Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 9, 2009

Kenya, African Hip Hop, and Viv McCarthy



Viv McCarthy and Crazy About Kenya Facebook Project

Contextual Africa

Content and context. They are inseparable, interdependent, and integrated. And for travel suppliers and tour operators, making creative connections between the two for their clients can be a challenge, especially in complex destinations such as those on the African continent.

Having had the opportunity to engage with Viv McCarthy in dialogue about his extensive personal travel experiences, and his company’s travel services, I am once again convinced that all teachers are not in classrooms; that many specialists in the travel industry (like Viv), are in fact also public educators. And as someone who spent 32 years in the public classroom, I know experiential, lifelong learning when I see it.

The company is called Acacia Adventure Holidays (“Acacia Africa” for short), and it is based in London, England with offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

I discovered Viv and Acacia Adventure Holidays, when a media release arrived in my Inbox with details about the company’s not-for-profit “Crazy About Kenya” Facebook Campaign. The campaign is aimed at “putting a positive vibe back into Kenya” after the political “troubles” that occurred there in January 2008 following a disputed national election.

The Kenyan experience

A former British colony, known as the British East Africa Protectorate, Kenya, led by Jomo Kenyatta, gained its independence on December 12, 1963. The country is actually named for Mt. Kenya which reaches 5199 metres.

One of the most popular tourism destinations in Africa, especially in terms of itswildlife safaris, Kenya rises from the coast on the Indian Ocean (with its beautiful beaches) to low plains, which in turn become the central highlands. The latter have some of the most productive agricultural lands in Africa. Bisecting the highlands is the Great Rift Valley, the source of some of the greatest fossil discoveries in the world.

With 19 national parks and game preserves, Kenya’s tourism industry is second only to agriculture in terms of foreign revenue, and its capital of Nairobi has been called the wildlife capital of Africa.

In its post-colonial history, Kenya was known for its great strides forward, its natural resources-based economy, and its cultural diversity. From a tourism point of view, Kenya has always been a stable and preferred destination within Africa. In January 2008, however, unprecedented political unrest occurred as a result of the disputed election results of the previous December, and a political stalemate came about. Protests, riots, and the destruction of property ensued. Over 1000 people died in the conflict and over 350,000 were displaced internally within Kenya. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan led a group of highly regarded Africans who managed to broker a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

A significant part of Keyna’s cultural diversity and heritage is its wide range of musical styles and genres. As a centre of the global Hip Hop movement, Kenya also has become part of a worldwide movement of Hip Hop artists who use this distinct musical and artistic medium to advance social causes, encourage personal self-expression, and to give a voice to many individuals who have historically been disenfranchised.

African Hip Hop and self-expression

Hip Hop, as much a cultural movement as a musical genre, began in New York city in the 1970s as a expression of a collective sense of self primarily on the part of African-Americans but also Americans of Hispanic heritage. Challenging the status quo, Hip Hop artists appealed to disaffected youth through their alternative musical expression. Although the music of some Hip Hop artists was perceived as encouraging social disunity, many claim that Hip Hop actually became a positive form of protest and an outlet for dealing with violence and gang culture among the urban poor.

As a key word in what is known as African American Vernacular English (or AAVE), “hip” has always referred to an individual, group, or attitude that is deemed particularly informed, current, or progressive. Hip Hop as a multidimensional cultural phenomenon has traditionally been based on four key elements: emceeing or rapping (also a linguistic phenomenon of considerable significance); DJing; urban graffiti-like art; and breakdancing. Not unlike Rock and Roll, Hip Hop found its roots within African American pop culture and then spread throughout other forms of youth culture and throughout the world.

In Africa, especially Kenya, Hip Hop has in a sense “come home,” and has continued to enjoy a freedom of expression in its own evolution as a musical and social movement. In Kenya, for example, Hip Hop has become an artistic expression in which English is often blended with Swahili and other tribal languages; thus bridging a language gap as well as a cultural one. As a form of popular protest, Hip Hop in Africa did encounter detractors and even attempts to repress it. South Africa’s apartheid government even tried to ban it because of its inherent messages of freedom. As Hip Hop grew and moved “laterally” throughout Africa, it also became increasingly diversified and reflective of distinct local and regional cultures. It also served as an important communication link between Africans and their expatriate communities around the world. In this way, it unified African youth through virtual communities.

The Internet has been credited with democratizing access to information; travellers, for example, can now explore destinations to a much greater depth in the virtual realm; and make more informed choices in terms of their travel plans. However, the maxim of caveat emptor, applies even more today than it has in the past. Like all consumers, travellers now know that they have many more choices but also a greater “hands-on” involvement wit the destinations they travel to.

As part of the electronic world of travel, the “Crazy About Kenya” Facebook Campaign also strives to support and enhance virtual communities, which inn turn heighten awareness of the day-to-day realities of life in Kenya at a grassroots level.


More about the “Crazy About Kenya” Facebook Campaign

Click on the above link to listen to some of the music or to add your comments to the dialogue in this virtual community.

The artists involved in the “Crazy About Kenya” Facebook Campaign

M2 Art Studio

The Hip Hop Congress

Acacia Adventure Holidays

Magical Kenya, the official website of the Kenya Tourism Board

Photograph courtesy of Viv McCarthy


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