And what a journey it was. MOBO award-winning UK hip hop artist Akala and West African multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer Sona Jobarteh showed us a glimpse of hip hop history and its unexpected roots.

Usually when you are told about the “history of hip hop” you are told about hip hop heavy-weights such as Run DMC, Public Enemy and so on and so forth. As Paul Glaston Reid, the developer of the Intelligent Movement, said “Some would say this art form is only 35 years old, others would say centuries old.” He’s right, not often does history ever take you back to almost 2000 years ago in the continent of Africa where hip hop as an “oral tradition” is deeply rooted.

Many of the audience at London’s Southbank centre were glad to hear that Intelligent Movement would view hip hop in an intelligent context, there would be no talk of “bottle-popping or booty-shaking” to which the crowd “whoop, whooped” at this news, including myself.

Akala first began his talk with saying that in no way shape or form was this talk about social exclusion, yes he may refer to Hip Hop as an African oral tradition but that is not with the purpose of excluding other cultures, it’s just stating the facts.


UK hip hop artist Akala delivering talk on African history



Once he made his point clear he took us through a series of images which showcased the architectural and cultural innovation of African history, citing writers and historians such as Olfert Dapper and Basil Davidson. He took us “right across the continent” eloquently telling us about African history and some of the wonders that been lost in society today. It was a journey that Akala took the audience through passionately, he was definitely not just reading from slides off his laptop.

Olfert Dapper- 1668- The city of Loango the Congo had straight line roads even before London did

Basil Davidson- one of the great writers of African history

Enter Sona Jobarteh, a member of one of the five principal kora-playing families in West Africa, otherwise known as the griot. In the West African society, she explained, there is caste system certain families do have certain trades and when you’re born into that family “you’re born with a gift that you have a right” to study. The griot are treated as powerful people, “the centre of society in West Africa”.

The griot are storytellers who use song, poetry and instruments to tell stories of the past and the present. They speak in proverbs, with hidden morals and meaning things that you have to work out. Sona even compared the language to the language of Shakespeare.

The females in griot families usually take on the singing roles and instruments such as the kora are passed on from the father to his son. But Sona Is the first female kora player to come out of this prestigious family. The kora is 21-string bridge harp that is used mostly by West Africans, and she accompanied Akala when he performed on stage.


Sona Jabarteh demonstrating the Kora



We were then brought back a little closer to home when a series of  music videos that influenced hip hop were played. Music from Bo Diddley, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Pigmeat Markham and The Last Poets were played to a very receptive and appreciative audience. Even as one of the younger members of the crowd I and someone who was not very familiar with some of these artists I developed thirst for such pure and honest music, and will soon be updating my music library!

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