I met Muhammida el Muhajir on the rooftop of the Lagos City Hall recently. The wind swivelled past as I walked up to her and introduced myself as a journalist. She smiled brightly, spoke kindly, and was gracious enough to grant me a quick interview.
History is a very elusive creature; one minute it is there, and the next it is gone. Scientists have not found a way to revisit the past, and it is therefore necessary to record as much of the present as is possible, in order for humanity to be able to keep track of its progress, and better understand and appreciate the conditions of the past. Obviously, this is one of the essential functions of art as a tool for societal upliftment.
In the late 90s, Muhammida had shot a documentary film about the impact of Hip Hop on society which she has now titled: Hip Hop: The New World Order. She told me that the film “explores the impact of hip hop music on cultures around the world. I travelled to a number of cities: Tokyo, Havana, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Rio de Janeiro, and Johannesburg and Cape Town. I talked to young people, artistes, DJs, people who were being impacted by this music and who were using this music as a vehicle for self-expression.
“In every country, they are dealing with different issues. Some are financial issues, while some are not. For others, it is cultural repression and racism. So, each country has its own peculiar problems. But young people look at hip hop as a way to express themselves. They see it as a vehicle that they can use to talk about their problems and their voices are heard. Hip hop is a reflection of what is happening in our communities.”
Muhammida believes strongly in Hip Hop. She said that Hip Hop is a genuine art form employed by young people to express their views about society. “Young people are dealing with the same issues all over the world,” she told me, “and Hip Hop is the medium that they are using, and it is really powerful.”
When I confronted her about the notion that Hip Hop music is synonymous with drugs, sex and booze, Muhammida suggested that it could be because the industry has been stifled by big music companies. She said: “I shot this film like ten years ago, and Hip Hop was very different then. I think now it is corporate led, and that has stifled expression. For example in America, there are very few record labels that control the whole music industry. And this means that there is not a lot of room for diversity in the music. If one person sings successfully about something not positive, other record labels are going to start looking for somebody like that.
“But we need to understand that Hip Hop is a music that can cause social change, and I think that the powers that be don’t want that; you don’t want young people getting roused in that direction, thinking about creating change or something like that. People think that the artists are the one controlling what they are talking about, sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes their labels are encouraging them to talk about certain things. But then there are still artists, who are talking about other things, but most of them are on an independent label, and if you want to hear that kind of music, you have to dig a little bit deeper, do some internet research.
“I really like artists who are able to fuse social activism with entertainment, and there are only a few people who really do that. One of the artists featured in this film, Dead Prez, does that. They are on an independent label, and what they talk about is very revolutionary and powerful, and a major record label is not interested in promoting that.”
Many of the artists featured in Muhammida’s film, though upcoming when this film was shot (over ten years ago), are now huge in their countries. The likes of Oxmo Puccino, Dead Prez, Marcelo D2, Questlove, have grown, developed and diversified their brand.
Despite shooting the film years back, Muhammida did not put finishing touches to it, until recently. “The film was on the shelf. I did not finish it, I just went on to some other project and that was because I was trying to figure out the best way to get the film to the world,” she said. “When I made this film, there was no Youtube, there was no iTunes, and all of these digital download technologies did not exist. What I had then was only the DVD. So, I was thinking how would the kids in Lagos get the film? Or those in Rio? And that was why I put it on the shelf, still trying to figure something out. And then technology caught up. Now, with your cell phones, iPads, people all over the world can have access to the film and it is now available on the website hiphopisglobal.com.”
The film has been used, even as a work-in-progress, by different university professors in their classrooms to talk about anthropology, and how culture and gender has used Hip Hop. And that, Muhammida told me, was the catalyst that made me finish the film. “I started receiving calls from colleges like Harvard and Stanford, and I knew it was time.”
She is currently on a tour with the film, which was the reason why I was able to meet her in Lagos. “I was in Europe last month,” she added. “I was in London, Berlin, Paris, and now I am doing an African tour and my first stop is in Lagos. If you come to Africa, you have to come to Lagos first. Here, the Hip Hop scene is very vibrant.”
Muhammida is not a regular film-maker. “This is the first film that I have actually made, because my background is in brand marketing, and I do events and public relations. I’ve worked at Nike, and have done projects with Volkswagen, Diesel, and a lot of different brands where I do strategy. But while working, I was shooting the film by the side. I made the film as a learning tool, so that people can be aware that we really are the same all over.”
This film is a very important historical document and for Muhammida, the film represents something very dear to her heart. “You think about how you are going to make your mark, and what kind of legacy you are going to leave, and for me, this is it. I think that when people see this film they would realise that it is a moment in history that does not exist anymore. It is a very intimate film. Some of the artists featured in the film are huge stars today and it captures their days of little beginnings. You can’t do that again.”
Posted by SirVic for wetopup(News Laboratry)