Throughout the month of July, I had an amazing opportunity to travel as a Cultural Envoy to perform, teach, and connect with artists in Morocco and Algeria. The U.S. State Department and U.S. Consulates and Embassies in Casablanca, Rabat, and Algiers sponsored the trip. The entire trip was a profound experience that allowed me to connect IMAN’s work with Hip Hop, the arts, and youth to thousands of people across the globe. In Morocco, husband and wife Hip Hop duo – The ReMINDers, B-Boy Super Inlight, and I travelled to six cities in two weeks. Our activities ranged from workshops and performances for over a thousand youth in summer camp to collaborative music sessions with recording artists. One thing was clear from our very first workshop; music, and the arts in general, really are universal in their ability to bring people together.
A couple of memories of the experience in Morocco stand out in particular. On our third day there, we traveled to a camp full of thousands of youth in tents in the desert. The entire camp embraced us warmly and, even with the little they had, made us feel at home and shared food with us. The young people as well as camp facilitators were extremely excited to meet Muslims from the U.S. and felt the need to recite Surah Fatihah with us or refer to artists such as Sami Yusuf. By the end of our performance, hundreds of youth were so energized that they started their own b-boy battle based on what they saw from Super Inlight. Although it was a long day, we left with smiles on our faces, touched by the young people that inspired our work that night.
The other experience was in the town of Safi, a port town known for its pottery and phosphate. There, we met with the group Tiraline and immediately bonded with this group of 5 young Moroccans who were deeply spiritual and easily blended traditional and modern styles of music. The group was extremely hospitable, taking us out to eat, giving us a tour of the medina (city), and making sure we had some homemade couscous before we left. We also spent hours with them in the studio working on a song that stresses our commonalities in faith and fuses the traditional Gnawa sound of Morocco with Hip Hop beats.
Going to Algeria had us a bit nervous. We had heard rumors that made us wonder what we were walking into, but the minute we landed, all the apprehensions were gone. On this part of the trip, FEW Collective members and IMAN regulars, B-Boy Bravemonk and MC D-Nick accompanied Super Inlight and me. It helped that our first night included a Tinariwen concert with a very young and energetic crowd. Having just presented Tinariwen at Takin’ It to the Streets less than a month prior made IMAN’s global connections even stronger. D-Nick also helped us out due to his hairstyle and Rasta colors… everyone wanted to take pictures with him and thought he had a spiritual connection to Bob Marley.
In Algeria, we spent ten days between two cities, working with the same group in both cities. This allowed us to deepen our relationships with them and really create a genuine friendship. After spending five days in Algiers, and five in Oran, we collaborated with our Algerian counterparts and performed in both cities for hundreds of people. In Oran, we met Hip Hop heads who reminded us of people back home. They were deeply into Hip Hop culture as a whole, and had learned most of their English from it. They were true b-boys, with Public Enemy shirts and all found in the thrift stores of Algeria. I think our bond is best expressed by the day of our performance when one of the b-boys took off his PE shirt, full of sweat, and handed it to me as a gift. I never thought I’d be that happy to receive another man’s sweaty shirt!