Colonialism coded: Jadakiss in Africa

Lets get the obvious out of the way: Jadakiss is a great emcee.  Lets also give him kudos for heading to Swaziland to do a show promoting awareness about HIV (see first comment).

But dang, this film is so colonial it could have been scripted by Teddy Roosevelt.

1.  The first half of the film is boring footage of Jadakiss hopping airplanes, walking through terminals, and lamenting about how far Africa is.  We get it, Africa is a long distance away and you are putting yourself out by traveling so far.  Of course, in the traditional versions of this travelogue narrative (see the Vice travel shows, or When we were kings) the travellers face difficulty in their transit, Jadakiss and his crew slide through sanitized airports.

2.  The perspective on HIV in Africa is pretty simplistic.  The overloaded fear statistics are so heavy-handed that no one could ever imagine doing anything about them.  At one point the film claims that if HIV transmission rates continue to climb in Swaziland, all adults will be dead by 2020.  That’s right, nine years from now, every single grown-up in an African country will be dead from HIV transmission.

3.  The only hope, is of course, Jadakiss.  Obviously, the solution to AIDS in an African country is a solitary rapper without any significant recent pop hits.

4.  The exotic other-ness of Africa is central to this video.  From the vagueness of going to somewhere-in-Africa (the film clip says Jadakiss is going to South Africa, he himself admits at the front end that he isn’t sure where he is going before showing us the ticket to his flight to Johannesburg.)  In fact Jadakiss is performing in the Kingdom of Swaziland — a landlocked dictatorship with strong state control whose primary export appears to be children for slave labor and sex slaves (according to the C.I.A., who y’know, might not always be on the up and up). The royal family of Swaziland get’s a representative in African garb.   What is interesting is that Jadakiss still wants to play this like he is Jay-Z going to the garden.  Flashing in a convoy line of luxury automobiles, Jada’s grin is visible from a satellite.   There are a few seconds of presumed  African poverty filmed out of the racing automobiles as Jadakiss heads for the resort for his show.

5.  Despite this charity event being about HIV positive Africans, the film sticks with the representations of wealth.  The camera lingers around Jadakiss’s luxury suite while he explains, “the king laid out something . . . for the other king.”  There is no discussion of AIDS, African AIDS, or the conditions in Swaziland that make it hard to fight the virus (maybe like dictatorships).   No Africans speak or narrate into the camera.

6.  Sadly, there isn’t even a show clip of Jada rapping!  I guess this is just  the first episode.  I look forward to the next colonial day dream from a Western emcee.  At least one where we get to hear some rapping!

One of the best takes on African hip hop comes from Patrick Neate, who authored Where you’re at.  In his chapter on Johannasburg, the white-identified Neate is talking to Mizhif, a Zimbabwean/US/South African hip hop TV host.  Mizchif reflects on the recent visit from Dead Prez:

“Dead Prez left so much conflict amongst heads, it was hectic.  They had said that the cover of their album (a sepia-touched photograph  of black women waving guns above their heads) was from the Soweto Uprising.  But it wasn’t.  Actually, as a Zimbabwean, I know it was from the chimurenga. (Neate FN95: Chimurenga is a Zimbabwean (Shona) word meaning struggle.  It is specifically used to refer to the war of independence.)  No one had guns at the Soweto uprising except the cops.  So before Dead Prez even got here, people had a beef about that.  Then they cam on YFM and they were just preaching their revolutionary stuff, ‘ don’t rely on the man,’ that kind of thing.  At the time kids were calling in going, ‘yeah, I feel you man.  Fuck white people.’  But the minute they left everyone was saying, ‘Who are they to come to South Africa and tell us about our struggle?’

“It’s difficult because there’s already so much conflict between people here because the focus of the rest of the world had always been on Soweto.  But there’s been struggle all over; every township had struggles from Soweto to Guguletu.”

I ask Mizchif what he thought, personally, and he laughs.  “I just thought it was funny because the Dead Prez show was half-and-half, white and black.  Because who has the money and the transport to go to a show like that?”

I think back to the Mos Def gig in London, a performance to the self-consciously conscious.  I mention it to Mizchif and he shakes his head and smiles.

“Really it’s just typical of Americans.  They have such a stereotyped view of Africa.  When I was at high school in New York, my father ended up coming to teach our Social Studies class because, when I took the worksheets about Africa home, he was absolutely disgusted.  Yes there’s a rural Africa and a poor Africa and AIDS in Africa, but there are modern and urban and rich sides too.”  (117-118).

1 Comment

Filed under disaster, documentary, health, hip hop

One response to “Colonialism coded: Jadakiss in Africa

  1. You have to give it to Jadakiss – the dude’s a business man. In April, Swaziland opposition groups called for musicians invited to a concert organised for Prince Lindani, the eldest son of Swaziland’s King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, to boycott the concert in solidarity with those protesting budget cuts and austerity measures imposed on the Swazis while the royal family gets to live it up. While the South African musicians heed the call (and ANCYL threat) to ditch the concert, Jadakiss took his check and took the stage, performing, according to the AFP, for the less than 500 people that attended.

    via “A BOMBASTIC ELEMENT”: Swaziland: The Boycott – A Jadakiss Concert.

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