Music: Tunisia’s head-spinning hip-hop culture

By Sam Kimball in Kasserine

Posted on Friday, 21 March 2014 18:25

To the sounds of old- school funk breaking through the walls of a chilly sports complex, teenagers in beanie caps do windmills and head spins surrounded by a tight ring of onlookers.

Hip-hop makes youth dynamic. It makes them more interested and involved in politics

Their dance style – focused and violently energetic – is thick with the frustration of the unemployed and has the creativity of the original South Bronx block parties where hip-hop was born.

We are not in New York though, but in the central Tunisian town of Kasserine, which held a hip-hop festival in late December 2013.

Hip-hop is part of the artistic arsenal young Tunisians are us- ing to demand more from a revolution deferred and to criticise politicians.

“These days, politicians are talking about representing the youth, but the youth in Tunisia remain under represented,” says Thameur El Mekki, a journalist who specialises in the local hip-hop scene.

He explains: “Hip-hop makes youth dynamic. It makes them more interested and involved in politics.”

Hip-hop has spread solidarity in Tunisia.

After Weld El 15 and Klay BBJ were arrested in December for performing their song ‘The Police are Dogs,’ rappers in Kef and Kairouan demonstrated, El Mekki says.

With no formal avenues for youth to lodge grievances prior to the uprising in January 2011 and very few available, vehicles of hip-hop expression like graffiti, rap, breakdancing and beat-making have become significant.

Breaking through the barrier of fear around freedom of expression and making the arts accessible through their use of the Tunisian Arabic dialect have been the culture’s hallmarks.

“I started rapping out of passion, all alone. But I found comrades. And then I started to find that I can help people through criticism and [social] commentary,” says Red B’M, a rapper in the Zone 5 crew.

For Red this means letting people know they are not alone and that others share their grievances. ●

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