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‘Rap-orters’: telling the news in Uganda hip-hop style

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Newzbeat's writer and producter Daniel Kisekka aka "Survivor" works on his laptop at the company's office in Kampala
Newzbeat’s writer and producter Daniel Kisekka aka “Survivor” works on his laptop at the company’s office in Kampala

“Newzbeat” makes a catchy change from a standard news bulletin: Ugandans call the broadcasters “rap-orters”, a youth team of hip-hop artists-turned-journalists rapping the headlines.

“Uganda’s anti-gay law is making news/Some countries have found it befitting to accuse/Uganda of treating gays as German Jews/Nothing to gain from this and more to lose,” rapped the artists in one recent episode.

That song focused on a law signed by President Yoweri Museveni banning homosexuality, which drew widespread international condemnation. US Secretary of State John Kerry likened it to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

“President Museveni says he won’t bow down to the West/Uganda has a right to decide what’s best,” the rap continued.

Hearing the news in hip-hop style may sound strange. But in Uganda, where the press faces censorship pressures and the country’s huge youth population often takes little interest in current affairs, a programme where “rap-orters” broadcast with “rhyme and reason” has become popular.

“NewzBeat”, screened in both English and the local language Luganda on the popular channel NTV every Saturday afternoon and evening before the station’s traditional news bulletins, took to the air last year.

‘Push the boundaries’

The show is presented by Sharon Bwogi, Uganda’s “queen of hip hop” known as Lady Slyke, the dreadlocked and eloquent Daniel Kisekka, dubbed the “Survivor”, and teenage rapper Zoe Kabuye, or MC Loy.

It aims to “promote diversity and visibility for marginalised groups” and “push the boundaries of press limitations” in Uganda, according to Lady Slyke.

“At first we had some complaints, people were saying ‘We’re not really understanding what you’re doing’,” the designer and artist, who was inspired by church music to start rapping when she was 13, told AFP.

But Bwogi added that today people from all walks of life followed the programme, including businessmen and government ministers.

“People keep asking for more and asking me questions about certain topics,” said Bwogi, 28, who also raps at venues across Uganda professionally. “I think they love the whole flavour.”

“NewzBeat”, which runs for about five minutes an episode, usually features about four local, regional and international stories.

Nothing is off limits. The programme has “rap-orted” stories on Uganda’s anti-pornography laws, the political situation in Ukraine and Ebola updates from west Africa.

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