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Music – African Ambassador

‘Blitz the Ambassador’ is not the usual New York City rapper winking at Africa, at least for one reason: he was born and raised in Accra, Ghana, before moving to the United States.

This probably had an influence on the nom de plume he chose for himself and his band – which is called the ‘Embassy ensemble’, and certainly is something that pervades all his music. Few US rappers – if any – would for instance name Paul Biya or Robert Mugabe (whom he has already targeted in more than one occasion) in his lyrics, but Blitz does. He does not like stereotypes, after all.

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Even his style of rap is not the usual one: hip-hop purists might not appreciate it, but it is surely fascinating, mixing funky, R&B and African genres which can now be regarded as classics, such as afrobeat, Congolese soukouss and Ghanaian highlife. This is a result of Samuel Bazawule’s (Blitz’s real name) own biography. It was 2001 when he arrived in New York City with just “a dollar and a dream”, as he says in the song of the same title, hoping to become someone in the world of rap. Soon, his life in NY put him in contact with people with different backgrounds, ranging from other Ghanaian immigrants to US rappers who – he recalls – “knew nothing about the African continent”. So Blitz’s music is also an answer to the need of “finding that place where Ghanaian highlife, hip-hop, and afrobeat intersect”: that is what he does, for instance, in Make you no forget, one of the tracks of his newest album, Afropolitan dreams, mainly thanks to the contribution of Seun Kuti, the son of the late Fela Kuti, whose rhytms highly influenced Blitz.

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Seun is just one of the many artists featuring in the album: others are Beninese star Angelique Kidjo, Nigeria’s Nneka, Mali’s Oxmo Puccino, Oum from Morocco and even Brazilian rapper Marcelo D2. It could not have been different, for Afropolitan Dreams – despite not being a ‘concept album’ – has a theme that, although starting with Blitz’s personal biography, goes well beyond it: it is the general experience of the immigrant, of someone living in a city but whose roots and desires are also somewhere else. This is the meaning of “afropolitan” according to The Ambassador: “an African who travels, who lives abroad and so has developed a global vision of the world”. From this point of view, the ‘afropolitan dream’ is more than an updated version of the ‘American dream’, from which it takes its name: it describes “the desire of Afropolitans to come back on the continent and contribute to its development”.

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Therefore this album also carries a political message: at least in this, the author follows the usual path of rappers, but also makes reference to a more distant musical tradition, that of the ‘griots’, the ancient storytellers of West Africa. This parallel is explicitly drawn in The Departure, the last track in the album. “One plays the kora, djembe, xylophones – the lyrics read – The other rocks the MP, turntables, microphones / They both tell the stories of the warriors that passed / One on the battlefield, the other on the ave. / One memorizes, the other one writes this / One tells the village, the other tells the projects / And they both on the road less traveled / Separated by time, the future unraveled / From the ancient Mali empire to the Empire State”

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However, being ‘afropolitan’ even when he acts as a modern ‘griot’, The Ambassador makes a broad-based appeal, aimed to the entire Africa. The continent is not the past, it is the future, as Blitz says in another song. It can find its economic and cultural independence from the Western world, and become a single country (“United States of Africa, we salute ya”) with a booming economy (“our currency’s worth more than the dollar or the euro / Without the foreign aid unemployment near zero”). Obviously, the Ghanaian rapper admitted in an interview, this is a paradox, but its aim is to “tell people that the future is built today, a way to remind us all that we must take on our responsibilities right now”. (D.M.)

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