[Three Greek black wizards of hip-hop]
By Afrodite Al Salech__________________________________________________________________
Photos: Iakovos Hatzistavrou
The translation belongs to Christina Melidou
Photos: Iakovos Hatzistavrou
The translation belongs to Christina Melidou
They play hip-hop, they have fun and people love them – but do people really know them?
Manolis, known as Mc Yinka (short for olayinka =all around you are blessed), was born in Greece to Nigerian parents.
Gerasimos, known as Jerome a.k.a. The Source, was born in Greece. His parents come from Congo.
Zero, known as El Jeraw, came to Greece at the age of five. His parents come from Zimbabwe.
All three, each in his own way, style and personality, have managed to have a career in hip-hop, despite the constant obstacles placed by the Greek legal system. They are, you see, what we not-so-successfully describe as, “second generation immigrants”!
How difficult is it for a black person to grow up in Greece?
Zero: We grew up just fine. We had no problems as children. Problems started when we turned eighteen and realised that, legally speaking, we were not equal to other Greeks.
You were top of your class, weren’t you?
Zero: Yes, but we shouldn’t talk about that!
At an age when most people dedicate themselves to finding their own path in this world and try to find their identity both in personal and in public life, Manolis, Gerasimos and Zero had to face an additional problem: the Greek paradox. They had to constantly battle the immigration authorities for a residence permit, as if they were immigrants, even though they had never left the country, not even for a holiday abroad.
All three use greek lyrics for their songs. They claim it is a challenge to create hip-hop in greek but still “we express ourselves better in greek despite the musical difficulties”.
Do people who hear you and dance to your music realise that you are Greek?
Manolis: Look, image is stronger. While they hear you speak greek on stage, they come and talk to you in english backstage. Or sometimes I talk to a waiter (in greek of course) and he doesn’t understand me! That’s always strange for me but it’s also funny.
Zero: I’ve been criticized for my greek! They told me I don’t speak greek well! (they all laugh). They’re stuck. You ‘re black, therefore you don’t speak greek, you are not greek! End of story.
You must be amongst the first black people in Greece.
Manolis: Our parents are. In the mid ‘80s the first Africans came to Greece. But they were few.
Zero: I remember at school, on the first day of every school year, people would stare, even teachers. I remember that Africans at high school would place a bet on who would be the first to date a white girl.
Gerasimos: It was Nikos Ontoubida, Manolis’ cousin, wasn’t it? (laughter)
What are the main problems for a black person in a country of white people such as Greece?
Zero: Various things. We don’t show up when we want to rent a house. We send a white friend. Or if we’ve made a deal on the phone as soon as they see us they go “Look son, I don’t mind, you’re fine young men. But the other tenants don’t want foreigners”. It’s always the others! Never them! What can you say!
Gerasimos: Or you tell them straight away over the telephone: “Hello, I’m African”. And, if they don’t hang up, you go and take a look at the flat.
Zero: There are of course cases when you tell them “Hi, I’m African” and they reply “And why do you tell me son?”. But that is the exception. There were also times when we couldn’t get in nightclubs. Skin control! Once I played in a club and the following night I wasn’t allowed in! Very popular club. I’ll reveal its name when the time is right. These things still happen but it’s easier for us because they know us.
Gerasime, I have heard some remarks that were not politically correct regarding your participation in Speira Speira (translator’s note: group of performers).
Gerasimos: Yes, yes, but I don’t bother.
Zero: Let me tell you something, it’s not rare for the most racist comments to come from left-wing/progressive people. We have experienced left-wing fascism. Last year, for example, left-wing people didn’t allow us to sing at a festival against racism in Petroupoli because they deemed one of our older songs as insulting. I grant you that the song had some lines that could be misunderstood, it was titled “Shake it”. But we haven’t been allowed in this festival since. I don’t give a damn but all these so-called progressive people often cross over to the other side.
How do you perceive the latest developments in the immigration situation?
Manolis: Look, everyone says that there are fewer immigrants in other countries. One reason why this happens is that other countries grant citizenship. In Greece, even people like us who were born here are considered immigrants!
Do you consider yourself an immigrant?
Manolis: Of course. The system forces me to think so, since I am treated as one. Someone like me in the U.K would be a British citizen.
Gerasimos: I consider myself neither a Greek nor an immigrant. I am a citizen of the world. I am tired of trying to prove the obvious.
Zero: But they don’t allow us to define ourselves as Greeks. I used to feel like a Greek. But every time I had to deal with public services, banks, the police…they always put me in my place. And there came a moment when I told myself “boy, you are an immigrant. End of story.”. I had to do this to move on and be calm.
What’s your status at the moment?
