UNITED STATES OF AFRICA: BEYOND HIP HOP (Yanick Létourneau). See listings. Rating: NNN
Part tour documentary, part examination of the tangled lines of cultural resistance and nationalistic pride that run through contemporary African music, Yanick Létourneau's United States Of Africa: Beyond Hip Hop isn't lacking in ambition.
Montreal-bred filmmaker Létourneau follows Senegalese rapper Didier Awadi around the globe as he records his 2010 album, Présidents D'Afrique, which offers modern rappers the chance to build tracks around the sampled voices of such inspirational leaders as Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and Malcolm X.
Awadi's project takes him from Burkina Faso to France to South Africa and even America, where he collaborates with Dead Prez rapper M-1 in New York City and then rushes to DC for Barack Obama's inauguration, a hugely symbolic moment for Africans everywhere. And at every stop, Létourneau grabs a snapshot of the politics on the ground. In particular, Burkina Faso, where the rapper Smockey risks his safety by speaking angry truths to a government he accuses of oppressive tactics, feels like a powder keg.
I'd have liked to hear more of the finished project, though. Other than one number performed live in concert, we're limited to mere snippets of the individual songs as they're being recorded or rehearsed. But I'm not sure that's really Létourneau's point.
Opens Friday (July 27) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.