NEXT LEVEL USA: A Chat With MADlines About Ugandan Hip-Hop. [Interview]

By Byaruhanga Felix (@TheNinjaFelix)

The past week Uganda hosted a team of hip-hop acts from the U.S who were running different workshops focusing on different hip-hop elements. The workshops were came to an end with a concert at theater were La Bonita where people who attended the workshop showcased & performed what the workshop was all about.

Amidst the preparation of the concert I managed to have a quick Chat with MADlines who was handling the emceeing workshops throughout the program. We talked about the program “Next Level’, entrepreneurship with hip-hop and her thoughts about Ugandan hip-hop among other things as you can read below.

QN: Thanks for doing this with me on short notice & amidst the organization of your concert. First let’s start from what’s Next Level is all about & how it came about?

Sure, so next level is a project of the U.S department of state and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. They wanted to use hip-hop as a tool for cultural diplomacy, so what they do is that they bring four different artists from United States that specialize in hip-hop elements, emceeing, deejaying, break-dancing, rapping and beat Making. They send them all over the world to teach free classes in the community to the kids that want them the most.
So, the whole idea isn’t to teach them hip-hop but is to learn about the communities about there and to build with the young people in the country so that we can help promote peace and understanding different goals that they have for that country. For example here two of the goals that we had were entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment.
QN: Is it the first time in Africa and are there any other countries taking part in this particular project?

So, this is the second year of Next Level program. Next Level sends different artists to different countries so this is the only country that our team will be in which is really a unique team; shout outs to our team. But Next Level this year is going to Thailand, Tanzania, El Salvador, Honduras. Last year they went to India, Senegal & Serbia. Each country is a different team but they will do the same hip-hop elements.
QN: Earlier you talked about entrepreneurship when you put that in line with hip-hop  means you have to use one of the elements of hip-hop to make money. How did you approach it so that the young people who were in attendance could use it to develop their communities?

Yeah, so we looked at how can you make money off art. You know hip-hop is all about hustling and it seems like there’s no way to make money but there are very many ways & it’s not just about one person making money it’s about everybody contributing to it, everything from fashion to starting your own label because a lot of people think it’s still about getting signed by a major record label but nowadays a lot of hip-hop artists are doing their independent thing because record labels it’s not a guarantee that you’re going to make a lot of money and they own everything you do. So, one thing we talked about was to work independently & to work together as a movement.
QN: In terms of making money off the art are there  any measures that you guys use in the U.S that are relevant or can they be applied to the Ugandan market in any way basing on the interactions you’ve had during the course of tackling entrepreneurship & hip-hop here?
I think every market is different.  In Uganda there’s more of a higher rate of unemployment I know that and so that’s a challenge Uganda faces but I would say hip-hop in general has similar challenges for people involved. 
But it’s easier with strength in numbers and I noticed as an emcee that people think it’s all about one emcee and when they make it that’s all that matters they buy a mansion or a car. Hip-hop in the U.S is going back to having crews so one person does marketing, one person does merchandise, another person makes beats or DJs that keeps everything running so that you can become your own business.
QN: Like you said that the struggles of hip-hop are similar whether it’s in the U.S or here but are there certain things that you’ve picked here that are different from the U.S?

Yeah, I would say the difference in Uganda is that there are so many languages spoken. So I noticed with my emcees they speak a lot of different languages so they don’t always know which one to rap in or sometimes they would rap in Luganda.
So I noticed there’s a division between who raps in English and who raps in luganda. But I think that’s kinda silly because whether you rap in luganda or English you can still be saying good or bad things. So even if you rap in English you can still say good things, also I think it’s good to be multilingual so I suggest emcees should try & learn as many languages as possible and try to communicate in all the languages.
Also I think in Uganda the hip-hop movement is facing the break-dancers more and that’s really unique cause in the U.S emcees get all the light, all the shine but here it’s like the break-dancers are very talented and so are the emcees but Uganda seems to be known for break-dancing specifically.
QN: Generally speaking what’s your overview about the Ugandan hip-hop scene for the short time you’ve been here working on this project? What are some of the good things that you’ve seen about the genre & what’s lacking or what can be improved?

First of all I felt like it was already a very established scene, like people are knowledgeable about the history of hip-hop and I was very happy that we didn’t have to talk about the fundamentals we jumped right in and we talked about pretty much complex stuff like college level.
I also noticed that’s there’s a very high level of skill, the DJ & the beat makers’ workshops were very smaller. I don’t know if that’s an indication that there are not as many DJs and beat makers. One thing that could be better is if more people did beat making as well because I think you can establish a very unique Uganda sound that everybody can figure out and realize across the world. But if everyone is rapping & dancing you’re not going to have that. So you definitely need more DJs & beat makers working together with rappers here so that they can establish a sound unique to Uganda. So, you need to use traditional sound but then make it hip-hop at the same time.
Connect With MADlines;
Twitter: @MAD_lines
Facebook: MADlines Music

Contact writer;
Facebook: Byaruhanga Felix FeliFed
Twitter: @TheNinjaFelix

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