Afro hip hop meets India

Audio 04:30

Going to India felt like fulfilling their mothers’ dreams of Bollywood. Being in India felt a bit like being in Senegal or Guinea. Now back in Paris , the hip hop band – BBC sound system – is exploring ways of mixing Indian music into their Afro vibe.


The BBC sound system is not to be confused with the British broadcaster; it stands for Ben Bop Crew. Benbop means “one head” in Woloff, the national language of Senegal where the group was originally set up by Mao, Kadou and Mansour.

The band then moved to settle in Paris in 1998. They were later joined by Izm, a Parisian rapper whose father is from Guinea Conakry. Together, they won the Prix Découvertes du Printemps de Bourges in 2002.

BBC Sound System spent a month across India in March and April, performing in eight cities – Mumbai, Delhi, Chennaï, Trivedrum, etc – leaving a trail of enthusiastic reviews.

It seems that the Indian crowd enjoyed the African flavoured hip hop of the band, riding on as many languages as Woloff, Soninké, English and French with a strong West African musical influence.

Growing up in Senegal, Mao is no stranger to Indian culture and music as experienced through Hindi movies which are extremely popular in many parts of Africa.

“When our mothers heard that we were going to India, they said that we are fulfilling their dreams of going to the land of the Indian movie stars they grew up loving. And as a boy in Dakar, I lived on Kung Fu and Indian movies,” said Mao.

It’s no surprise then, that Mao was already mixing tabla and sitar to his hip hop compositions.

“Now, I want to work with Indian singers, female voices and mix it with hip hop and African music”, he added.

Izm says that he is very sensitive to Indian percussions: “As a rapper, rhythm is my law. What I like about Indian music is the strong rhythm, like the tabla and other percussions. It’s vibrant with energy. I like their melody, I like the hook and that’s hip hop!”

It was the band’s first time in India and it sometimes felt like being in Africa. Izm recalled “the same small shops on the side of the road, the same reddish sand and as for the poverty everyone was warning us about, it didn’t come as such a shock as we know something about poverty in Africa.”

However, what really impressed the artists while in India is this country’s capacity to be largely self-sufficient, its ability to produce and sustain home grown industries and export drugs, cars and so on.

“Our problem in Africa is that we import everything while selling our riches without our people benefiting from it," said Izm. "You see, Africans don’t trust other Africans. They believe that the white man needs to have a hand in it to better a product.”

Izm believes that India wouldn’t be enjoying the current dynamic economic growth if it hadn’t invested in education.

“Education is the key and we need to do the same in Africa," he said. "Then the colour of the skin won’t matter any more.”

BBC Sound System is working on third album. While being in the band, each artist pursues other artistic ventures solo.

Mao is a producer for upcoming rappers, shoots video clips and is also with a different group called Ben’bop whose concerts are expected at the end of May.

Izm is heavily involved with script writing for TV series and feature films. He also composes soundtracks for them. Among other things, Izm is currently writing a 13-minute version of the animated TV series, Lascars, for Canal +. The No Bluff band he’s part of is releasing a new album in October 2010.

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