RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
France has been going through a period of self-examination since the recent car bombings and riots in four minority suburbs. Some members of Parliament looking for answers think they've found one: rap music. About 200 MPs have signed a petition calling for legal action against several rap musicians, accusing them of inciting violence and racism. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli visited France and sent this report.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:
For over a decade, French rappers have been venting the anger of an alienated underclass living in the hoods, but rappers say politicians haven't been listening. Matteo Ferran, part owner of the record label Street Skillz, says suggesting rap's to blame for the riots is a case of shooting the messenger.
Mr. MATEO FERRAN (Street Skills): (Through Translator) This makes me laugh. Rappers have been saying the same thing for 10 years, warning about what goes on in the suburbs, where kids are miserable. There are teen-agers who think about committing suicide. They have no future.
POGGIOLI: One of Ferran's artists, who goes by the name of Mino, gives an impromptu performance.
MINO (Musician): (Through Translator) Truth is put on trial, but it's protected by forgetfulness. This is the fruit of our times, knocked out by the welfare check, sitting on a bench, paid to do nothing. This is the fruit of my times. If the walls are my verses, I am the fruit of my time.
POGGIOLI: In the southern city of Marseilles, the situation is much less bleak than elsewhere in France. While it has high unemployment, especially among the young, it's a cosmopolitan city, where numerous immigrant communities live and are able to socialize in the center of town, not in the distant outer city. And it's a place where communal solidarity is strong. In fact, Marseilles was spared the November wave of violence. Municipal authorities have gone so far as to encourage minority youth to explore their creativity.
(Soundbite of voices)
POGGIOLI: LaFreiche Bedamay was once a tobacco factory. A city-funded urban renewal project turned it into a vast center for artists, actors and musicians. At the end of a wide graffiti-covered hall, one can hear a hypnotic beat. This is a school for rappers.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singer: (Rapping in French)
POGGIOLI: The decor is posters of rap artists; on a table, a large French dictionary. Thirty-year-old rapper Prodige Namor has been running workshops since 1998. He's taught a total of about 500 students and says rap is all about identity.
Mr. PRODIGE NAMOR (Rapper): You have a lot of people from Madrid, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Comoro Islands. Everybody want to show who he is and where he comes from. It's a way to progress, to show what they want to prove.
POGGIOLI: One of Namor's best students is Amir Kegeri, a 17-year-old of Algerian origin. He goes by the stage name of Ace.
AMIR KEGERI (Rapper): (Through Translator) Look at me. I live where nerves are tighter than a noose. Look at these nasty streets, trapped between high-rise blocks, just like a dead man trapped in a coffin. We live just for the love of risk.
POGGIOLI: Amir, or rather, Ace, hopes to record an album after he finishes school.
KEGERI: I rap not for fun, but I think I have a message to send. I will be happy when people will listen to this message and when they will understand. It's more than just a message. It's a state of mind. It's a culture. It's alive and I want to say that to everybody.
POGGIOLI: Ace says his is not a message of revolt, but a demand for respect and a place in French society. Even the authoritative daily Le Monde wrote that, `For poor immigrant youth, rap is often the principal moving force, reflecting the contradictions of young people raised in a consumer society, but who don't have the keys to get in.' Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.
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