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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Mawazine 2018: French rapper Niska on his career and that World Cup celebration

The popularity of French hip-hop is on the rise, rapper Niska tells Saeed Saeed

Rapper Niska performs at Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco. Picture by Sife ElAmine
Rapper Niska performs at Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco. Picture by Sife ElAmine

As France progresses at the Fifa World Cup in Russia, look out for their number 12 player Blaise Matuidi.

If the midfield player scores a goal in the tournament then expect to see his now-routine Charo celebration where he shuffles across the touchline with his arms extended wide.

The move was created especially for the player by French-Congolese rapper Niska, who paid tribute to him in the song Matuidi Charo.

Not that the 24-year-old rapper needs the extra plug – Niska is fast-establishing himself as of the hottest stars of France’s hip-hop scene.

And now the notoriously closed United States hip-hop market is taking notice. Niska was nominated for the Best International Act Award as part of Sunday’s annual BET Awards (Black Entertainment Television) alongside the likes rappers Stormzy and J Huss from the United Kingdom. While the eventual winner was Nigeria’s Davido, what was notable about the nominees was that five of them rapped in French.

Speaking before his concert at the Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco, Niska says it proves the French hip-hop community is gaining in strength. “This is a thing that is worthy of celebration. While I am happy at the nomination, the main thing is that the French hip-hop community is still growing in popularity and there is a lot of interesting new artists that are coming out.”

But not everyone is ready to come to the party. Despite the scene being a major part of life for French youth for almost 30 years, the genre’s penchant for gritty street tales was initially deemed problematic by the French political and entertainment establishment.

While being signed to the major label Universal Music France proves there is a growing acceptance of the scene back home, he explains there is still some way to go. “It is a generational thing,” he says.

“When the music first came out there was a lot of difficulties with French society surrounding it. Some thought the lyrics were too tough. But that that will change with the new generation and it is from there that the music will develop and gain more appreciation.”

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Indeed more than 30,000 people gathered at the main stage and rapped along to Niska’s hits, including the thumping Réseaux and the trap music stylings of Salé.

But it could be France’s World Cup fortunes that could elevate Niska’s exposure to new territories.

With the team poised to go far in the tournament, does he expect Matuidi to score goals in Russia and in turn extend his brand. “I am not thinking about that,” he says, laughing. “All I care about is getting the points and for France to win.”

Check out Arts&Lifestyle for all the news and interviews from the Mawazine Festival in Morocco, which runs until Saturday