Morocco: Local Hip Hop Goes International

This week, the hype in the Moroccan blogosphere is all about the launch of a new documentary – both at home and abroad – about Morocco's burgeoning hip hop scene. The film, entitled “I Love Hip Hop in Morocco” and put together by Fulbright scholar Joshua Asen and filmmaker Jennifer Needleman, follows Asen as he works with local artists to put together a three-city hip hop festival. Hip hop has become incredibly popular in Morocco over the past few years; most recently, H-Kayne and Bigg – two artists featured in the film – appeared in a major advertising campaign for Maroc Telecom.

Laila Lalami saw the film over the weekend and shared her opinion:

The picture follows several hip hop bands (H-Kayne, Fnaire, DJ Key, Bigg, Brown Fingazz, and Fati Show) as they attempt to set up a hip hop festival in three big cities: Meknes, Marrakesh, and Casablanca. They try to get funding and sponsorship, they rent space, they get permits, they print flyers, they rehearse, and as we follow them through this journey we get a rich portrait of these artists. We visit with DJ Key at home and hear about how he abandoned his work in an architecture firm to focus on hip hop. We hear about the choices they make in their lyrics. For example, the members of Fnaire refuse to use the word ‘fuck’ (“We don't talk like that”) while solo rapper Brown Fingazz defends his use of the epithet ‘nigga’ to refer to himself and his friends in the medina. They share their struggles, particularly with freedom of speech and with logistical support. They talk about their private lives. The only woman rapper in the film is a young high school girl in Fez, whose parents are extremely supportive, but who has to win the crowd when she goes on stage during the festival. If you have a chance to see this film at the festival near you, don't miss it.

The Morocco Report shares some history of Moroccan hip hop:

For those of you unfamiliar with the scene, you need only look around any of Morocco’s bigger cities (and even some of the smaller towns) to see kids dressed in the latest hip-hop fashions (a phrase often taught in English language schools) and Yankees caps, imitating their favorite American, French and now Moroccan hip hop stars.

Popular Moroccan MCs include Bigg, who speaks fluent English and raps about the problems facing his country; H-Kayne, one of the oldest groups and from Meknes, where I lived for two years; and Fnaire, another group featured in the documentary.

A comment on the post reads:

I saw the West Coast Premiere of ‘I Love Hip Hop in Morocco’ at the Arab Film Festival–San Francisco. Josh Asen was there and took questions about the film. I really enjoyed the film and wish that more people would take the idea of “hip hop diplomacy” more serious. If you liked this film…check out the trailer for ‘Sling Shot Hip Hop’ on You Tube. It’s a similar idea, but covers the Palestinian Hip Hop groups around Gaza, West Bank, Akka, Lid, Tel Aviv and more. Director Jackie Salloum has been working on it for a few years and it’s similar to ‘I Love Hip Hop in Morocco.’ In fact, I asked Josh about it after the premiere and he said ‘Sling Shot’ inspired him to make this film.

Lalla Lydia praises the movement:

These festivals, like the Slam ou Klam Festival in Fes (I think it shows a lot that one of Morocco's most “traditional” Arab cities is also the home to such an innovative world music scene) featuring improv rap slamming, DJ spinning, breaking and musical performance by Morocco's most prominent artists are receiving support not only from a small number of Americans who are plugged into the scene there, but more importantly from the American government in Morocco itself. It's so cool that chose to develop this program with the support of his Fulbright scholarship.

I Love Hip Hop in Morocco will be showing next at the Queens International Film Festival in Queens, New York. If you're in the area, be sure to check it out!

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