We are black, it is true, but tell us, gentlemen, you who are so judicious, what is the law that says that the black man must belong to and be the property of the white man? ... Yes, gentleman, we are free like you, and it is only by your avarice and our ignorance that anyone is still held in slavery up to this day, and we can neither see nor find the right that you pretend to have over us ... We are your equals then, by natural right, and if nature pleases itself to diversify colours within the human race, it is not a crime to be born black nor an advantage to be white.
This excerpt is from a letter written in July 1792 by the leaders of the revolution of Haitian slaves. The letter has been republished in the collection of writings of the black leader Toussaint L'Overture, The Haitian Revolution, which includes also the correspondence between him and Napoleon Bonaparte. In the late eighteenth century, Toussaint L'Overture and his supporters established the first black republic in the world.
In the United Kingdom, October is Black History Month. The celebration was originally introduced in 1926 on the initiative of Carter G. Woodson, the editor of the Journal of Negro History. In 2007, no fewer than 6,000 events were held in the UK as part of its programme. Here are some key Verso titles past and present that are relevant to the study and celebration of African and Caribbean history.
Today in the Brooklyn Rail, Jesse Tangen-Mills reviews Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation, Sujatha Fernandes' personal travelogue in search of an international hip hop political ethos that spans Cuba to Chicago, Lebanon to Australia. Tangen-Mills writes, "It used to be hard to find a rap song that didn't end with international shout-outs. The obvious question was: Do they really have fans there? Turns out, they did."
In the context of Fernandes' political project, Tangen-Mills shrewdly quotes Kool G Rap: "rap is my nation." This was a global nation that resonated across language barriers, until it collapsed into simulacra:
But what kind of nation is that and who really wants to live there, where someone gets thrown out a window and shot on the way down (à la "Ill Street Blues")? Once it seemed like no one was no longer really living there—that is, it was caricature—something about realism in rap was forever changed.
Read the full review at the Brooklyn Rail.
Recently, we have seen hip hop become prominent in political struggles in Senegal and across the Middle East. In a new podcast, Caspar Melville, editor of the New Humanist, talks to Sujatha Fernandes, author of Close to the Edge: In Search of a Global Hip Hop Generation, about the way hip hop interacts with local politics, the issue of rap's commercialization, whether hip hop has revolutionary potential, and Fernandes's 11 year search for a global hip hop generation.
Visit Pod Academy to listen to the podcast.
Fernandes includes some songs from some of the acts she writes about in the book, which you can check out below:
1. 'Se Busca' by Obsesion, a husband and wife duo from Havana, Cuba.
Sujatha Fernades, former emcee and author of last fall's Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation was featured on today's The Takeway in a discussion about the up-and-coming rappers whose voices have rung out against corruption, political repression and economic disenfranchisement in Senegal, Tunisia and Egypt.
Part of The Takeway's special on global protest music, in the segment Fernandes guides Takeaway co-host John Hockenberry through a listening tour of the music that is helping to build solidarity across borders, "shaping a language that allows young people to negotiate a political voice for themselves in their societies." [Fernandes, from Close to the Edge].
Despite the lack of an organized music industry in many locales, these artists are finding ways to get their music heard, speaking not just to their localized situations but to a global consciouness of the oppressed.
Go to The Takeaway to listen to the segment in full.