Travelling the world is a big enough challenge for most people, but Aisha Fukushima also managed to make a politically-charged hip-hop album while she did it. Green Left Weekly's Mat Ward spoke to the California-based "rap activist".
You collaborated with rappers in the various countries you visited on your travels and emerged with a powerful album. Has your wanderlust been satisfied or do you have another similar album in the works?
I would not necessarily define my travels thus far as a wanderlust. I am led by a strong sense of life purpose that helps me to understand that global citizenship is a fundamental part of who I am, and whatever legacies I will leave behind in this life in solidarity with other changemakers. That said, you can trust that my work as an artist and leader of the RAPtivism project will continue to relate across neighbourhoods and continents through educational workshops, music, online platforms and more. Stay tuned for more and if you’re interested in building, join the cipher!
Your song "RAPtivism" declares that you're "bringing politics back to rap". Tell us about that sentiment.
In the song “RAPtivism” I rap this in tandem with Vakili, who developed the lyrics for this hook. For me, the term "bringing politics back to rap" illuminates that on one level, a lot of the major distribution of hip-hop music has edited out music that empowers people and encourages them to think critically. I think part of the role of the rap activist is not necessarily having all the answers or even telling people what to think, but to raise thoughtful questions that can help further our collective journey towards social change. On another level, I think the collaborative nature of this song featuring artists of at least six different ethnicities and many other intersectionalities of identity are a testimony that hip-hop is far from dead, it just emigrated and a lot of the rap that I’ve heard beyond the limits of the US speaks truth and spreads awareness through a common shared platform of global hip-hop culture.
You also rap that "action's missing":
We rap rap our vision
Bringing politics back to rap
That brings to mind a quote from Bruce Lee about knowledge that lacks action: "Knowing is not enough - you must apply. Willing is not enough - you must do." Want to talk about that?
Sure. I think [hip-hop pioneer] KRS-One puts it beautifully in "Hip Hop Lives" when he raps: “Hip means to know, it's a form of intelligence / To be hip is to be up-date and relevant / Hop is a form of movement / You can't just observe a hop, you gotta hop up and do it.” Part of the way I conceptualise myself as a global artist is by understanding that hip-hop is an international lifestyle that encourages people to step out of their comfort zones, to read, study, reflect, hone their expressive craft(s) and make daily choices that contribute to living in a more peaceful/just global community. Hip-hop has the power to help shift frameworks, relate stories across constructed borders and inspire people through a shared cultural platform. We don’t just write verses, we write universes.
Your song "Leave on the Light" is inspired by the experiences of Iraqi asylum seekers who were in sanctuary at a church in Copenhagen, Denmark. Want to talk about that?
When I travelled to Denmark for the first time, I moved to a neighborhood called Nørrebro. Nearby my apartment was Brorsons Church where a group of roughly 60 Iraqi Asylum seekers had moved after receiving news that, after many years of living in Denmark, they were to be forcibly repatriated. Upon learning more details about the story I went to Brorsons Church in hope of learning more. Within minutes of setting foot in the door I was invited to break bread with all the volunteers and families staying in the church. We shared stories over bowls of hot soup made from scratch. When I told the asylum seekers that I was a musician and asked them how I could be of help to the "Kirke Asyl" (church asylum) movement they encouraged me to come back, emphasising that they wanted their stories to be shared with the world and that music was the perfect vehicle to help turn off so many of the media stereotypes that got in the way of them being perceived as humans who deserve dignity and a right to a safe, peaceful coexistence. I returned to the church not long after that first visit and was invited to support an ongoing class they held in the chapel. With our chairs in circle formation, much like the organ pipes overhead, we each took turns talking about our life journeys until that moment. One of the young men in the circle said he had been in Denmark for something like 19 years and fled from Iraq after watching his father get murdered for not agreeing to be involved with some of the local groups creating violence in his local community at the time. Now he feared for his life at the thought of getting deported to Iraq, a country which he said would be difficult to call home after having grown up in Denmark. At the end of our conversation we started to brainstorm ideas for how we could work together to write a song for change. By the time the class was over, we did not have nearly enough time to hash out all of our ideas, so we spoke about reconvening another day to keep working. Before that next musical session ever got to take place, there was a raid at the church and all the asylum seekers were taken by the state and eventually put on a plane to Iraq. Realising that I would not have the opportunity to complete the song with the asylum seekers I’d met, I thought it still important to keep the solidarity alive through music - thus the song “Leave On The Light” was born through a collaboration with local hip hop artist and teacher, Mads Glendorf (DoktorDoktor).
You helped compile the list "500 female emcees everyone should know". Are there any in particular to whom you'd like to point our readers?
It’s hard to say. I could spend days listing off the names of my favorite emcees who also happen to be women. Some of the names that are perpetually on my playlists include Akua Naru, who describes herself as the “hip-hop Toni Morrison", and Invincible reppin' Detriot, who really speaks to the understanding that activism is a daily choice. I am also a fan of Shadia Mansour, who emcees and sings in solidarity with Palestine and many displaced peoples around the world. Then there are my sistars in England, Poetic Pilgrimage, who keep it real with dynamic bodies of work such as The Starwomen Mixtape and bright hijabi swag. France-based Ana Tijoux is another incredible emcee and vocalist whose music also is also in dialogue with Chile, where her father was exiled during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. In addition to having a message, each of these sister emcees have incredible talent and musicality that resonate across many languages / cultures / generations.
What are your future musical plans?
I am currently working on a new collection of music incorporating looping effects and community storytelling that I’ve been previewing with audiences out here in the California Bay Area. Next month, I will be heading back to Denmark, where I look forward to linking up with my musical colleagues in Copenhagen. In May, I will be part of a Hip-Hop Institute at the National Conference On Race and Ethnicity, where I will be working alongside Afrika Bambaataa, Martha Diaz, Jasiri X, Joe Conzo, Yolanda ‘Yo Yo’ Whitaker and Mike Benitez Jr. To stay tuned to the latest on RAPtivism and the many musical journeys ahead stay posted at www.raptivism.org and follow me on Twitter @aishafukusima.