For Hip-hop all you need is a mic, some beats and you are off spitting, rhyming and pouring out your heart. For marginalized communities it is the preferred medium for protest music – more immediate and relatable to young people than folk. It’s hard to think of a more marginalized place than Northern Mali. Their recent history is one of conflict, with religious extremists seizing control in 2012, only being forced out 12 months later by a French led military intervention. Gao is in Mali’s North East, where you can go no further without leaving the asphalt behind. Whilst it’s not without its struggles, with a suicide bomber killing 50 in January, over the last decade it has become a hotbed of some of the most distinctive hip-hop you will ever hear.
The music is remarkable, a unique localized take on Western hip-hop, with syrupy autotuned vocals, gentle cheesy synth pop loops, and electronic percussion. It was discovered by Sahel Sounds boss Chris Kirkley at an MP3 market in Bamako in a folder marked ‘Gao Rap,’ and he has spent the last few years sourcing and licensing the material with assistance of one of Gao’s biggest rappers diezz d. Gao Rap – Hip Hop From Northern Mali is an astounding collection, demonstrating music’s unique ability to evolve across genres and geographic boundaries and in the process becoming something totally unique and fascinating. It’s raw, lackadaisical and endlessly creative, one of the most surprising collections of music you will hear in a while.