A new compilation of contemporary African music, mostly hip-hop, focuses largely on immigration. The songs on Yes We Can: Songs About Leaving Africa describe the allure of life abroad in Europe or America, but also touch on many of the pitfalls.
If you're a young person living in Africa, chances are you'd jump at the chance to try your luck in a foreign city like Paris, London or New York. You'd probably also have little idea about the realities you might face there. That arc of allure, danger and disillusionment is the stuff of this unique compilation. Rapturous of Nigeria raps about the "glitz and the glamour" of European life, while his countryman Modenine reveals the flip side of the coin in "Green Passport."
Plenty who leave Africa don't have any passport at all. That includes thousands who took to the seas in small boats from the Senegalese coast, heading north for Spain in 2006. Some 7,000 died before they even had the privilege of being harassed or discriminated against.
The Senegalese collective V.A. Capsi Revolution, rapping in French and Wolof here, makes the case for water-bound migration, but the song's last rapper turns the tables. He calls this a "suicide mission" and bids his peers not to "give up on Senegal." Worth noting that this CD's liner notes translate all these non-English raps — a huge plus.
Many of these artists have lived the immigrant life, and their hybrid sounds and world-weary raps offer an unsparing view of the African urban landscape. They also take the glamour out of life as an illegal immigrant, which always includes pressure from back home to send cash from the land of milk and honey. (Somali rapper K'naan celebrates the Western Union connection in a song called "15 Minutes Away.")
These days, singing the pride of African nationalism is old-school. The artists on Yes We Can bring both new musical energy and raw candor to the table: Senegalese veteran Awadi, for example, lays the blame for his country's 2006 boat exodus squarely at the feet of his country's leaders. Yes We Can is a ticket to a whole new world of African music making, courtesy of those who stayed — and those who left.