African Underground: Hip Hop in Senegal

This is a repost of a blog entry I made for Provisions Library on July 13, 2011. This post opened the door for me to connect with the producer, Ben Herson a few weeks later:

Africa Underground: Hip Hop in Senegal is another positive story of youth tapping into hip hop to tell stories about their community and the struggles they face. This short documentary features Senegalese rap group Daara J from Dakar. Their lyrics are in Wolof. When on tour, they wear traditional Senegalese outfits.

I find it fascinating how the young Senegalese rappers have embraced this new form of musical expression into their culture. Take for example, the featured rappers in the film are Muslim. They made a conscious decision to uphold Islamic values by refraining from vulgar language. They also rejected exploiting women’s sexuality.

Another interesting aspect of hip hop culture in Senegal is the artists ability to incorporate Senegal’s strong musical tradition. Traditionally, Senegal had a class of musician called griots, who were historians, entertainers, and musicians. Griots were born into this position based on their family and passed on this tradition from one generation to the next. They were key figures in ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and parades. Similarly, hip hop artists played a role in electing the current president of Senegal in a democratic election in 2000, the country’s first. Hip hop is at the root of pushing for social change initiatives in the country’s modern music scene.

To will be able to watch African Underground: Hip Hop in Senegal and other documentaries for free at Snag Films. To learn more about Senegalese hip hop check out

Posted in Culture, Music, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

Spotlight: Ben Herson of Nomadic Wax

This is a repost of a blog entry I made for Provisions Library on July 27, 2011:


Source: Democracy in Haiti

Ben Herson visited the Provisions Library today. He is the founder and director of Nomadic Wax, “a global hip-hop record label and production company dedicated to recording, documenting and presenting hip-hop and underground music from around the world.” His work has given exposure to African and Middle Eastern hip hop scene through concerts, educational workshops, albums and documentaries. Most of the artists he works with are using their music to fight violence and political injustice. What intrigues me about Herson is how he is able to generate a revenue source for Nomadic Wax in the social change arena.

Nomadic Wax’s primary source of revenue comes from hosting international hip hop concerts and educational workshop series on university campuses in the United States (U.S.). In 2004, Herson co-founded the Trinity International Hip-Hop festival at Trinity College, the first international hip-hop festival in the U.S. This festival brings hip-hop artists from around the world with the idea that the organizing, hosting and educating the audience is taught to the college students hosting the event, and passed to the next group of organizers. A smaller annual international hip hop festival now takes place at Tufts University. Nomadic Wax also organizes hip hop festivals on other campuses based on interest from the student body.

A less important source of revenue is the Democracy documentary series. Nomadic Wax has three films under its belt. These films show the before, during, and after an election in a country.  African Underground: Democracy in Dakar is a seven-part featured length film about the influence of hip hop in the 2007 election in Senegal. Democracy in Paris  was “shot as 5 mini-documentary shorts to bridge the gap between hip hop activism, video journalism and documentary film in its exploration of politics, immigration, hip hop, and youth in France.” Democracy in Haiti, in the production phase, “aim to paint a portrait of the role of youth during the 2010 presidential election in Haiti.”

More about African hip hop scene check out African Underground: Hip Hop in Senegal and Political Rap – Influencing the Vote in Senegal. Also check out Herson speak regarding youth and violence at a UCLA forum on March 12, 2009.

Democracy in Paris Trailer from Nomadic Wax on Vimeo.

Posted in Culture, Music, Social Entrepreneurship, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

Augusto Boal’s Invisible Theater

This is a repost of a blog entry I made fro Provisions Library on July 13, 2011:


Cohen's "Radical Street Performance"

Radical Street Performance, an anthology of essays edited by Jan Cohen-Cruz, is part of Provisions Library’s collection. The essays focus on street performances that engaged audiences with issues as diverse as abortion, colonialism, the environment, and homophobia. One of the essays focuses on Augusto Boal’s invisible theater performance.

Boal was a theater director, writer and a politician from Brazil. He founded Theatre of the Oppressed; a theatrical form originally used in radical popular education movements. In the 1970’s, while exiled in Argentina, Boal developed invisible theater to stimulate debate on political issues through theater because of the restrictions put in place by the dictatorship in Argentina.

