Recently, at the World Nomads Morocco Festival in NYC, Saxon Baird snuck backstage for a quick interview with Moroccain rapper Soultana and discussed with her what it’s like to be a female rapper and the power of hip hop in Arab countries. Soultana is also featured in our show, ‘The Trans-National Hip Hop Train.‘
Saxon Baird: Let’s start with introducing yourself.
Soultana: My name is Soultana, I started out as a B-girl and freestyling when I was just a kid. Then I stopped and created a group, the first female group of rap music in Africa which was Tigress Flow and now I am performing solo and recording my album.
S.B.: What is it about hip hop that allows it to cross-cultures and borders, in your opinion?
S: In Arab countries, hip hop is the reason why there is revolution in all those countries and at the same time, it is the reason that we all now know each other. Hip hop is a door that can be opened to all over the world, all nationalities to all cultures to all traditions. This is hip-hop.
S.B.: What’s it like to be a female MC in Morocco?
S: To be a female MC, I think, all over the world, it is so hard. Rap music relates rap music to men and not to woman. But I think, and I am sure that, woman can talk about women stuffs, women problems, women things, more than a guy. So if I want to talk about abuse, and there is a rapper who is a guy who wants to talk about abuse, he can’t express why it really means as much as a woman. I can talk about it because I can feel it. Everyday I can feel it on the streets through insults, by words, by a lot of things. Women, they can understand what women want to say. I think that really we have to be a whole generation who is confident and ready to rap and go on stage and talk about those issues.
S.B.: Who are you trying reach?
S: Well as mentioned before, I talk about a lot of women issues in our country. So I think I am definitely trying to reach a lot of women. But I think now, all over the world, there are people listening to rap music especially the rap that talk about issues. So if you are talking about issues, you will reach a whole community of people that they will respect what you are talking about because you are translating messages and what they want to say, you are translating it to a song. So while I rap about women, I think I can reach other people too.
S.B.: How did you discover hip hop in Morocco?
S: In 1993, rap was born in Morocco. A lot of boys were freestyling and rapping in Moroccan Arabic. Also, we had a lot of friends in Europe and France and United States and they were sending us a lot of cassettes, no CDs then, so just cassettes, and then because of break dancing, which was before rap. Then with the internet a little bit and CDs, then with MTV…so its just the media….the media, it’s the reason why I discovered it and why rap is all over the world.
S.B.: Who are your influences?
S: At first, I would say NWA, Run DMC, Public Enemy. Then Tupac who is one of my favorites. However, I really am influenced by Aretha Franklin. I really respect her and I really feel what she is singing. Even though she’s not a rapper, she is still very much a big influence, an inspiration… shes’s my everything!
S.B.: You mentioned Tupac. Why is he one of your favorites?
S: Tupac, he’s the most famous rapper in all over the world, especially in Arab countries. Everybody knows him. If you ask a kid or a woman, “what is rap? What is hip hop?” She will say Tupac. Especially because of the song, “Keep Ya Head Up.” It’s a very, special song.
S.B: You only rap in Arabic?
S: I can rap in English, in French, but I prefer rap in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) to make people understand in Morocco because not all the people can understand the French and English or even Arabic. There is a big person of illiteracy in Arabic countries, so I need to talk in Darija to help them understand what I am talking about.
S.B.: Is it hard to be a rapper in Morocco?
S: It is so hard. We don’t have any studios, we have maybe five studios in the whole of Morocco and, because music in Arabic countries, its not our music, its not rap. So all the music is like, I love you, you love me, ta-ta-ta…this is it! It is fun but to talk about issues and to be on stage with the DJ and especially with the beats of rap music, it’s so hard! And especially for a girl it’s so hard, I work so hard to be on stage and to make people respect my artist that is inside. It’s not just me.
S.B.: What do you think of American rap music right now? Is there anyone who you like?
S: I think rap now is so yuck. You know like Lady Gaga, they are all going to rap. Niki Minaj, we call it “Nicki a la ménage”…Drake, Lil Wayne, they all suck! So I think if the old school rappers can come back like KRS-One, it’s would be better. (laughs) But there are some rappers in the states like Mos Def who I respect. I also really like the big rappers in France… ETM, Sniper…they are talking about something. Then in the United States, yeah a little bit less so.