Dobet Gnahoré: A Phenomenal Performance by an Astounding Pan-African Artist

Story and photos by guest writer Samuel Bresenden

Last Saturday night in Los Angeles provided the rare opportunity to experience the shining star that is Dobet Gnahoré, an extraordinary artist from the Ivory Coast in West Africa. Dobet is a gifted singer, dancer, and multi-instrumentalist. Along with her band Na Afriki (‘To Afrika’), Dobet delivered a fascinating performance in a very intimate venue at Cal State LA’s Luckman Fine Arts Complex.

The concert was presented in a smaller stage, which may have seemed less deserving than the main large theater. While that did not appear to reflect the talent of the artist, nor the publicity she deserved, it certainly proved to be a benefit to the discerning music aficionados who filled the hall. It gave the chance for the audience to see, hear, and feel Dobet’s music and commanding stage presence very up close and personal, in a way that might not have been the same in the larger theatre.

The night started with the stage in near darkness, drummer Mike Dibo walked in first, sat down at his drum set, opened with a ‘talking drum’ like solo, then eased into a soft rhythm that welcomed Dobet to the stage. She picked up her Mbira, (a traditional thumb piano instrument from Zimbabwe), launched into a swaying, soulful melody that interlocked with the drums patterns, and was joined seamlessly by guitarist Julien Pestre and bassist Valéry Assouan. Continue Reading →

14 Rappers, 14 Countries for UNICEF: Where are the Women MCs?

by Tom Nguyen

Dear San E and UNICEF,

I was excited to discover your music video #HIPHOPISHIPHOP – Hip Hop for the World bringing together 14 rappers from 14 countries to express the unifying love of hip hop. I love that this video was made in the tradition of the iconic song We Are The World, to bring light on an important global issue: children’s access to education. Except for the venerable KRS-One, I love that I didn’t know any of the rappers. Thanks for giving talented rappers around the world a chance to shine!

Now, I ask…where are the women? I was quickly disappointed to see that out of 14 rappers, there was only one woman, YACKO from Indonesia. Why does this bother me? While every rapper in that video is talented and deserving and I applaud each of them, I have so many reasons for why this gender imbalance in your video upsets me.

Hip hop has historically been a very unfriendly and unfair place for women and it still remains so. Misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are big problems in hip hop songs, lyrics and culture. I’m afraid your video only reinforces the exclusion of women in hip hop. If We Are The World had better inclusion of women in 1985, I’m sure we can do better in 2015.

Since you are using hip hop as a platform for children’s education and your own statistics show that girls suffer greater disadvantage and exclusion from education in so many parts of the world, wouldn’t you have wanted to represent more women as role models? If you had included more women cyphers, I think your message would have been much more powerful and inspiring in your quest for gender equality in education.

After all, you released this video during Women’s History Month and right before International Women’s Day. I think you squandered a very good opportunity to not only address the inequality of access to education, but to also give strength to the message that the ones most affected by that inequality are girls around the world. You could have shown young girls everywhere that they have the same right and ability to succeed in any male-dominated space.

However, I have faith in an organization that is doing so much to achieve gender equality. We’re far from achieving equal human rights and opportunities for one half of the world’s population and it’s critical to keep empowering girls and women worldwide. There are no lack of girls and women on the front lines of society fighting for equality and freedom every day in every part of the world, and hip hop is no exception. In many countries, just being female, queer or trans in male-dominated hip hop is defiant and revolutionary. Below are just 14 of so many countless talented female, queer and trans rappers (in alphabetical order) who are not only rapping but doing so by challenging the status quo and giving voice to marginalized communities around the world. I hope you’ll consider them in a second hip hop video.

Tom Nguyen

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PBS Online Film Festival

What does one do when stuck inside with a bad cold, while it’s glorious summer weather outside? Spend the whole day watching films online. I watched all 25 short films of the PBS Online Film Festival. I laughed, I cried, I learned a lot. Then I voted for one (which was hard to choose from my group of favorites): Continue Reading →