|Courtesy of We Rock Long Distance|
|L-R: M.anifest and his grandfather J. H. Kwabena Nketia|
"Listen to my rap. I rap," says 93-year-old J. H. Kwabena Nketia to his grown grandson. The two men are admiring a vast archive of Nketia's academic work, which includes several books and honors. "I'm rapping in Twi [a dialect of the Akan language of Ghana]," says the revered composer and ethnomusicologist of the proto-rap narrative poem Akwansosem Bi. "I wrote this as a student in London, studying Chaucer. And I said, I'll do my African version. The rhythmic elements are there."
As the older man performs a spoken piece dating from 1945, the cadences and flow coming from his mouth are remarkably similar to current hip-hop. His grandson, the formerly Minnesota-based rapper M.anifest, is visibly stunned. Though carrying the torch for an African living legend in his lineage wasn't M.anifest's goal, the traditions in his family history still bear weight on his work -- generations down the line and thousands of miles away.
The scene and concept stems from Justin Schell's new documentary, We Rock Long Distance, a film that follows three well-respected rappers from the Minnesota hip-hop scene -- M.anifest, Maria Isa, and Tou SaiKo Lee -- as they reconnect with their families and homelands and contextualize their modern approach with their respective cultures.More »