(scroll down to see a performance and music video from Omekongo)
Introduction: Welcome to the even place. My name is Bomani Armah. We are taping my show today called ‘The Indie’. We’re talking about independent thought, independent business, independent art—got one of my favorite independent people sitting here next to me, Mr. Omekongo Dibinga. Say hello to the people.
Omekongo: Hello people, how are you doing?
Bomani: Alright now Omekongo—if you don’t know, you really need to get familiar with this brother. As long as I’ve been doing the music and poetry scene, he has been in it and he has been one of my favorite poets, favorite activist. He’s always on top of some issue where he’s traveling the country and the world talking it through his art form and his motivational speaking. And today we brought him here to talk about a couple of different things. One is his latest video which is “It’s a Girl” which I was actually really proud to be a part of and also the End of Silence Campaign—I see you’ve got the cool t-shirt on there. So, tell us a little bit about yourself. Let’s start from the beginning; who and what does Omekongo Dibingo do?
Omekongo: First of all, thanks for having me on the show.
Bomani: You’re more than welcomed.
Omekongo: For all of you out there, I’m a kid who grew up in Boston Massachusetts, son of Congolese immigrants and I started writing as a tool to escape. I was bullied a lot. People used to pick on us because we’re African. They used to hate on our names—Tarzan references, writing just became my escape. I discovered people like Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni. They were talking about Africa being beautiful so I started memorizing their stuff until I felt mature enough to write my own in the 4th or 5th grade. And from there, I just started writing with one hope. The one hope was that people would hear what I’m saying and stop bullying me, stop picking on me and really be interested in my story. The more I shared, the more they were interested in my story and the more they were to share their story and as they say the rest is history.
Bomani: Now, you made a really good connection there because it actually explains a lot of your work. First of all, I like how you said when you got mature enough in about the 4th or 5th grade; early bloomers but that—there’s definitely the theme that goes throughout all of your work is you telling the stories of the people who don’t get an opportunity to tell their stories.
And then you’re teaching young people how to tell their story, to make sure that people understand what they’re going through and shine a light on their situation so they can stop being bullied on either on some smaller—not smaller but you know regular classic school bullying or even bigger things like the country of the Congo where your family is from. So, tell us more about the End of Silence Project.
Omekongo: Yeah as I say a lot in my interviews fighting for our freedom in the Congo has been a family business. My parents fought for freedom, my grandparents and now people don’t understand that if you have a cell phone, a video camera, a laptop, an X-box, a Playstation, the materials in there come from the Congo and our people have basically been enslaved and ravaged so that these materials can make their way into the United States and other places. If you’re not familiar with it, basically think of the movie ‘Blood Diamond’. That’s basically what’s happening in the Congo with our minerals we call tin tantalum and tungsten—the three Ts as well as gold. So, I’m part of a movement to stop violence against women.
Girls as young as three years old to women as old as seventy-five are being violated in ways we can’t even imagine and we’re fighting to raise awareness, change the law in the legal system in this country so that it’s on the books. And it is on the books with Obama’s financial reform laws now because of our activism. Companies have to start documenting where they’re getting their resources from so I do what I do. I contribute my art. I wrote a poem called ‘Raise Hope for Congo’ which is on an album called ‘Raise Hope for Congo’ with myself and Sheryl Crow, Nora Jones, Mos Def, Damien Rice, [inaudible 03:28] just using our words to help make a difference.
Bomani: Now, tell people—I’ve been learning a lot about the Congo recently. Tell people more about how basically it seems like the Congo’s political military system has been set up to keep the strife to make sure that these companies are being about to take out these minerals with basically no cost to the people exploiting them.
Omekongo: Absolutely. One of the things I say in one of my rhymes that I wrote is that Congo’s so poor that because it’s so rich. The uranium that used to make bomb in World War II that was dropped in Hiroshima, it came out of Congo. People have always been exploiting our resources and they’ve also been exploiting our politicians. Every president that we’ve had in place is pretty much been a tool of the West. One of our presidents from Buto outlasted seven United States presidents.
You can do that without being a good friend of the US and an enemy of your people. And so we have a political system in place where our leaders are primarily interested in mining rights versus the rights of the people so they become agents or pawns of the West as opposed to people who are really interested in helping their own people.
Bomani: People that are hearing this are almost immediately are going to a. want to know more information and b. try and figure out how they could help in their own small way even if it’s from here in the United States. What are some things people can—some they can discover to help them on this topic?
Omekongo: Yeah, I found that the most complete organization that is doing work on this is Raise Hope for Congo. RaiseHopeforCongo.org. They’ve created a grading system where they’ve graded Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Samsung to see how well they’re doing on cleaning up their conflict minerals. They have something called CFCI, Conflict Free Campus Initiative. If you want your campus to go conflict free and not have materials coming from these areas, we’ve created kits that will help you figure out how to do that. And there’s just so much information there—ways you can organize events—Yoga for Congo events, marathons, cell outs, another organization called Friends of the Congo Day where you turn off your phone and just leave a voicemail saying ‘I’m leaving my phone off to raise awareness about what’s taking place in the Congo and you can learn more by going to these websites’.
