisely from Kingston in 1967 – started providing music at school events, in homes and public spaces, as well as community centers – he brought with him his record collection, as well as the Jamaican tradition. He then “recontextualized the phonographs, turntables and mixing units as musical instruments” (Norett, 2001) performing true live shows by scratching, cutting and playing his records at massive volumes. Jamaica was the kind of place where it was hard to tell where the politics ended and the music began, and this srcinal interdependence and cultural heritage probably also speeded the process that transformed hip hop from an aesthetic manifestation to a political weapon for the young generations of the era who felt the heavy weight of a politics of abandonment and of being ignored.Being mostly descendants from Afro-American, Jamaican and Puerto Rican families, these young performers permeated their musical entertainment with a new, subversive meanings. Hip hop events came to represent a moment of free expression and self-manifestation, where the rough rules of violence, power and gang ghts of the daily life in the ghetto were suspended in order to make space for peaceful interaction through music, poetry and dance. Another interesting observation about hip hop culture and its African roots can be made by following the works of many scholars such as Toop (1984), Gilroy (1991), Tenaille (2002), Watkins (2005), Charry (2012), among others, who through their investigations have been reinforcing the strong connection between rap 681  FEDERICA LUPATI and the West African oral traditions. In his book Rap attack (1984)   David Toop identies strong connections between the rapper and the west-African griot. He describes the griot as a member of a caste of musicians who embodies the functions of living history book and newspaper through vocal and instrumen - tal virtuosity and the meticulous learning and recital of traditional songs, but also masters improvisation on current events and incidents with profound local knowledge. Moreover, and with Patricia Tang’s words, griots serve as “oral his - torians, praise-singers, musicians, genealogists, and storytellers” (Tang, 2012), and this, in eect, reminds partially of the role that the MCs hold: they are the masters of the ceremony, the spokespersons for the community, acting as legi - timized witnesses and narrators who claim for justice, civil rights and equality  within and beyond the community, telling stories about neighbors and friends, reporting the daily life of their social space. As Damon Sanjnani states, “there is no question that the griot and the rapper share similarities in their aesthetic repertoire” (Sanjani, 2012), although is it necessary to underline that they repre - sent two dierent historical and social gures.In addition to this, Richard Shusterman’s pioneer studies on rap (the verbal component of hip hop culture) are to mention, where this pragmatist philoso - pher points out that rap music has its ancient srcins in the art of poetry, which has always been celebrated as being able to captivate the traditional wisdom, the ideals and deepest religious beliefs that were embodied in the myths and expe - riences of ancient cultures. Philosophy, for its part, was considered the key for good politics. In this way, a “dogmatic dichotomy” took place and it suggested that “art is somehow only ction and deceit rather than a powerful reality that can purvey the truth and represent in ways just as powerful as the scientic and philosophical discourse” and that it “pertains only to a pure aesthetical sphere, entirely apart from the real world of practical and political action” (Shusterman, 2005). However, the American philosopher proves that the set of skills related to poetry is also central to rap’s style and self-understanding and that one of the most interesting and revolutionary aspects of hip hop culture is the challen - ging of that initial dualism. R. Shusterman explains: “Some of the more thou - ghtful MCs claim not only to be creative artists but also philosophers; and they see their artistic expression of truth as part and parcel of a political struggle to achieve greater economic, social, political and cultural power […]” (Shusterman, 2005). The subversion of the traditional theoretical divisions is part of what R. Shusterman calls the deep “philosophy of the mix”, which is also what makes it a postmodern popular art. In his words, “rap’s cultural roots and prime following belong to the black underclass of the American society; and its militant black pride and thematizing of the ghetto experience represent a threatening siren to that society’s complacent status quo” (Shusterman, 2000). Finally, in our view the connection to the African oral tradition and poe - try also shows how hip hop is the result of the ability to reinvent the traditional rituals and adapt them to the new circumstances of the urban space. Although hip-hop has undergone radical transformations during its shiing from the streets to the international marketplace, it has preserved its capacity to transmit a signifying and powerful africanity  through its aesthetic forms and 682  THE AFRICAN DIASPORA THROUGH PORTUGUESE HIP HOP MUSIC: A CASE STUDY emotive force. In this sense, it is to say that “rap music in the mid- to late 1980s experienced […] an economic shi as its distributions means moved from local […] labels to international conglomerates with much larger audience-reaching potential” (Noreet, 2001). By opening to the large, global, market hip hop cul - ture started to expand and reach the most disparate regions of the world, through radio, television and cinema. Despite the spreading of a uniform code, the local appropriation of hip hop culture represents the unique encounter of contingencies, each one showing dierent peculiarities and concerns, each one carrying its own message and meaning as a product of a specic context and moment.Most researchers – such as António Contador, Teresa Fradique, Rui Cidra, Soraia Simões, Derek Pardue, among others, – agree that hip hop made its rst appearance in Portugal between 1984 and 1986, mainly in the Miratejo neigh - borhood and in the city of Almada – which Barbara Barbosa Neves’ describes as the Bronx of Portugal (Neves, 2004) – reaching its full expression between 1994 and 1996. A closer look at the country’s socio-political situation can be useful to trace some of the elements of the complex network of factors that stimulated its reception and proliferation among the young generations of that time. It also helps understanding how a globalized product can end up being interpreted and redeployed transnationally, becoming the channel for the expression of the young urban voices around the world with their dierent local cultures. First of all, it is to remember that the second half of the XX century has dee - ply changed the Portuguese society: with the end of the dictatorship and the fall of the colonial empire, the years aer 1974 have been marked by intense mass movements from the Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP) back to Portugal. Aer the wave of returnees that followed the 25 th  of April, that brought back to Europe all those Portuguese families who had had to live in exile due to the dictatorship, another important wave of immigration took place precisely around the second half of the 1980s, when a heavy ow of manpower deployed around Lisbon’s metropolitan area probably attracted by the new workplaces created by the European Union’s funds. Unfortunately, as a consequence of a state of precariousness and illegality, to which should be added the real estate speculation and the diculties in accessing housing, these families of African immigrants ended up occupying mainly Lisbon’s commuter districts. Thus, as Carlos Elias Barbosa points out, “we are talking about ows of immigration in a postcolonial context, which would deeply mold the identities of these immi - grants’ descendants who were already strongly associated to a diasporic expe - rience” (Barbosa 2011, 2; our translation). In addition to this, Barbosa also refers to the negative impact of some radical legal changes that took place in 1981 in Portugal. In particular, the Decree-Law 264-B/81 regulated the entry, exit and status of foreigners in Portugal and the DL 37/81, or the Citizenship Law, substituted the  jus solis  with the  jus sanguinis . The consequences were dramatic: all the young sons and daughters of the immi - grants, despite being born in the country, had no access to Portuguese citizenship and were considered illegal, causing an undeniable feeling of exclusion, mar - ginalization and ethnical segregation. Having undergone a hurried integration 683
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