Thursday, March 10, 2011


By Buddha Blaze
When first asked by the Goethe Institut to go to Beirut for the Translating Hip Hop project the first lady of Kenyan hip-hop – Nazizi was hesitant. After all Beirut is not known for its hip hop; it is known as a battle ground for opposing ideological, cultural and political standpoints. Still it wouldn’t have hurt for Nazizi to go see what type connections she would link up in this Middle Eastern cultural melting pot. Two weeks ago, she embarked on her first visit to Beirut anticipating racism like in other Arab countries she had been to, but was surprised by her overwhelming reception. To add to it, the Beirut architecture reminded her home on the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. With warm weather at play, she already felt at home. Although people did not know where Kenya was, they definitely knew about Africa, she was ready to start Translating Hip Hop.

Beirut after the War
At the start of the Translating Hip Hop workshops, she was blown away by the similarity between the Lebanese, hip hop scene and the one back home. It was still gritty, organic and developing. She simply loved how rappers spit in Arabic fusing their Middle Eastern instruments in (reminds me of Slick Rick’s verse on the Auditorium with Mosdef) This got her wondering why African hip hop artists never use traditional sounds in their music - Arabs are proud of their strong heritage and culture. Through the process, she learnt how Swahili is deep rooted in Arabic. Hip hop is a very important tool of communication in Lebanon as a vessel of spreading messages. Lebanese hip hop artists are a conscious lot and their lyrics are mostly about issues about the civil war. They are in tune with what’s happening in their neighbourhood and politics.

Beirut Now
Nazizi visited Beirut a time when there’s a lot of revolution talk in the Middle East, we have seen the youth in Egypt and Tunisia hold successful revolutions in the last one month. “Lebanese youth are also speaking out and I could hear it in many conversations that they want change and they want to be heard. They are fighting for peace in their region. There were a lot of discussions about peace revolution in Beirut,” says Nazizi. You would’ve thought she would be scared for her life being around Beirut but she took memories. “I love Beirut, it’s close to my heart, it was the last place I thought I would ever be so attached to and I definitely want to go back. My overall experience was really inspiring for me to go out there and see for myself what Beirut was like, I will definitely go back and keep in touch with the artists there. It was an eye opening experience.

“I am blown away by the idea of this Translating Hip Hop and I’m really happy to be part of it. It is important because as an artist to sit and understand other artists’ perspectives of their lyrics and translating it to my own language,” says the enthusiastic rap scholar. While Translating Hip Hop she met Beirut’s biggest rappers - Malikah and Rayess Beks whose lyrics are quite political and have been subject to censorship due to sensitivity of their lyrics. For example there certain countries such as Israel which are not recognized in Lebanon and so cannot be mentioned therefore so Lebanese artists have to be smart in their lyrics and they use a lot of parables. They are currently working on a ground breaking and collaboration album that will be released at the end of the Translating Hip Hop project. It’s about to get really hot Swahili and Arabic hip hop.

On 25th of March to over 15 MCs including Nazizi, Malikah and Rayess Beks will converge in Nairobi to network and perform at TRANSLATING HIP HOP a workshop and concert featuring Big Mic, Octopizzo, Sharama, Wanjiku Mwaurah, Deejay Zaq, Deejay Steel just to name a few. Be there come witness. To find out more go to:

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