The Afrikan Hiphop Caravan: Building a Revolutionary Counterculture

By Mutsaurwa, Biko | The Journal of Hip Hop Studies, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

The Afrikan Hiphop Caravan: Building a Revolutionary Counterculture


Mutsaurwa, Biko, The Journal of Hip Hop Studies


A Brief History: Building Counterculture

Over the last decade the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan has been building connections across borders on the continent and beyond. Yet few people, even some in Afrikan Hiphop circles, have a good grasp of the beliefs, motivations and purposes behind this Movement. Often times with an emerging Movement, it is not until the time hatches - producing concrete and visible results - that people begin to give it a name and tell its' story. Thus, in the following paragraphs, I will trace the origins and aims of the project.

In 2004, an affinity group of student activists, Hip Hop activists and socialists established Uhuru Network, based in Harare, as a decentralised platform where members of the Toyitoyi Arts Collective, Imani Media Collective, Impilo Permaculture Collective and Ruzivo Study Circle met and forged theoretical and tactical unity. As a social movement, emerging from the concrete struggles of working people in Zimbabwe against the Economic Structural Adjustment Programs (ESAPs) of the ZANU-PF dictatorship, the Network was from the start decidedly anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarianist. The organisation actively participated in actions for social and economic justice within the social movements. Students had a campaign against the privatisation of education; trade unionists were constantly on strike demanding a living wage; the communities were being ravaged by HIV/Aids, hunger and poverty; and young unemployed people in working class communities were rioting. The economy spiraled out of control, whilst the police filled prisons with tortured dissidents. Under these conditions, the Toyitoyi Arts Collective embarked on a path of Hip Hop Activism: one that was oriented towards active participation in the social movements of the working-class.

It was clear then, as it is now, that Hip Hop emerged in the South Bronx as a working-class culture of Afrikan youth in America. In its early days, Hip Hop counterposed itself to the mainstream culture of the middle and upper classes in America. The absorption of this radical working-class culture into the mainstream was a systematic exercise aimed at commodifying the culture and ridding it of its revolutionary potency. In Zimbabwe then, urban grooves rap - urban pop music that fuses Afrodiasporic genres, including rap, with local elements (see Kellerer, this volume) - was being used to propagate the ideas of the ruling-class. This process was aided by state-control of airplay on radio. Artists churned out depoliticized songs or overtly pro-ruling party propaganda. It was the stated aim of the collective to restore Hip Hop's original mission: to uplift oppressed people.

In 2005, Uhuru Network convened the Uhuru Youth Camp at the Southern African Social Forum in Harare. The Southern Afrikan Social Forum Charter opposed neoliberal capitalism, dictatorship and authoritarianism. It embraced horizontal organising based on principles of direct participatory democracy. Indymedia activists from South Africa, housing activists from the Anti-Eviction Committee in Cape Town, libertarian socialists from Zabalaza, and cultural activists from Sounds of Edutainment and Imbawula Trust were in attendance. This gathering sought to establish a common set of organising principles and to forge organic links amongst participating collectives. In this space, consensus was generated on building Hip Hop Activism and orienting Hip Hop culture towards the people's struggles for social justice.

In 2006, the collectives were joined by cultural activists from the Community Networking Forum in Cape Town during the Cultural Activist Network meeting at the Khanya College Winter School in Johannesburg and deliberated on developing a common regional program in Southern Afrika. The cultural activists from the Community Networking Forum subsequently established Soundz of the South, based in Cape Town, as a collective inspired by the ideas of decentralized, horizontal organising against neoliberal capitalism based on theoretical and tactical unity within the movement. …

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