I am listening to the song "Million Man March" released last year by UK musicians Lowkey and Mai Khalil as the eyes of the world are on Egypt, where the people of the world's largest Arab country are rising up against a military dictatorship which receives $1.3 billion of U.S. foreign aid (second only to Israel). Egyptians are suffering from widespread poverty and unemployment and 30 years of violent repression by the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak's government is also a key ally to the United State's imperial project in the Middle East, and actively collaborates with Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people.
What is occurring in Egypt is not simply an uprising against Mubarak's dictatorship, just like Tunisia's uprising wasn't simply against Ben Ali's. These movements are not, ultimately, about individuals. They are uprisings against the neoliberal economic systems that have impoverished the peoples of these nations (along with the majority of the world) and the neo-colonial occupations and oppressive regimes through which those systems are enforced. Perhaps most importantly these are uprisings in consciousness, where people shake off the power that their oppressors hold over them. As Frantz Fanon, (the anti-colonial writer and activist from Martinique who took part in the Algerian war of independence) once said, "the most powerful tool in the hands of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed." This week's song embodies the message of the current uprisings: that even in the face of the most oppressive regimes, when the people rise up, their liberation cannot be stopped, even by death.
The song's title and chorus are inspired by a quote (shown at the end of the video) attributed to Tupac Katari, leader of the 18th century uprising by the indigenous Aymara people against the Spanish Empire in what is now the nation of Bolivia. Tupac Katari (born Julián Apasa Nina) took his name in honor of two other indigenous revolutionaries, Túpac Amaru II and Tomás Katari, who also lead uprisings against the Spanish Empire. Tupac Katari was eventually executed by the Spanish by being tied to four horses who pulled his body apart. He is seen as a forebear to Bolivia's contemporary indigenous movement, a movement which has propelled Evo Morales to the country's presidency. Bolivia, also the place where Che Guevara was executed, embodies the history of revolutionaries who saw their legacy not through the length of their own lives, but in the ways that their actions would influence others to struggle for their liberation.
The rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur, like Tupac Katari, was named after Túpac Amaru II by his mother, herself a member of the Black Panthers, an organization that drew inspiration from the work of Frantz Fanon and the wave of anti-colonial revolutions sweeping the African continent. As discussed in the documentary Slingshot Hip Hop, Tupac was one of the foremost influences on DAM (Da Arabian MCs), innovators in the Palestinian hip hop movement that Lowkey and Mai Khalil have been influenced by. DAM saw parallels between Tupac's description of the oppression Black people experience in the ghettoes of American cities and the oppression that their people experience living under Israeli apartheid.
Connections such as these, which stretch across history and geographic location, show that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt can be viewed both as part of a global struggle against neo-colonial/neoliberal empire, and in the lineage of the over 500 year resistance to European colonization of the majority of the world. This song reflects the cross-pollination represented in global hip-hop culture and the transnational/transhistorical movements for justice which global hip-hop has the power to reflect and give artistic voice.
-- Isaac Miller, Spoken Word Editor for The Progressive