Note: This is the first of the two parts in which the yoyo tinz conversation with Elom 20ce has been contained. Read part 2 of the feature here.

More than once, i’d either heard or read Elom 20ce posit that Haiti, the Carribean country, was a part of Africa. I’d always wanted an elaboration on this theory from his viewpoint. Somewhere last year, when the African Union rejected an application by Haiti to be admitted into the union, this want of mine – to hear Elom 20ce speak on Haiti vis a vis Africa – became a need. And so when i got the chance to have a conversation with him on a bright mid-morning here in Accra, a question about all of the above was the first that i asked. “For me, the AU is just a syndicate of Heads of States,” the soft spoken rapper began, “and their refusal to allow Haiti to join the organisation is just a reflection of how these leaders are taking Africa.” “Haiti is seriously linked to Africa. Haitians are Africans; historically and culturally; and if Haiti joins the AU, for me, that is just giving strength to Africa; but our leaders are not thinking about Africa broadly. Because, to me, Africa is not just the continent, but the diaspora too. Africa’s children are spread all over the world and Africa refuses to recognise them; and if the parent refuses to recognise their children, the children get lost.”

Elom however feels that what this syndicate of African Heads of States are refusing to do, artists can attempt to do, with art. “We as artistes can fill these gaps. Music, for instance, is something that can cross borders without a passport. It can thus carry a message without permission. It’s just like an idea; something that cannot be locked.” He also believes that another way of connecting with global Africans and reaching a critical mass with these messages is by travelling physically – to festivals, for instance. He cites recent and older festivals as examples. “There was the Algiers festival. Nina Siomone was there. Miriam Makeba was there, and they could all sit together, discuss and organise. I was also at the Biennale recently and i could speak to Y’akoto and Blitz the Ambassador and share the stage with Keziah Jones and Nneka, you know. I think that through these kinds of festivals, artistes who have the same vision can gather, discuss and share ideas and see how they can support themselves.” Essentially, he aims for all of these connections and grouping to lead to the formation of movements that could move towards the achievement of different pan-African interests.

Elom advocates for similar kinds of collaborations on a (sub) continental level as well; that all of these festivals and initiatives that are already in existence on the continent (or in the sub regions) should partner and collaborate on levels that could be jointly figured out, and stresses that it all doesn’t have to end at music and festivity “We can’t just do hip hop rhythms; we need to also develop some small projects like rehabilitation, supporting people in prison, supporting children’s education, etc. For me, the thing is to use hip hop as a conduit to achieve all of these things.”

It is quite evident to anyone who is familiar with Elom 20ce’s music that his art is inseparable from his activism. To him hip hop is to activism just as Zouks is to love. And staying true and through to this principle, the rapper founded ARCTIVISM – the biannual festival which, as the name implies, is a festival that fuses art and activism. This festival is pretty much an amalgamation of all of Elom 20ce’s passion and ideals: each edition of the festival focuses on an iconic Black/African figure that has contributed significantly to the struggle of their people. (The icon for the most recent ARCTIVISM was the African-American writer and activist, Angela Yvonne Davis). During these events, there are documentary screenings and discussions on the chosen figure, and there are quizzes, road trips and many other activities that climax with a musical performance. In true pan-African fashion, the festival rotates venues across the continent, and to each edition, the festival team invites artistes/cultural workers from across the continent, to be participants.

In the end, each festival creates space and serves as an opportunity for pan-African artistes and activists to meet, discuss, and organise. (It is worth mentioning that Akua Naru was one of the attendees and performers at the latest ARCTIVISM festival. Also in attendance were novelist and thinker Léonora Miano and historian Amzat Boukari-Yabara). During this part of our conversation, Elom namedrops a couple of his comrades who’re doing the the right thing and using hip hop as a tool to stand up to tyranny and oppression in their respective countries. Among the names he mentioned were Burkina Faso’s Balai Citoyen, Cameroons Valsero, Iconoclasta from Angola, and Morocco’s el-Haked. Elom 20ce believes that a pooling of all of these activist energies and efforts would be more potent. “That we’re not coordinating our efforts is a problem. Everybody is in their country trying to fight the power there; but the power is so powerful. If it takes you to prison, that’s it. So the question is: what is the link we’re creating among all of these arists and activists?”

It is worth mentoning that ARCTIVISM isn’t the only organising work Elom 20ce does. The rapper recently announced an awareness project called “Africa Iz Da Present” – which ultimately aims to lobby ECOWAS leaders to be much more proactive and radical in stemming all the forms of violence that citizens encounter at the sub region’s borders. The idea, according to Elom 20ce, is to “post weekly videos of Africans sharing their stories of misadventure experienced at any border of an ECOWAS country.” He adds that: “We will also launch a petition concerning that, and present it to the ECOWAS parliamentarians.”

The “Africa Iz Da Present” idea was tested in this music video of the same name which was partly shot in Accra.

By: Moshood Balogun.

Photo by : Selormjay