Tuesday, August 17, 2004
As the host of student-run radio station KJHK's premier world music show, Sam Hopkins prides himself on knowing the music he plays.
That doesn't always mean he's right.
"That's one of the fun things about world music, is to talk to people from these countries and have them look at you like you're crazy," said Hopkins, who hosts KJHK's "Radio Balagan." "Like, you mention something that they think of as some corny music that their parents listen to, but it's got this insane drum break in it."
Not knowing is half the fun for Hopkins, who will translate his show to the dance floor today when "Balagan presents Disco International" invades the Eighth Street Tap Room. Hopkins, a senior at the University of Kansas, has played the role of volunteer world music ambassador since he began hosting the program in the spring of 2003.
"Find an inlet," he encouraged. "If you like hip-hop, find some foreign hip-hop."
"Just because it's foreign, doesn't mean you should be afraid of it, and just because it's foreign doesn't mean it's good either."
Hip-hop from the Holy Land
Hopkins, who was raised Jewish, will be showcasing records he collected during a recent trip to Israel. The four-week journey brought Hopkins and his fiancee, Amy Baumgarten, to the Israeli town of Ramla, where the couple tutored children at a local elementary school.
Ramla, a sister city to Kansas City, is known as a peaceful coexistence model for Arabs and Jews. Hopkins said he mostly felt safe in Ramla, but had to heighten his fear threshold a bit on trips to Tel Aviv.
"I learned how to say 'have no weapons,'" he said. "You might feel uncomfortable sometimes, but it's not Johnson County."
Hopkins was able to attend a hip-hop performance in Tel Aviv by a popular group called Hadag Nachash, which can be translated to mean "new driver," a slogan for political change. The group, composed of eight core members, featured a backing band of up to a dozen players.
Besides relying mostly on live instrumentation, Israeli hip-hop is distinguished by its ability to appeal to all types of listeners, Hopkins said.
"It's not like there's a dichotomy between Ja Rule and Sage Francis like there is here," he said. "These guys have to be the party rappers and the conscious rappers at the same time, which is good I think, because it makes them more versatile."
Thus, groups like Hadag Nachash are just as likely to rap about everyday life as they are about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. One song, Hopkins recalled, dealt with the rapper's desire to stop smoking so much pot.
"Lucky, a lot of Israeli artists print their lyrics, so I can piece it together," said Hopkins, who reads Hebrew. "One thing about rap music is a lot of the time it's not the words adapting to the music, it's the music adapting to the words, and so you really hear the way a language is spoken."
Voices from the rough
Towards the end of his trip, Hopkins was able to interview a Ramla-based rapper named Sameh Zakot, who identified himself as a Palestinian living in Israel.
Zakot, who raps in a mix of classical and street Arabic, frequently performs to Israeli audiences who likely have little comprehension of the Arabic language.
"He's trying to express that voice and he's been very welcomed within the Israeli hip-hop scene," Hopkins said. "I think he's emblematic of how rap and music in general can make room for a bunch of strong people."
Zakot has toured Europe and even the United States, sometimes sporting a T-shirt that reads "Don't panic I'm Islamic." He considers his music a form of pacifism, but at the same time is very aggressive and outspoken with his lyrics.
"To give people an image of an Arab from the region who is wholeheartedly latching on to an element of Western and even American culture to express his own tradition is something that I think should be encouraging to people," Hopkins said. "I think that's probably a lot of what's interesting to people -- and to me -- about hip-hop in Arabic."
- Friday, August 27, 2004, 10 p.m.
- Eighth Street Tap Room, 801 N.H., Lawrence
Nasty as he wants to be
Hopkins also spent some time making sound recordings of street musicians in Israel. He plans to incorporate clips from those recordings into his own music, which he composes with the aid of a sampler, a drum machine and some computer programs.
"I call it, 'Anthropological Dancehall,'" he said. "I don't think there's one song I've made that doesn't have a heavy library-record element to it."
Hopkins will sometimes mix his own compositions into his Radio Balagan DJ sets, which also contain heavy doses of African dance music, Caribbean R&B; and a laundry list of styles from around the globe.
Lately, Hopkins has been getting into Brazilian Furacao, a type of funk music known for raucous club parties that sometimes result in fights, he said.
"It's like 2 Live Crew-type stuff," he said. "It's sick."