Lowkey: British-based rapper speaks out for change

Funds from Lowkey’s Sydney and Melbourne concerts with be divided between humanitarian projects in Gaza and Indigenous communi

NOTE:: The previous ad on this page had incorrect details for Lowkey’s Australian tour. The new ad has the right details.

London-based rapper Lowkey has worked with hip-hop acts Immortal Technique, Dead Prez and Canibus, and is touring Australia as part of his “Soundtrack to the Struggle” world tour.

Lowkey is renowned for his overtly political songs, denouncing imperialism and corporate domination.

In songs such as “Obama Nation” and “Terrorists”,, he rails against the crimes and hypocrisy of the US empire, while pointing to anti-imperialist fighters such as Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Lowkey is an outspoken supporter of Palestine, travelling to the besieged Gaza Strip to help deliver humanitarian aid. His singles “Long Live Palestine” and “Long Live Palestine 2”, which were hits on the British hip hop charts, also raised funds for Gaza.

Lowkey will perform in Sydney and Melbourne in January (see ad for details), with funds raised going to humanitarian projects in Gaza and Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

Lowkey spoke with Green Left Weekly’s Stuart Munckton about Palestine, the US empire, Indigenous struggles, cultural imperialism, record labels and music piracy.

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I think there are few issues which are as misunderstood and misconstrued as the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and equality. It’s because we are very much taught growing up that there is nothing more natural than the entity known as Israel.

Geographically it’s a tiny part of the world — very, very small — we’re talking about somewhere that’s basically the size of Wales. But Palestinians are the biggest refugee population in the world. And Israel has not only occupied Palestine, but invaded and occupied every single country it has borders with.

Obama, before he became US president, promised Israel $30 billion dollars over the next 10 years. He didn’t promise aid to other countries but he had to come out and say he’d give this amount of aid to Israel.

When we’re dealing with the US, with the presence it has in the world (it has military bases everywhere from Italy to Colombia, from Japan to the UAE, to Diego Garcia), we’re dealing with the Empire. And when you have a state that is so heavily favoured by the US to such an intense level, you have to question why and realise that this is quite a big deal.

Artists can actually affect their listeners, so definitely, I think it’s upon the artist to say that when a state acts the way Israel acts, and when a state is founded on the ethnic cleansing on which Israel is founded, performing in Israel is in itself a political act.

They should say: I’m not going to perform in Tel Aviv, I’ll perform in Ramallah. They can perform in Gaza. They should perform to the Indigenous people of the land not to the state of Israel. That’s the decision I think more and more artists need to make.

I’m opposed to all colonialism. The example of Australia is incredible, you don’t get to hear the voice of Aboriginal people anywhere in the world.

It’s the same with Native Americans, you don’t get to hear their voices. I saw something the other day which really struck me: the life expectancy for Indigenous males in the US is 46 years old. That’s the same as for Afghanistan or Somalia, two countries which have been the victims of the US military. So there’s actually a war going on inside the US against the Indigenous people of that country.

I’m primarily coming to Australia to learn. I would like to basically take in as much as possible about the struggles and the history of [Indigenous] people there, because it’s something we’re never shown about around the world or in England.

As we saw with the coup in Honduras, the recent activity (shall we call it that) in Ecuador, and the US military bases shenanigans in Colombia, South America is hugely important.

It’s important because you have the example of alternatives in Chavez, in Evo Morales, in Castro. You have alternatives to capitalism, to neo-liberalism, to the whole system.

In that region there are examples of alternatives that are working. They may have their problems but they are more positive and better for the people than the capitalist “democracy” that the US is selling.

They will use every kind of dirty trick against such an example. They try to make the rest of the world view it as led by a nutter, who cannot be trusted and is bad for their people.

I’ll be completely honest with you: I got into hip-hop as a sort of product of cultural imperialism. I got into hip-hop out of this strange admiration that the subjects of the Empire seem to be born with, and that’s an admiration for US culture.

When I first started rapping, like most people in this country, I did it with an American accent. I’ve seen this everywhere from here to Lebanon. Everywhere I’ve travelled I’ve seen hip-hop with an American accent.

In my own personal experience it was cultural imperialism. It was me placing American culture on a pedestal and attempting to imitate it as a 12-year-old boy.

Being of the mixed heritage that I am, with one side of my family British, the other Iraqi, and living through this stage in history I had to be political and, in some way, engage with what was going on.

I say in a song, I feel like an Englishman among Arabs and an Arab among Englishmen because my name is Kareem Dennis but people in this country people generally don’t take me as half English. They look at the way I look and it’s like: your name’s Kareem, you’re not one of us.

Hip-hop in its roots was the voice of disaffected and oppressed people. But England is probably second only to the US in terms of the corporate hijacking of hip-hop.

Mainstream hip-hop artists are not questioning the status quo and talking about the things that are really relevant to us. They’re just happy to be welcomed to the table — that’s the problem.

You have a lot of young artists getting signed up by the major labels. I’ve been in quite a few meetings lately with industry people who were trying to sort of bring me over. The things they’ve been suggesting to me I wouldn’t even entertain, but when they get someone who’s young, they are open to all types of suggestions.

An artist over here was recently paid by the government to do a song asking people to sign the census, which has been contracted to Lockheed Martin.

Not only are they one of the biggest arms companies in the world, they’re the US company that ran Guantanamo Bay. This company’s going to be responsible for collecting personal information off us and passing it on to the government and because they’re a US company, under the Patriot Act the US government is able to take any information it wants off them at any time.

So you’ll not only be giving your personal information to our government, but to the US government and to one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world.

Mainstream hip-hop is doing what it’s there to do. It’s there to create money. The music is made like Macdonald’s meals for people to consume. It’s there for the same reason that the majority of the rest of mainstream music is there: to make very rich people quite a bit richer.

That’s quite a big issue for me. I don’t want my music to make insanely rich people insanely richer. That goes against my politics and what I stand for.

You don’t have to sign stupid deals with those labels and you don’t have to make music about completely contrived clichéd rubbish in order for people to hear you and like what you do.

There was a time when I was kind of against downloading because I saw it as: I’m not making money. But to be honest, you can make your music and find other avenues of income.

For me, as long as I can live, I’m content. I don’t have a car, I’m not trying to buy the biggest car in the world — that’s not what’s important to me.

I think that you should make music to move people’s souls rather than to move people’s money.

How could it be a negative thing if somebody in Peru downloads my album off the internet and is listening to my music? Should I be mad at that person because they haven’t given me some of their money? If they’re listening to my music, they’re listening to what I’m saying. That in itself is a blessing enough.

To be honest it’s weird that the complaints come from artists who’ve made a huge amount of money. So I don’t view it as entirely credible when they complain about stuff like that.

Nothing’s stopping a person from coming to one of your shows and recording and taking it home. That’s on YouTube these days. To be honest, for me as an artist, if I didn’t have YouTube, not many people would know about me.

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