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Exporting Hip-Hop Abroad


How do you put music on the move? Well, Radio Express is a Los Angeles area company that specializes in pre-packaged music shows. It sells them to more than 130 countries, including several in Africa. The Coke Side of Life Mixshow sponsored by the beverage company is a hit on the continent. But it sounds like any urban radio station here in the states.

(Soundbite of radio show, "Jammin' Africa")

Unidentified Male #1: Yo, put your hands up, Nigeria. It is time to party once again with the Coke Side of Life Mixshow. What's the deal? (Unintelligible) and coming up, let's fire things off with Pretty Ricky. We'll get some help from reggae dance hall king Sean Paul in the new track off their album, "Late Night Special."

CHIDEYA: Radio Express is also exporting a new program called "Jammin' Africa." It helps African musicians get exposure around the continent.

NPR's Tony Cox went to Radio Express and met some of the team there. Here's CEO Tom Rounds.

Mr. TOM ROUNDS (CEO, Radio Express, Inc.): The basic format is R&B and hip-hop. It's the urban - American urban format, and most of what you're going to hear on the number one stations is American hip-hop and R&B. The emerging African pop, hip-hop and R&B scene is what has interested us in this project.

(Soundbite of radio show, "Jammin' Africa")

Unidentified Female #1: In this hour, I've got a "Jammin' Africa" connection e-mail from Nigeria. Ludacris checks in on the "Jammin' Africa" Backstage Pass and I have new music from Nigerian superstar 2Face Idibia and an appearance from South Africa's own Tumi with "Maria."

(Soundbite of song, "Maria")

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) Maria.

TUMI (Singer): (Singing) Drove a Range Rover and herself insane. Game over when the pleasures waned.

TONY COX: I was going to ask about language. How much of an issue is that for both the music and for the DJs who are playing the music, communicating across multiple languages?

Mr. ROUNDS: Well, in all of these - see, Nigeria really comes down to six or seven cities. English is spoken in cities by almost everyone, whereas if you get out of town very far, you're going to be into Yoruba and Ibo and so forth. But the commercial radio in those big cities is built on an English base because it's higher-income generally, and that's where the money is.

(Soundbite of radio show, "Jammin' Africa")

WILD CHILD (DJ, Jammin' Africa): All the way from Lagos, Nigeria for "Jammin' Africa." It's your boy Wild Child taking you to where it's going down. Brace yourself because the (unintelligible) festival is back with a bang. First of all…

COX: Here in America, hip-hop music in particular because of the lyrics, the misogyny, the profanity, has been very controversial and very profitable. How much, if any, of that is an issue, particularly the lyrics and the profanity and the misogyny have been issues for the music in Africa?

Mr. ROUNDS: This is a very interesting question. The countries that are heavily Christian or very religious such as Nigeria are very sensitive about that. East Africa's wide open - almost anything goes. One of the top stations in Nairobi, for example, programs generally in English but they'll slip into the local dialect called Sheng, which is kind of a street combination of English and Swahili. And they can get away with anything in Sheng because the authorities in Nairobi don't understand it and don't speak it. It's more like a street language.

COX: In terms of the United States and the music that is exported from here to Africa through Radio Express - you have international competition also - other countries that are producing music. Is the United States still the musical culture of choice for people in Africa?

Mr. ROUNDS: Oh, well, as far as music is concerned, yeah. The US has a special place in the minds and hearts, musically at least, of most of the African metropolitan population.

CHIDEYA: That was Radio Express CEO Tom Rounds.

And next, Tony got a quick tour of the facilities with vice president of production Christian Jones.

Mr. CHRISTIAN JONES (Vice President, Production, Radio Express): So this is the Radio Express studio. We got two rooms - an A room and a B room. We mix some of the main shows here in the A room. And right now we're mixing the "Urban World Chart" show in the B room, which airs primarily actually in Africa. It airs currently in Nigeria, in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, a few other countries and...

CHIDEYA: Nnamdi Moweta joined Tony and Christian Jones. Moweta is the music consultant and artist liaison for "Jammin' Africa." Christian started out by explaining how the program offers a different take on music than a typical urban radio show.

Mr. JONES: With the new launch of "Jammin' Africa," we are mixing African music with international music. So we're trying to create a healthy balance of that within the context of the show. So it does feel more localized and more expansive, inclusive of all the music on that continent as well.

COX: How do you - let me ask you - it's Nnamdi, correct? Nnamdi - and what country are you from?

Mr. NNAMDI MOWETA (Music Consultant and Artist Liason, "Jammin' Africa"): I'm from Nigeria.

CHIDEYA: Oh, you're from Nigeria. So do you think that the people in Nigeria in particular want to hear traditional African-sounding music mixed in with hip-hop?

Mr. MOWETA: Yeah. It's overdue. Nobody has done that. The fact that an artist in Lagos can hear his own music mixed with your Akon or Beyonce, that gives him a whole lot of music credibility in the neighborhood and the newspaper because you look at the charts, oh, this guy is from Nigeria. Oh, he's from Kenya. He's bulleting up the chart. And this chart is coming from Hollywood. It's not coming from Lagos or coming from Nairobi.

COX: But as an African yourself, do you worry that your own culture is being diluted with this influx of American music?

Mr. MOWETA: Music has to grow. We have to open up. Our artists have to learn how to bring in other influences. So it's very important for our artists at home to hear all these new artists coming out from America. And then it means a lot to them to look at the charts. Oh, I'm number 10 today. Next week, I'm bulleting to number eight. It does a lot for their career.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox speaking with Christian Jones and Nnamdi Moweta of Radio Express. Jones is vice president of production and Moweta is music consultant and artist liaison for the Radio Express program "Jammin' Africa." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.