Kids who came up in the "bling" era might find it hard to believe that at one point, militant lyrics and oversized clocks were the lingua franca of hip-hop. But this year, the genre seems to be revisiting its political past: Rappers Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco criticized their peers' decadent lifestyles, Common and Jay-Z both endorsed Barack Obama, and Katrina references have finally become common coin. In a new hip-hop-oriented college tour, the producers of last year's documentary Darfur Now are using urban music to rally the troops for a worthy social cause — namely, helping victims of the genocide in Darfur.
The Darfur Now Tour's chief architect is Eddie Donaldson of the Culver City-based agency the Marketing Division, which helps companies create strategies to reach the youth market (clients include Red Bull, Scion, and IMEEM). Donaldson is keyed into hip-hop culture and knows how to exploit it both for merchandising and "edutainment" purposes. Last summer his agency collaborated with the nonprofit Hip-Hop Leaders for a week-long "college experience" for at-risk youth — the kids stayed in UCLA dorms, took marketing classes, and cut a song with Brandy's producer Jelly Roll. When Participant Media approached him to help create a groundswell for its ninety-minute documentary about efforts to curb the Janjaweed militias in Darfur, Donaldson knew exactly what was in order.
The program kicks off with a screening of the documentary Darfur Now, which profiles six activists working in the western Sudanese region: International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Hotel Rwanda star Don Cheadle, UCLA student activist Adam Sterling, World Food Program organizer Pablo Recalde, displaced farmer Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, and rebel leader Hejewa Adam. (The beating of Adam's three-month-old son by Janjaweed mercenaries forms the emotional hub of the film.) Though the film focuses more on the activists' personal struggles than on contextualizing the atrocities in Darfur, it's still a timely and revelatory work. The tour's second component is a concert featuring Oakland soul singer Goapele and rap group Zion-I, who are known for topical material.
"We always have maintained some kind of social political tone to what we do," said emcee Zion, explaining why his group was selected by Paul Stewart, who curated the tour's music. Stewart's task was to recruit socially relevant artists with charisma and mass appeal, who could help turn the Darfur genocide into a cause célèbre. In Zion, they found an ideal spokesman and perfect liaison to Cal students. "Our music has a message," the rapper explained. "Darfur is a perfect example of people needing to stand up and represent." The Darfur Now Tour graces UC Berkeley this Thursday, April 24. Documentary screening at 6:30 p.m. in Rm. 2050 of the Valley Life Sciences Building. Concert at 8 p.m. in 150 Wheeler Hall. Free. DarfurNowTour.com
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