An invisible theater shifts the spectators from an observer to a participator. The performance can take place anywhere beside a theater. Boal writes:

“It can take place in a restaurant, a sidewalk, a market, a train, a line of people, etc. The people who witness the scene are those who are there by chance. During the spectacle, these people must not have the slightest idea that it is a ‘spectacle,’ for this would make them ‘spectators.’’

Augusto Boal

The actors in such a performance must prepare a detailed skit with a complete text or a simple script. Rehearsing the scene is critical so that the actors are able to improvise and incorporate anything the spectators may add during the performance.

Invisible theater is different from ‘guerrilla theater’, where the spectator is simply an observer. In an invisible theater performance the divide between the actors and the spectators is erased and traditional theatrical rituals are abolished.  “Only the theater exists, without its old, worn-out patterns. The theatrical energy is completely liberated, and the impact produced by this free theater is much more powerful and longer lasting.”

This essay is a chapter title ‘Invisible Theater’ from Boal’s book Theater of the Oppressed. The Radical Street Performance anthology has more than thirty essays and excerpts that explore the street performances across the world from the perspective of scholars, activists, performers, directors, critics, and journalist.

Posted in Culture, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

Greece’s Failing Economy and Social Shift

Another blog entry I made for Provisions Library from June 29, 2011:


On July 28, Arianna Huffington shared the perspective she gained from her recent visit to Greece in Postcard from Greece.  Her perspective is worth reading, especially since the Greek parliament approved another bailout loan from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Ms. Huffington shared three perspectives in her post. First, Greeks are fully engaged and have a lot of positive energy. There is hope in the air that is not captured by the media.  There are people encamped at Syntagma Square in Athens have nightly “people’s assembly” to discuss issues that range from politics to trash clean up in the square. There is a democratic process of vote instituted in these meetings.

Second, Greek political system has been mismanaged by an elite group similar to the U.S. Some of these politicians understand the Greek citizen’s issues, but they do not have the solutions to improve the system.

Third, a crisis should not be wasted. Democratic nations are failing around the world. Greece’s situation is an extreme case. Arianna believes the Greeks can reinvent how democratic nations operate.

Posted in Culture | Tagged | Leave a comment

Capoeira: Fly Away Beetle

Another repost of a blog entry I made for Provisions Library (from June 29, 2011):

Capoeira: Fly Away Beetle, is a BlueDot Productions‘ featured length documentary film. This film will be screened on June 30th at the Canning House in London.

Capoeira: Fly Away Beetle Trailer from BlueDot Productions on Vimeo.

The documentary attempts to capture the beauty of capoeira while exploring the art forms history, myth, and symbolism. The theme of this documentary is freedom. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art developed amongst African slaves of Brazil. The modern form of this art is influenced by the streets of Salvador, a large city in the northeast of Brazil.

The film features three renowned capoeira mestres and their work in neglected communities in Salvador. The producers wrote:

“In order to better understand the present state of Capoeira the film traces it back to its African roots. In so doing, we encounter the African gods of Candomble (the indigenous animistic religion of Brazil), Christianity as well as the slavery from which Capoeira has emerged. We hear mythic stories of the legendary Besouro, (the flying capoeirista); as well as accounts of the historical man behind the tales. We meet a young student as she navigates the dangers of her neighborhood by turning to the art of Capoeira.”

For me there are two important connections to the film. First, Mestre Cobra Mansa. I am studying capoeira angola with his group, the International Capoeira Angola Foundation, in Washington, DC. M. Cobra is actively researching the roots of capoeira and shedding light on some of the myths and believes within in capoeira. His research primarily focuses on Angola, a region many of the Brazilian blacks trace their genealogy to. Many capoeira songs also make references to Angola.

Second, one of the students featured in the film, Roque Batista, is someone I have had an opportunity to meet during my trips to Brazil. Capoeira is one of the many art forms used as a vehicle to empower children living in poor neighborhoods and on the streets. Roque was one of many children who live on the streets of Salvador when he found capoeira. He was part of a social projects that taught children capoeira. Through its teachings he pulled himself out of his desolate situation.

Contact the producers to see if you can screen this film for an event.

