Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nomadic Wax

We were privileged to have Nomadic Wax founder, Ben Herson as well as Senegalese performer, Baay Bia come up to Idyllwild Arts Academy this past Saturday to talk about the film Democracy In Dakar and perform for the students.

Nomadic Wax is a record label, music/film production company and events producer specializing in hip-hop and underground music from around the globe and in 2007 they embarked on making a film about the general elections in Senegal and chose to make it from the point of view of local rappers and hip hop artists who were so instrumental in getting Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade in 2000 but who in the interim have become disillusioned with the policies put into place by a man who failed to live up to any of his initial campaign promises. Originally shot as a seven part documentary mini-series released via the internet - the documentary bridges the gap between hip-hop activism, video journalism and documentary film and explores the role of youth and musical activism on the political process.

The footage has since been edited into a feature length film and we were only the third or fourth audience to see it in its entirety. The film deals with the few days leading up to the elections and finds a nation that is in turmoil due to rampant emigration to Europe and beyond as well as a poor infrastructure that sees a large portion of the population unemployed and impoverished many of whom choose to voice their feelings of disenfranchisement through hip hop making it truly, to paraphrase Chuck D, the CNN of the youth in Senegal.

The thing that struck me most about the rappers was that they weren't interested in going down the misogynistic and money-orientated route that US hip hop seems to find itself in but rather in speaking out to their brothers and sisters about how they feel about their current plight and letting them know that the only way to effect change would be to unify and stand together as one. Unfortunately the message was diluted a bit by the lack of decent candidates for whom they could vote. Many of the candidates were previous members of Wade's government and therefore couldn't really be trusted to bring change and reconciliation to Senegal's 11.5m inhabitants.

It's a theme that runs through elections all over Africa and being a South African I am can empathize with the people of Senegal as it seems that Jacob Zuma will be elected to office even though he has a fraud case looming as well as a conviction for rape, which is makes him an abysmal choice of leader for country experiencing as much turmoil as mine but I'll save that for another post.

The film concludes with Wade winning over 50% of the elective and being re-elected in the first round of voting, which is unheard of in Senegalese election history. It is heart-breaking to see a nation with so much vibrancy and artistic creativity so disheartened by the fear of what will become of them under the next five years of Wade's inept tenure in office. The documentary is balanced and expresses its viewpoint with a certain charm that belies its subject matter and proved itself to be incredibly thought-provoking for the students at the school who were engaged in the discussion that followed the screening and hung on Baay's every word as he gave first-hand insight into life in Senegal.

After the discussion it was time for Baay and Ben on percussion to whip the students up into a frenzy as their set brought out the spirit of Africa in all of them and concluded with Baay surrounded by students on stage singing and dancing to the rhythm-driven flow that Baay and Ben expertly crafted. With a ton of merchandise sold the party moved to one of the commons rooms on campus where the students got the mother of all drum circles going that kept the party going long into the night.

The event proved to be a huge success all in all and a big thank you must go to Sydney Robertson who had the foresight to make this happen and was instrumental in getting the project from concept to fruition as well as to the various department chairs who graciously ponied up some of the cash needed to pay for it. In my 12/13 years of promoting events around the world this would easily rate as one of the most positive that I have had the honor of being apart of, and that is saying something.

Ben & Baay on stage

Baay & Ben performing

A new hero for the students

Baay Bia & Ben Herson part 1.

Baay Bia & Ben Herson part 2.

To book Baay, Ben or any of the members of Nomadic Wax for a screening or an event contact them here.

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