Bomani: I’m like a complete ‘Steve Jobs’ Apple fanatic. Am I okay with him? Do I need to throw away my MAC computer? Is that what you’re telling me?
Omekongo: Well, we did roll up on Steve Jobs but before his passing and talked to him and others about the supply chain and he basically said what other people said “We’re pretty confident that our resources are not coming from conflict zones.” To his—out of respect, he probably really didn’t know because a lot of these guys at the top do not know. But now Apple, Microsoft we have all of their attention now. So, when you check off the grading system, even Motorolla is working now to create a conflict free type of mine in Congo right now. So Apple, Microsoft—I’ve got Apple products and everything and so it’s not about feeling guilty, it’s about how can we use these same tools to raise awareness to put pressure on Apple and be like “Yo, I’m feeling that I-phone 28 but I want to make sure nobody’s dying from it.”
And we’ve got to let people know that the companies that always respond socially, are the ones that becomes successful. So I say use it all. Use the Apple, use the Microsoft, use Dell but become an informed consumer and let them know that you want their stuff to be better so that you can continually support them in the future.
Bomani: I know personally because I’ve actually had a hand in a lot of them but tell the people about some of the album projects that you’ve been working on. We’re going to go more into that in the next segment, but I want people to know how prolific of a [inaudible 07:00] writer and performer you are.
Omekongo: Yeah man, writing is what I do—trilingual poet MC, poetry and hip hop and English, French and Swahili. I’ve put out seven albums to date and I believe you’ve produced five of them so—there are some great collaboration. One of the projects I’m proud of is our bootleg project. I’ve done three hip hop mixed tapes where I’ve gone to so many schools, private schools, prisons, public schools and so many kids have never seen positive hip hop or not even positive hip hop. Hip hop that doesn’t swear or disrespect women—doesn’t even have to be positive but just doesn’t curse. So I rewrite songs. I bootleg beats for Jay Z, Biggie, Tupac—I don’t sell them but I can’t sell them. And I just show kids that they can rap without swearing or disrespecting women.
And one of my recent projects over the last couple of years has just been partnering with other organizations and showing them how they use hip hop to reach a new audience. A lot of these organizations, Amnesty International, Feed the Children, Save the Children, they don’t understand that hip hop could reach an audience, not only in America but across the globe to better them understand their message. So I’ve been partnering with organizations like the [inaudible 08:06] Foundation, he was a young poet and a peacemaker. I serve on the board of his organization, wrote a song for him. Raise Hope for Congo, another project It’s a Girl raising awareness about violence against women in India and China.
Bomani: We should actually talk about that for a moment because when we go to the break, I’m going to play It’s a Girl and I’m going to show everyone a link where they can find the video. Tell people more about the issue you’re discussing in that in the impetus behind the song.
Omekongo: We think we know so much, the activist so many causes in the like and I saw a press release about this organization called It’s a Girl. A guy by the name of Evan Davis was making a film to raise awareness about how India and China because of these one child ruled policies, parents are actually killing their baby girls upon birth. Some are getting them aborted if they more financial resources. Some are doing things like putting rice pellets in their mouth at birth to let them die. One woman I saw in the video for this documentary, Itsagirlmovie.com. Check it out. She said I probably killed eight of my children and bury them and so I said hip hop has to hear about this.
So I got to writing. I wrote one verse of a song. I sent it to them. They said we’re really loving this, can you give us more. I wrote two versus, got into your studios and we recorded a song. I sent it to them. They said we love this. Not only do we love it, we want to make a video for our documentary when it comes out on DVD. So we went up to New York and shot a hip hop video. My daughters and niece got to feature in it which is beautiful and I’m just using hip hop the way I feel hip hop should be used.
Bomani: Got you. I always—I started calling you last year when we started these series of projects that were really important world issues like the hip hop Anderson Cooper, like if it’s in the news and it’s crucial—. It’s real like a lot of people—and even in hip hop, if you want to discuss something socially relevant, you stick to something more typical socially relevant topics. You talk about maybe violence in the black community which you touch on. You talk about that kind of stuff but you know its international now. Everyone’s listening to hip hop and it’s so much easier sometimes to break down a subject for people if you’re doing it in a rhyme form. It all of a sudden captures their attention.
Bomani: So what has been the response that you’ve been getting from It’s a Girl video?
Omekongo: Man, I mean between the Youtube video and the Causes.com site, I’ve gotten over twenty thousand hits. People who knew nothing about this through hip hop are finding out more and more about it. People are interested in—more importantly, they’re interested in seeing the video and the documentary and organizing screenings for it across the globe in places where there It’s a Girl Campaign has not reached yet. So it’s been beautiful and it’s been exactly what I wanted to accomplish with it.
