Collections: John Fenn - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Rap and Ragga Performance in Malawi (1999, 2000)

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Members of the Ghost Face Clan, a sub-group of the C.O.B. Connection, rehearse a cappella in the hills above Blantyre, 2000. From left to right: Mutinji, Mad Muffin, Red Gun, and Meckai B. Image © John Fenn.

This collection comprises video shot during two separate field trips (1999 and 2000) to Malawi for research on rap and ragga musical culture and performance among youths. A large portion of the footage is from the city of Blantyre and depicts rap and ragga competitions in which youths sing original lyrics over pre-recorded backing tracks. These competitions are generally sponsored by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and often center on social issues such as HIV/AIDS or civic education. Winners of the competitions receive cash prizes or goods such as hats, shirts, and posters. The competitions always take place during the afternoon hours, though nightclubs are frequently used as venues because they are set up for music and dance events.

Other footage of rap and ragga performance in Malawi in this collection is of a more informal nature. One event consists of youths singing on the sidelines of a school football (soccer) game, and another event shows a rehearsal session of a group from Blantyre. Taken as a whole, the collection provides a glimpse into the performance practice and social cultural context of rap and ragga musics as produced by Malawian youths. Of interest is the degree to which imported musical culture (from the U.S. and Jamiaca primarily) influences Malawian youth identity, yet also dynamically changes as youths recontextualize such things as U.S. rap and Jamaican ragga slang or fashions. Furthermore it is interesting to note how patterns of social organization and practice—such as the privileging of male participation and masculinity in rap and ragga—fits with broader patterns of social organization within Malawi.

This collection is currently in production and is not yet available to the public.

Image © John Fenn

John Fenn received his doctorate in Folklore and Ethnomusicology from Indiana University, Bloomington in May 2004. He conducted fieldwork in Malawi on rap and ragga musical culture during 1999 and 2000. Fenn is an assistant professor in the Arts and Administration Program at the University of Oregon.

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