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Youth minority embraces hip hop

by admin November 3, 2009

Hip hop is often regarded as a rhythmic glorification of sex, money, and scantily-clad women. However, this years’ Montreal Hip-Hop Symposium featured musicologists, musicians, and poets from all over Canada who venture outside the stereotypical boundaries.
On Saturday, four speakers addressed specific socio-political aspects of hip hop, from Slam Poetry in the U.S., to the hip-hop youth culture in the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel.
The latter, addressed by Gabriella Djerrahian, a PhD student at McGill, explored the cultural identity of this little-known community, and how the youth minority survive in a context in which race and religion are constantly fighting to define a culture. While working on her thesis, she went to Israel to experience the culture for herself and was surprised at what she found.
Djerrahian began her talk with an explanation of the background of an Ethiopian Jewish tribe and their slow diasporic migration towards the Holy Land, which took place between the 1800s and the 1970s. She described the immigration process as less of a multicultural advantage and more of an “absorption’ into society, wherein Israel officially and governmentally integrated the Ethiopian Jews into the larger Israeli community. According to Djerrahian, these black youths are conditioned in a society in which racial tension exists under an umbrella of strong Jewish unity.
In her presentation, Djerrahian says, “If you don’t know where you are and you don’t know where you’re from, you will be bulldozed in the Israeli context.” She explains the lifestyle of young Ethiopian youths: segregated nightclubs and relating almost solely to American hip hop media as a reference point to their heritage, what Djerrahian dubs “MTV culture.” There is a socio-politically active demographic within the larger youth community; however, as it stands, the majority are preoccupied with American hip hop. She ended her presentation with a brief introduction of Kalkidan, a black Ethiopian Jewish rapper in Israel, one of the few youths who is able to comment on the political waters and real experiences of growing up in two divided cultures.
Kalkidan’s songs provide scope into the world of youth segregation and sociological struggles between the two cultures. His references span from Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr, and is able to relate it to his own community. Djerrahian ended her presentation with a song by Kalkidan, “Green Yellow Red,” a song that is half sung in English. The title references the colours of the Ethiopian flag and the Rastafarian flag.