New Internationalist

Foreign Beggars

Issue 450

MCs Pavan and Ebow (aka Orifice Vulgatron and Metropolis), from critically acclaimed hip hop/grime/ dubstep group Foreign Beggars, tell Libby Powell about street-rooted storytelling and being internationalists.

You both have international backgrounds – do you carry them with you?

E. I’m London born and bred but I lived in Ghana, where my parents came from, from the age of seven to eleven. I definitely feel like a Londoner, but when I go to Ghana I feel at home. I don’t feel I particularly fit 100 per cent in either place. But a lot of the values I learnt in Ghana are reflected in my music and how I carry myself.

P. I’m an Indian boy born in Dubai and I’ve been living in England for about 15 years. In Dubai there are all these ‘bubblesque’ sub-cultures so you can grow up without an Arabic identity. Because I speak English and Hindi, I got by without having to learn Arabic, which is a real shame as it’s my dad’s first language. I guess not being born in the UK, I’m less of a Londoner, but I definitely feel an affinity with the city. It’s inspiring. I was brought here in the first place because of the energy and the arts.

From left to right: Metropolis, Orifice Vulgatron, Nonames.

Hip hop is rooted in street culture, which is often demonized by older generations, especially since the London riots. But have the kids really gone mad?

P. When kids are behaving well, that isn’t publicized. Moments like the riots are glorified by people for their own agenda. Kids are a lot smarter these days but they are faced with different challenges. The game has completely changed.

E. When jazz first came out a lot of parents were, like, ‘what is this crazy music?’ Different generations come with different cultural values and different stories. We are entering a new phase symbolized by moments like the Arab uprisings. Information is spreading like wildfire – most people are just more exposed to knowledge and in a better position to say ‘I don’t like this; this isn’t right for me’.

Do you see yourselves as storytellers?

E. Hip hop has always given people an insight into a lifestyle or a culture that might not be understood otherwise. It is carrying on a tradition of storytelling through poetry. I guess we are just the modern incarnation of that. When you listen to artists from South Africa or Zimbabwe, where there are real social problems and real repression, it’s really powerful to hear how their music is developing.

P. Growing up in Dubai you come across certain types of oppression. Seeing people stuck in a situation that they had no way to get out of really messed with me. They couldn’t even speak about it because if they did their livelihood could be taken away from them. By 13 I’d learnt that not being able to say anything or just having to accept the status quo was something that really got to me, so in my earlier music those sentiments came across a lot.

But it’s also important for people to understand that hip hop can be humorous. Certain elements are provocative but I think just the fact that they exist in the hip hop sphere, rather than in a theatrical sphere or in high art, means that these elements are amplified. Of course, we shouldn’t underestimate how influential our medium is for communication. But at the same time, we believe our audience is discerning and so we don’t dumb down our music for the masses.

The idea of making money from making music is a dream for many. With youth unemployment at an alltime high, do you have any advice?

E. Previously you were told that if you got to university, you were guaranteed a job. That has not been the case in the UK for a while now. A lot of the people I know who are doing really well are the guys who just went off and did their own thing and focused on that talent or passion that they had. The circumstances under which people can succeed are really changing.

P. Collaboration is a way to crossfertilize and make something nobody could make alone. Musically speaking, artists from different genres and different places are now willing to collaborate. Once again, it’s down to technology, because it makes the world shrink.

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