By Xavier Rathlev
I first met the Louk Omar, Mnilik Irm Mohammed, and Klay (aka Joundi Smail Hafidi) here in Goulmima, Morocco, two years ago. They walked into my English class wearing flat brimmed Yankee caps, Kanye West sunglasses, baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirts. They called themselves S7rawa Boys (pronounced “SaHArawa”), and told me they wanted to be hip-hop stars.
I was skeptical at first. I was afraid that these guys had embraced a simplified, possibly distorted picture of American culture. I expected them to rap at me about drugs, making money, and getting with girls. Then they dropped their rhymes.
In “Full Stop,” the chorus lists a series of drugs in French (“Cigarettes, nicotine, heroin, ecstasy, cocaine”) and then in English says “Stop smoking and lets do it!”
In “Get Up,” the refrain “Get up! Change your life with us!”
“We like Eminem because he talks about real life, and real problems,” Louk told me.
“We rap about putting an end to smoking and drug use, stopping corruption, ending the racism between Berbers and Arabs, and discrimination between rich and poor.”
S7rawa Boys asked me to assist them with their hip-hop dream. They’d written songs, mixed beats, and recorded music before I met them. So I’ve tried to provide them with drive and direction to achieve their vision. I encouraged them. I helped them set deadlines, and record and distribute their first, self-titled album. We worked together to utilize the web to distribute their songs by creating Facebook and Soundcloud pages.
“Xavier has taught us many things about America and life,” Mnilik says. “He improved our English. He taught us how to throw an American Football. And he taught us to organize our time and focus on the finishing our first CD.”
It took some time, but the community has responded.
“At first some people in Goulmima responded negatively to our music,” Mnilik explained. “They didn’t understand rap or hip hop. They did not know our music could be positive. But we’ve explained our songs. We have a catchy hook, good beat, and a positive message. People like our music. The key is that they understand the message.”
“We have realistic career goals for our future, such as being an electrician, gym teacher, or construction worker,” Joundi says. “But we also dream of recording in a professional studio and singing in front of tens of thousands of people. If successful as a rap team, we want to travel the world and have a positive influence on how people treat each other.”