INTERVIEW WITH DIDIER AWADI (POSITIVE BLACK SOUL)
D = Didier Awadi
S = James G. Spady
S: You developed a love for Hip Hop early on. You began rapping in Senegal in 1984, didn't you?
S: That's very early. 1979 was the first actual recording of rap music in the United States of America. How did you first hear rap music?
D: I had a lot of friends of mine who used to travel a lot to New York and they'd bring rap records back. The first thing I heard was Kurtis Blow and "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang.
S: When you heard Rap Music for the first time what was it like for you?
D: It was like something I was waiting to hear for a long time. And it was the very thing that I wanted to do because I used to listen to a lot of Dub Poetry and Rub-A-Dub style.
S: Who were the Dub Poets that you heard?
S: Linton Kwesi Johnson.
D: Mutabaruka. Mikey "Dread" Smith. You could find all of this in Senegal. Senegalese are big travelers. They can have a cassette and copy it, copy it, and copy it. The lingo is sort of similar to rap. Hearing Mikey was the stuff I liked. So when I heard "Rapper's Delight" it was the thing that I was waiting for. So I started doing just like them, doing the same lyrics that I heard them do: "hip hop ya don't stop rocking to da bang bang boogie, say up jump da boogie to da rhythm of da boogie beat." I started out by doing exactly what they were doing. I was a big fan of Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation. Planet Rock. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. I used to be a dancer also.
S: Did you Break?
D: Yeah. I was a Breaker. Breakdancing was my thing.
S: Were you part of a Break Crew?
D: Nah. Nah. Nah. Not a break team.
S: What was your name when you were Breakdancing?
D: Grandmaster D.S.A. Didier Sow Awadi. My name. Yeah, I was a big fan also of Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel.
S: When you first heard, "The Message," what was it about that hip hop anthem that resonated all up inside of you?
D: It was the content of "The Message." I was feeling it even though I was not living this kind of story. But I felt that it was a Black man having something deep happening to him and he wanted to express it. Maybe that is why the connection was so linked. And after that it was Public Enemy. And after that it was Rakim Allah.
S: He changed the game, didn't he? When did you first hear Rakim and what was it about Rakim's style and message that attracted you?
D: It was 1986. It seemed to me that Rakim's style was pure. It was authentic. He was the man. Even today, when I listen to Rakim, there is still something that he conveys. Even 10 years from now, you can listen to Rakim and feel it as deeply as the first time.
S: Sitting in Senegal, were you surprised to hear a rapper with the name Rakim Allah?
D: Yeah, but I only understood that he was Rakim Allah with the last album. At the beginning it was Eric B and Rakim. Only with the last album did I understand that he was Rakim Allah.
S: That was better, huh?
D: [Didier laughs] Yeah!!!
S: You were born in Dakar, where were your parents born?
D: My father is from Benin and my mother is from Cape Verde Islands. I have some family also in Guinea Bissau, off the shores of Dakar.
S: Why did your family move to Dakar?
D: You know, Dakar was the Capitol of West Africa and if you wanted to get a job you had to come to Dakar. It was what they used to call the Capitol of French West Africa. So my father moved here to find a job. My mother, also.
S: And so you were born in Senegal?
S: Did you ever travel to Cape Verde?
D: Yeah, I went to Cape Verde and I went to Benin. We played there also as Positive Black Soul.
S: How many countries in Africa have you performed in?
D: Fourteen. We've performed in South Africa, Cote D'Ivoire, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Togo, Gambia, Mauritania, Congo, Cameroon, Gabon, Guinea Equitorial.
S: Did you meet any rap groups in South Africa?
D: We met Prophets of the City. There is another group we met. They are Dancehall and Hip Hop.
S: Were the Hip Hop heads surprised to hear your lyrics?
D: Yeah, they were surprised. They said, "We didn't know that in Africa there was rap like this." The rap scene was big, but Kwaito is bigger than Hip Hop there. Kwaito is their indigenous music. It's kind of like Techno but with South African melody.
S: Before you came to the United States for the first time you had heard lots of rap, what did you imagine life would be like here?
D: I don't know exactly. For me it was clear that I'm coming to New York. I will record. For me, it was only that. And my dream was to meet some great Hip Hop heads like KRS-One. God made this dream come true.
S: When did you meet him?
D: In 1997. We recorded a song together. It is on the album, New York-Paris-Dakar.
S: But it was released in Dakar.
D: Only! We had Supernatural also.
S: Where did you record the song with KRS-One?
D: It was in Studio Greene Street.
S: Describe the process with Kris.
D: When he came we made him listen to a lot of our songs.
S: So he came in? You didn't mail the track off to him?
D: No. No. No. He came to the Studio. The first night we sat there discussing, talking a lot about Pan Africanism. Talked about Africans in Africa looking toward African Americans. He was explaining to us how the kids here don't know a lot about Africa. It was a time when he also talked about the Temple of Hip Hop, his project.
S: How did you become a part of Dakar 92?
D: It was at the French Cultural Center. They called us and they said they needed a rap track in a compilation they were doing. We said, "Okay." We did the track and it was huge.
S: Is it where MC Solaar heard Positive Black Soul for the first time?
S: And what happened next?
D: After that he came to perform in Senegal at the French Cultural Center and they said, "We want you to be the opening act. We want you to open for Solaar." He was very cool, very human. We had a really good feeling on stage with him. I think that was the best concert of our life because it was very important. We knew that in opening up for MC Solaar we had to do something strong because if not, tomorrow everybody would laugh in the streets of Dakar. [Didier laughs himself] So we tried to do a good concert. God help us. They liked it a lot. After the concert, MC Solaar said, "Man, I have to help you. The thing you are doing a lot of people in France, they don't do it the way you do it." And we said, "Okay, if you want to help us, we really need that help." A few months after that he sent us tickets. He was doing it with a girl in France who helped us a lot. She was working for RFI (French Radio). So they sent us the tickets and we went to Paris for the National DJ Championship. We met a lot of big stars.