Manolis: I had a residence permit up until now. Now I am waiting for my new “child of immigrants” card for people who have been residing in Greece for a long time.
Are you happy with this card?
Manolis: Of course not, but it’s something. At least I can stop queuing for a residence permit. And finally I can travel. You know, I couldn’t go on concerts abroad. Obviously what we really want is citizenship. That’s fair. I want to have a voting right.
Zero: I’ve applied for citizenship since 1997. But there was a problem with my residence permit. What could I do, I always received it after it had expired! You know we apply and then we receive it two years later, on the month it expires! It’s hell! So I couldn’t file my application. Now, I have a card but I don’t know where I stand with my passport. If it expires I’ll have a problem as I can’t travel to Zimbabwe to renew it. Last year the government there murdered my father for being a member of the opposition. They mutilated him and threw him in the river. I can’t go. I don’t know what will happen when I land at the airport.
You have a sister as well…
Zero: Yes, Athina. Athina was born in Greece. But my sister’s existence is not acknowledged. For all intentions and purposes she is without country and citizenship. We’ve been trying for years but nothing happens. The government doesn’t care.
Gerasimos: Finally, I am beginning to see some light with this card for people that have been residents for a long time. Look, the situation sucks. I often ask myself if my only purpose in this world is to stand in a queue with a handful of documents. What does any person really want? To be allowed to live in decency, to travel, to have an internet connection at home. Can I do these things? Up until now, I can’t. Those who govern have a short memory. Greeks were immigrants for at least twenty years. Are they kidding us? It’s all about who gives bragging rights to Greece. If you win the eurovision song contest,or play basket ball or bring olympic medals then they acknowledge your presence.
Zero: Sofoklis (translator’s note: they refer to a basketball player) is not a black man. He’s Sofo. That’s it.
Go to the Eurovision Song Contest then.
Gerasimos: That’s tricky. If we go and win, we’ll be good. If we lose, we’ll have to disappear off the face of this earth! (laughter)
Enough about the law system. How about everyday interaction with people?
Manolis: Greeks are fine. No problem.
Gerasimos: It’s only when others started bringing up the notion that people should not be fine with it that things changed. After the european parliament elections I first noticed “looks”. Look, it’s simple. If mass media spent a week saying that black is cool, people would run to self-tan beds. “Africa look” would be all popular!
Zero: They frighten people. Those on top give instructions for mass media to follow. Now immigrants are the enemy, because that’s convenient. They control our minds, they turn our attention elsewhere so they can go on with their business.
Gerasimos: Half the forest surrounding Athens burned down. Who knows? It was all about the immigrants at the time this happened. Burned trees will turn into houses. It’s organised crime really.
Zero: The last thing on a Greek’s mind now is immigration policy. Greeks are drowned in debts. But they control your mind so that you think of immigrants rather than the financial situation that government policies have brought about. And I’ll tell you one more thing: Say, that tomorrow morning all immigrants disappear from Greece. Will the average person have a better life? Increased salary? Quality of life? Better health care? Better education? Of course not.
Gerasimos: I have an idea. Let’s send all immigrants home and let’s bring back all Greeks living abroad. These people are twice the greek population. Do they want that?
And what do you do for things to change?
Manolis: Our music is our means. We have no other way. In my last album I have a song called “Xairetismos”. I sing for what I believe, the way I see things. “Greece 2000 plus immigrants, weak links on a social chain of xenomaniac xenophobiacs”
Gerasimos: I have a song called “What I live”. I speak my truth for the children of immigrants. I’m not interested in accusations. I’m interested in giving people an incentive to discover the truth. The first verse goes “another song, another wound, another soul, another cab gone” like when you hail a cab and it doesn’t stop. Someday some cab will stop but it’s all about all those that didn’t stop because we were black.
You use cabs as a symbolism?
Zero: What are you talking about? I don’t know what’s up with cab drivers. They don’t pick up black people. And if a kind person finally dares to differ he’ll always say “you blacks are fine people”. And I tell them “no, not all of us are”. That’s just another stereotype.
The right to not be “a nice person”?
Zero: Of course! Imagine if we dare to not be nice? It will condemn our entire nation! (laughter)
How about Barrack Obama’s election?
Gerasimos: People were optimistic even if it was just for a day. For a little while people on the planet felt there was hope. That is enough.
How about the possibility of electing a black person to the greek parliament?
Zero: People in Crete call me the “cretan Obama”
Gerasimos: It’s not unlikely. But it will just be for appearances. A symbolism. Everything in Greece is sumbolic.
Manolis: You can’t make sense of it. Which is why we keep singing “I salute your struggle with respect. I take up light and sing your icon”
Jerome a.k.a. THE SOURCE