The Influence Of Hip-Hop In Ishmael Beah’s Life In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier
In recent times, the stories of civil wars and ethnic conflicts in Africa have shocked the world. In particular, children felt the blunt side of the war as the conflicts have led to separation from their parents. The book, A Long Way Gone; Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah gives the reader insight into the effect and nature of the terrifying civil war in Sierra Leone. The author tells of his first-hand experiences as a child soldier in the late 20th century. The civil war displaces Beah, and soon after, he is coerced into becoming a child soldier. Luck is on his side as he is liberated from the conflict and gets a chance to live a normal life after the ordeal. The essay analyses the role of cultural globalization in Ishmael Beah’s life as he rapidly transitions from a ‘boy’ to a ‘man’ in the context of the Sierra Leone Civil War in the 1990s. By extension, the essay will weigh whether the cross-border movement of culture oppressive, liberating or both in Beah’s case.
Cultural globalization has played a crucial role in eroding cultures in both developed and developing countries. Globalization has allowed the sharing of information and ways of doing things. In Beah’s book, he describes how he was fascinated with the American music genre-hip hop and rap when he was 12 years old. In this case, the author describes how vital hip hop and rap music was for his survival after his village was attacked by rebel forces forcing him to separate with his parents and eventually ending up serving as a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s army. When he was eight years old, Beah and his friends formed their own rap group as he narrates in the following quote. According to the Beah, ‘some boys who taught him more about foreign music and dance. During holidays, he brought me cassettes and taught my friends and me how to dance to what we came to know as hip-hop. I loved the dance and particularly enjoyed learning the lyrics because they were poetic, and it improved my vocabulary’ (p.12). Beah got obsessed with the kind of English that the black fellows were using on television. This ended up keeping him alive on different occasions.
On one occasion, Beah and his group were performing in a talent search competition held in another village when his village was attacked and destroyed. This saved his life as the author narrates that they kept listening to rap music while awaiting the tragic news about his village attack. ‘Junior, Talloi, and I listened to rap music, trying to memorize the lyrics so that we could avoid thinking about the situation at hand. Naughty by Nature, LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C., and Heavy D & The Boyz; we had left home with only these cassettes and the clothes that we wore’ (Beah 39). This shows that the foreign culture adopted from the rap music they listened to and practiced helped him in both good times and tough times, as shown in the quote above. These were tight spots during the civil war, and Beah chose to remain positive by embracing foreign music and learn more from this culture.
Furthermore, international media systems are viewed as forms of cultural imperialism in foreign countries. The dominance of western countries such as the U.S. has dominated other countries through the exports of films, television, advertising messages, and radio channels. Media influence has a vital role in influencing social change, mainly through the internet. The cross-border movement of culture has positive legal effects on stability and peace in many countries. For example, people are adopting western culture due to the appealing nature. ‘Now, this is good English, the kind that you should be listening to,’ he shouted from the yard.
While Father listened to the news, Junior taught us how to move our feet to the beat’ (p.13).
In other words, cultural globalization in Ishmael Beah’s life rapidly transitions him from a ‘boy’ to a ‘man.’ This is in the context of the Sierra Leone Civil War in the 1990s. By extension, the cross border spread of the culture of helping those in need is a light at the end of the tunnel for Beah. The global culture liberates the child solider, Beah, from a deeply divided country that is in chaos due to the civil war of 1993.
In the same manner, cultural globalization has improved social participation and made interactions more flexible. As cross border spread of culture continues to increase, increased virtual communication has allowed people to share knowledge and develop innovative ways of solving social and personal issues. Beah’s book describes the rehabilitation of a child soldier who had learned to kill as a means of survival in his own country. The author states that ‘a change of environment would not immediately make us normal boys; we were dangerous and brainwashed to kill. They had just started this process of rehabilitation’ (Beah, 83). The change of environment in Freetown helps in the recovery process. Experts developed the rehabilitation process across the workers’ platform. They also helped them in terms of healthy growth and transformation in the process, making them productive members of society.
When Beah is admitted to rehab at the age of 15, rap music helped him a lot in the recovery process. They develop a bond with Esther, a nurse, at the facility who gives him music cassettes and a Walkman to listen to rap music. The author describes, ‘She threw a package at me. I held it in my hand, wondering what it was and why she had gotten it for me. She was looking at me, waiting for me to open it. When I unwrapped it, I jumped up and hugged her, but immediately held back my happiness. I sternly asked, ‘Why did you get me this Walkman and cassette if we are not friends? And how did you know that I like rap music?’ (Beah 331). This shows how much Beah loved rap music and how the cross-border culture facilitated in his liberation and recovery process. In this case, Beah and Esther bonded strongly, ending up calling each other brother and sister.
The way that Beah felt towards hip hop and rap played a fundamental role in terms of liberating him from the atrocities of the Sierra Leone civil war and his recovery process. The hip hop and rap culture spread to Sierra Leone, becoming a ‘happy place’ for Beah, who can transition rapidly from a boy to a man ready to recreate a good life. Cultural globalization helped Ismael to become stronger and overcome the war’s struggles by surviving and getting into rehab, which eventually caused him to emerge victoriously. The author later went to the U.S. to experience this culture as he continues with his studies.
Therefore, it is imperative to reiterate the fact that the cross-border movement of culture was not oppressive in Beah’s case. Instead, it came as a liberating force that enlightened and saved him from the social quagmire that made Beah and the rest of child soldiers the perpetrators of heinous crimes against humanity during the civil war. Similarly, cultural globalization plays a fundamental role in transitioning him from a ‘boy’ to a ‘man’ who wants to learn and know more about the rest of the world away from war-torn Sierra Leone. The impact of cultural globalization on influencing trends and international participation is clearly illustrated in Ishmael Beah’s memoirs. The story of horror and terror gives the reader a peek at the nature and effect of the Sierra Leone civil war that started in 1993. Collective effort and legal action allow the author to get help and escape the war-torn country into the United States. Cultural globalization gives room for the liberation of Ishmael from his 3-year struggle for survival through the efforts of experts across the globe. Hip hop and rap music were at the center of this liberation process.
- Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a boy soldier. Sarah Crichton Books, 2007.
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