Remarkable Current in Tunisia, http://www.youtube.com/user/usembassytunis#p/u/2/qemDvNGwA80
In an effort to bridge the gap between American culture and the new democracy in Tunisia, where the Arab spring begun, the U.S. Justice Department contacted the Remarkable Current record label to invite hip-hop artists to tour Tunisia and Algeria as part of a program called Hip Hop Ambassadors.
Oakland rapper Azeem was one of those artists assigned who jumped at the opportunity to visit the newly democratized region.
"Flying across the world to perform for a country that is celebrating a successful revolution is a once in a lifetime experience,” Azeem, one of the nine members on the tour, said after the trip.
Azeem went on to share his views about the Middle East unrest.
“The revolution was fueled by three things,” Azeem said, “The first was Mohamed Bouazizi the shopkeeper who sat himself on fire.” (Unable to find a job at the university, Bouazizi, who had a computer science degree, sold vegetables, but didn’t have a permit. Humiliated and beaten by the police, he had had enough.)
“The second was Facebook,” he said. “Facebook helped them organize. And the third thing, was hip hop, which kept the message going.”
In addition to performing and introducing American culture to the Arabs, the American rappers met members of the revolution, like Rapper El General. The rappers also discovered that the youth, in their dress and attitudes, were influenced by American pop culture.
“They would yell out the names of Will Smith, Martin Lawrence and Tupac,” Azeem recalled. Tupac, he learned, was revered by nearly all of the youth that they encountered.
“They played Tupac everywhere. One of the leaders of the revolution was jailed,” he said, “And all he would listen to, he said, was Tupac. Everywhere we went, it was all about Tupac. It was as if Tupac had died and went to Tunisia.”
Through social media and hip hop, the young people found a way to connect to the American culture, and the African-American hip-hop subculture in particular. The rappers found themselves treated like jazz musicians some 40-plus years ago when they toured Paris, London and Copenhagen.
“Their young people are like the young people were in the '60s,” Azeem said, “They want the right to have women dress the way they want to. They can listen to hip hop, they can decide they kind of life style they want.”
There were similarities between the Civil Rights struggle and the Arab Awakening, Azeem realized.
“Because of our similar experiences with the struggle for human rights, we were able to bond in a way that many of the artists and fans we met became like brothers. Flying across the world to perform for a country that is celebrating a successful revolution is a once in a lifetime experience.”
“Our work as Hip Hop Ambassadors has given our journey and performances a larger purpose," Azeem went on to say. "We are going places where people are seeing African Americans for the first time.”
For the rappers, the tour through the region was an incredible cultural experience. Ancient Roman and Moorish ruins were everywhere.
Before he left for the tour, Azeem said he assumed that nobody spoke English, but he discovered that most of the youth have studied English in school and he was able to understand them. Additionally, he picked up enough Arabic to made up a speech, which he would deliver before he performed.
“They loved it! Me, speaking a few words of their language! It was unbelievable! The whole thing was incredible!" Azeem said. "The youth of Tunisia are extremely proud of their accomplishment. But they are also wise enough to know that there is a great amount of work left to do.
"There were many surprises. After communicating though email to the American Ambassador to Tunisia, what a delight it was to meet him. What added to the pleasure was that he was an African American, who went to Morehouse college in Atlanta, Georgia."
Azeem said the trip was so successful that they are planning another trip.This time it the tour will take them to another country in the "Arab Awakening" - Egypt.