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October 15, 2013

Researching African Hip-hop Culture: The Role of Online Archives

October 15, 2013 | By | No Comments

For the last couple of years, I have been engaged in researching Hip-hop culture specifically, Kenyan Hip-hop. Owing to difficulties in finding original music albums, coupled with music piracy in the country, I have found myself relying mostly on online resources to do my research. One of the resources I have come to find very useful is Ghafla!  www.ghafla.co.ke/lyrics/.  I started using this site way back in 2009 when by then it was called Kenyanlyrics.com. It was interesting to read that the developer/creator of this site, Mr. Majani, was motivated to develop the site because of the same experiences and frustrations I was going through: Lack of ACCESS to Kenyan music content. In an interview, this is what he said:

After my discontinuation in college, I became an idler and I would listen to the collection of music I had accumulated from JKUAT. I had love for Kenyan music, and I remember looking online for lyrics of the song Jamani by Bamboo but never got it. Then I looked for other Kenyan Music but never found it. I saw this gap and started filling it while still at home. So I started running a website called kenyalyrics.com.

But as a scholar in the U.S where issues of copyright and credibility of sources is such a big issue, I have to admit over the years, I have been apprehensive in using the site to conduct academic research. One of the things that seemed to bother me is the process the founder and his crew used to create content. According to Mr. Majani, he began with listening to the music, transcribing it, typing it and then posting it to the site. With some of the lyrics being written in multiple languages, this process does not seem very easy.

Also impressive is how digitally “un-savvy” he was when he started the site. He says:

I had no skills and I remember I typed with one finger, and never knew how to do sales. I was forced to look for partners with the skills that I lacked. I got a friend I knew from nursery who had web design skills and after taking me around for 3 months so I had to do it alone. I learnt the skills the hard way from writing, web design, and editing, typing e.t.c

Mr.Majani and his crew seem to overcome this given the multimodal nature of the content they create in the site. Currently, the site seems to have two identities –an online archive and a blog. The developers/writers not only create content for the music archive, but also blog about popular stories, particularly about artists from the East African region. What I find remarkable is their current process of creating the music content. They invite artists and fans to contribute content. Through the submit lyrics form, they ask contributors to include bibliographical info like song title, album, year of production, producer, record label, a video link to the song etc. I believe this is very useful info for scholars relying on the site for scholarly work. There is also an option for people to correct and request lyrics. Coming from a writing program, I see this as collaborative kind to writing which also helps in developing community of writers where the artists, fans and site owners participate in creating East African music content online.

As hip-hop continues to draw a lot of scholarly attention from diverse disciplines, I see a site like Ghafla! as contributing  in the promotion of the open access culture.  I am interested in exploring how similar and more “scholarly” archives like “The Hip-hop Archive” based in Harvard go about creating their content.

To read more about the interview with the Ghafla! founder- follow this link: http://www.ghafla.co.ke/news/events/item/7664-ghafla-c-e-o-talks-about-his-life-and-his-experience-building-ghafla-in-this-inspiring-interview

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