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Uganda’s Famous Rap-orters ‘Spit’ the News to Hip-Hop Beats

In a bid to get African youth interested in current affairs, Newz Beat, a Ugandan original news program features ‘rap-orters’ who rap headlines to hip hop beats.

Hip-hop is probably the last thing you’d expect to hear when listening to a news bulletin, which is exactly what makes Newz Beat so intriguing. Yahoo news reports that the show is quite relevant in Uganda, where the press faces lots of problems with censorship, and the youth aren’t too interested in what’s happening around them. A program that features ‘rap-orters’ instead of traditional anchors is actually quite refreshing.

The offbeat show consists of five-minute episodes aired every Saturday on NTV, just before the station’s traditional news bulletin. Each episode covers about four regional and international stories and is recorded in both English and the local language, Luganda. The show is broadcast on air, but since over 90% of Ugandan households don’t have electricity, Newz Beat is also distributed through video halls, where people can get together and watch it.

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“At first we had some complaints, people were saying ‘We’re not really understanding what you’re doing,’” said rap-orter Sharon Bwogi a.k.a Lady Slyke, who also happens to be Uganda’s reigning ‘queen of hip hop’. But she says that people slowly started opening up to the unique format. Ugandans from all walks of life now follow the show avidly, including businessmen and government officers.

“People keep asking for more and asking me about certain topics,” 28-year-old Sharon added. “I think they love the whole flavor.”

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Sharon’s colleagues on the show are dreadlocked rapper Daniel Kisekka a.k.a the ‘Survivor’, and teenage rapper Zoe Kabuye, better known as ‘MC Loy’. Together, they aim to “promote diversity and visibility for marginalized groups” and “push the boundaries of press limitations.”

Kabuye, 14, said that Newz Beat is important because many of her friends are disinterested in the news. “They used to say it’s boring, but when they see ‘Newz Beat’, they’re like ‘what’s the time?’” Kisekka, 40, added that many viewers dismissed the show at first as ‘just entertainment’, but are now able to “appreciate the art form and start listening to the news.” In fact, he pointed out that thanks to the show, Ugandans are beginning to take rap more seriously. “It’s not just talking about women and booze and all that, it’s delivering the news,” he explained.

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Newz Beat is produced by Paul Fazone, a Ph.D. graduate from Annenberg and founder of Peripheral Vision International. He conceived the idea for the show in 2013, while trying to answer the question: “How can we engage pop culture and existing ways of distributing media in a way that people would pick up the content on their own?”

Since the average age of Uganda’s population is only 15.5 years, Falzone knew that he had to create a unique way of capturing their attention. Before long, he realised that rapping was the answer to his question. “It’s easier to train a rapper to be a journalist than to train a journalist to rap,” he said.

No topic is off limits on Newz Beat, but they particularly love challenging political leaders. In fact, one of their strategies is to include corruption incidents from other countries to address political issues in Uganda. That way, they get to talk about what’s happening while avoiding possible government regulation.

“We are not showing stories about Uganda or the president of Uganda, but we are showing stories of completely different spaces and people,” said Lee Shaker, a professor at Portland State University who is researching the efficacy of projects like Newz Beat. Shaker discovered that by discussing corruption in other nations, the show is able to help its audience form opinions about its own government.

 

Fazone has great plans for Newz Beat’s future; he is currently interested in recruiting specialist rap-orters to cover news in the areas of science and technology. He also wants to expand the concept across Africa. In fact, a mini-season of four episodes were recently aired in Tanzania.

“Media belongs to the power of the day,” Sharon rapped in one episode. “The Chinese have CCTV/the British have BBC/And we too are making our voices heard on NTV.”

Photos: Newz Beat/Facebook

Sources: The Daily Pennsylvanian, Yahoo News

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