Posted in Brazil, Capoeira, Social Movements | Tagged | 1 Comment

Onyx Ashanti on Beatjazz

Reposting a blog entry I made for Provisions Library on June 22, 2011:

Onyx Ashanti is a musician and an inventor. He has created an instrument that fuses technology with technique to make synthesized music. His music is called “beatjazz.” It allows you to compose music using synthesizers but fully engage with your mind, body, and soul. This is what I call meshing, because he is collaborating with multiple individuals to create a new way to experience and make music.

First, what is beatjazz? Where did it come from? According to Onyx’s recent blog post:

“Beatjazz is a term I coined around 1999 to describe the music I would make with my wind midi controller (jazz) and FL studio…or as it was called then, Fruityloops (Beats). I wanted to clarify that I was not doing acid jazz or RnB or instrumental Hip Hop or any of that.  It was a catchall term meant to give me a bit of creative room to breath; ‘Beats’ and ‘jazz’.”

Over the past few years, Onyx has made beatjazz into “live looping, sound design, and jazz improvisation.” He began to focus on designing the instrument to perform beatjazz live. In May, he played at the TED Talk Auditions in New York (Onyx Ashanti: This is beatjazz).

The software and hardware for the instrument Onyx is developing is all open-sourced. Onyx is collaborating with several individuals. The details of the technology he is using is complex and sophisticated. To learn more about his controller check out this video.

Onyx embodies what Lisa Gansky calls “meshing“. Lisa believes the future of business is sharing. In her January 2011 TED Talk presentation she emphasizes the need to create platforms that invites us to connect to others by creating the time and space. Similarly composers have meshed music since the dawn of mankind. But now music and technology is meshing like never before. Onyx is on the verge of taking it different level.

Posted in Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

Green Unplugged Film Festival

A repost of a blog entry I made for Provisions Library on June 15, 2011:

Culture Unplugged launched ‘Green Unplugged’ film festival today to explore the environment and renew our relationship with Mother Earth and her cohabitants. All the films are available for streaming here. Culture Unplugged posted the poem below to commemorate the launch of the festival. Enjoy.

Poem : Green Unplugged (reposted)


human vision of ‘Green’,
toned through time, traditions, trends, tempests.
unplugging the hue today,
how do you see?

at the infinite, ground of being, do you feel Green to be,
supra consciousness, eternally in motion
fomenting, fertilizing, flourishing, in harmony,
in atomic~cosmic world?

under canopy spiritual, do you experience Green as,
organic, dynamic, expansive presence,
enveloping you, me, us, them & that,
in dark, deep & bright – loving, blissful light?

facing incarnation material, do you see Green being,
the dream of abundance, freedom, love, joy
twisted a knot, in human mind & gut,
muddling & saturating our greed & need,
veiling the soul savior, in success,
shadowing our systems & structures,
to the state of conspicuous corruption?

witnessing nature in ruffle,
dear life in scuffle, times in shuffle,
global commons seeking to unearth & unravel,
the tone of Green today.
with placards, pictures, philosophies, products,
we are offered shades of choices.

how do you choose to see?
is mother earth deepening or brightening her hue?
in chorus with the Mother,
do you also cry for change, to create new
future, nature, us, all?

will you drink the Green potion,
to dream & claim spiritual materialism anew?
sprightly, will you sing :

I vote for,
personalized religion,
transparent governance,
world citizenship.

I exist for,
conscious consumption,
cultural selection,
creative communication.

I yearn for,
spiritual society,
compassionate community,
harmonized humanity.

‘our’ world volving on axis, fatigued & fractured
playing out scene after the one, same.
will we forgo?

‘må’ terra growing the mind divine, giant & global
pregnating each being with womb integral in soul.
will we carry?

passing us.
believers of world as is,
at game, scornfully dodging perceived suffering,
strengthening the need to survive, status quo,
leading to posit self, sole in center,
raising the Green mean…

emerging us.
receptors of world to come,
at peace, secured in the supreme-self within,
smiling, swaying n singing thru suffering,
rising to the Green guide, bright & divine,
leading to posit life, whole in chest…

who do you find in mirror?
how do you see future?
will you partake to prototype
human vision of ‘Green Future’?
do you see?
how far are we from the world in our dream?
do you feel the rush?


Posted in Ecosystem, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment