It’s bigger than hip hop

Yanick Létourneau’s film United States of Africa (2012). Photo by Yanick Létourneau
United States of Africa (2012). Photo by Yanick Létourneau

“Yes we can . . . ” and “I have a dream . . . ” These famous words echo through the opening scenes of Yanick Létourneau’s film United States of Africa (2012). The Concordia University graduate’s latest documentary explores the stagnant and corrupt socio-political climate of Africa and the dissatisfaction felt by many of its inhabitants. The film follows hip hop artist Didier Awadi, who has set out on a mission to educate African youth, both at home and abroad, of the growing problems facing their continent. Along the way he recruits a talented host of politically-active and socially-conscientious musicians to help spread his message.

Awadi travels around Africa, Paris and New York, recording songs for his upcoming album Presidents d’Afrique. He features artists such as Smockey (Burkina Faso) and the young Zuluboy. For Awadi, hip-hop is merely the medium, education is the message. He intends to offer a constructive critique of his society and its crooked politics, while above all making “conscious music.”

The lands of Africa are rich in natural resources such as oil, diamonds, gold and minerals, thus they continually attract foreign interests. Former colonial powers circle like sharks, and many former nationalist leaders who have upset the status quo are simply eliminated. Assassinations include those of revolutionary leaders Patrice Lumumba; the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, and Thomas Sankara; the young, charismatic Prime Minister of Burkina Faso. Both called for a unified Africa free from outside influence. Their coup d’états were allegedly orchestrated by the powers that be, namely France, Belgium and the United States. When Awadi travels to New York City to record a song with M-1, from the influential hip-hop group Dead Prez, it seems almost too fitting.

According to the film, such assassinations have allowed the wrong men to rule, leading to devastating effects on the economy, the unequal balance of power and the low standards of living in most parts of Africa. Smockey argues that “this poverty is maintained because it serves the interest of some and it provides access to a certain form of power.”

From the onset of the film, it’s quite apparent that Létourneau is a highly creative and stylish visual storyteller. With Awadi as his steady narrator, the director frames some wonderful shots of the joys, anguish and everything else in between residing in restless Africa. He also incorporates concert footage along with black and white historical speeches to add flavour to the film.

United States of Africa screens Monday Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. in Room H-110, 1455 de Maisonneuve W. Director Yanick Létourneau will be in attendance. This screening is co-presented in collaboration with Black History Month and with the support of the Concordia University Alumni Association. For more information, visit

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