Bomani: That’s what’s up man; I know you’ve got a lot more songs, a lot more videos going. This brother does not sleep so between fighting for the Congo and fighting for young girls even in India and China, places that you’re not even necessarily directly connected to but you feel the human connection to. I really appreciate that. So when we come back after the break, we’re going to play It’s a Girl for our audience and then when we come back after the break, we’re going to talk more about your writing process and the business process—the business of being Omekongo because of my listeners are striving to be independent artists and you’ve been doing it for a minute. I would love for them to get some advice from you. So we’re going to come back with Omekongo here at the Indie. My name is Bomani Armah. We are broadcasting from the even place. Be back in a second.
[Interview starts back at 11:40]
Bomani: Welcome back, this is Bomani Armah here with Omekongo Dibinga. We are here at the Even Place. This is the Indie. We’re all about independent thought, independent business, independent art and Omekongo embodies all of those all at once. So I wanted to talk to you about—first of all, let’s get into your writing process. To be able to the Anderson Cooper of hip hop to be able to talk about these world issues in an analytical way while keeping sixteen bars and similes and rhymes. How do you do that? How do you set that up so you’re talking about these topics while staying on the beat and staying on the rhythmic?
Omekongo: Well, first of all, in terms of the topics themselves, you’ve got to read. You got to watch the news. You know, you can’t lead if you don’t read.
Bomani: I’m an [inaudible 12:20] reading.
Omekongo: Yeah, yeah like my friend [inaudible 12:22] O’Bryan says, you can’t lead if you don’t read. And so first of all, I’m a consumer of information. When it comes to creating a track for me, my process is I’ll think about something for a long time. Not even lines here and there, but I’ll just think about—I’ll gather as much—it’s like a research paper for me. Gather as much information as I can, talk to people about it, but I can’t write a song out over time like over a week or two. For me, when it comes, it comes. Here’s the moment and usually most of the songs that I’ve written, I’ve written in less than an hour.
The track I did for Raise Hope for Congo, I did it in less than thirty minutes because everything is okay, now is the time to channel it out and you know I just go and I just don’t stop until it’s done. And it’s rare that I’ve gone back and changed up some lyrics maybe if there were some date changes, some update [inaudible 13:11] but in terms of like the actual words, I want it to be as pure as it is when it comes out right there so that’s my process.
Bomani: You also write poetry, you released—what was the name of the book, your book of poetry “From the Limbs of my Poetree” as a matter of fact. I remember that; our good friend Jamal Wizard [inaudible 13:30]. What has been the process—how has the process been different transitioning—I guess you’ve been going back and forth. I remember you telling me you started off as an MC and then went to poetry and then back. How is that transition or how are the two art forms similar and different for you.
Omekongo: Poetry is different because you have to work harder to keep an audience’s attention because you’re not necessarily rhyming in every line so when I’m doing a poem—when I write fast, most of my things end up being like a rhyme—like a rap of some sort because it’s just easier to make stuff rhyme like a free style. But you know with poetry, usually when I’m doing my poetry, I’m doing it without a band, without music so I have to figure out ways to keep the audience attention. So there’s a lot more word play, a lot more leading people in different types of directions and when I’m doing the hip hop, I’m not like Jay Z or Lil Wayne just thinking and do it down. I put the paper out. I put—I number one to sixteen and I put the lines in. That’s my process. I’m very methodical and then I go back and change and then next thing you know it’s forty-eight lines and then I got whatever I got.
Bomani: That’s what’s up. You’ve got to see this brother in the studio. He comes in prepared. He’s ready to rock. And you have to be methodical when you’re talking about—when you’re rapping about something other than yourself. That’s—the guys that I have coming to the studio tell me how they could free style and not memorize. I realize they’re just—and that’s hip hop. I’m not saying that’s not hip hop, it is but when you’re trying to address violence in India, you can’t free style that. You know what I’m saying?
Omekongo: Not fast like a bar.
Bomani: Right, exactly. Alright, so this is the part where I’m going to put you on the spot so you’ve got to share something with the people. Either give me a sixteen or give me one of your spoken word pieces, whatever you think the people need to hear right now.
Omekongo: From my album, produced by you—reality shows, let’s do the first verse. “Maybe if I told y’all I was a stone cold killer, got three bodies on me cuz they owed me scrilla, maybe if I bragged about my big bed and how I got Black and Asian chicks up in my bed. Maybe if I told y’all I used to sling everyday cuz I have to feed my daughter in this hustling way. Maybe if I welcome y’all to my big fat crib, show you stuff you can’t afford so you can see how I live. Maybe if I got on TV with my big fat mink and said I only rock rhymes and not get high or drink.
Maybe if I drove around in my drop top Maybach, called you a window shopper because you couldn’t afford that. Maybe if I sported diamonds from head to toe with no care for kids killed in Congo. Maybe if I told ya’ll, you couldn’t ride with me. Would you hate yourself and wish you were high with me? Maybe if I told ya’ll about this fantasy would ya’ll be a hater and wish death on me. Maybe if I had sex with underage girls yo, would I get air play on the radio? Maybe if I told ya’ll this was my life B, could I make you go out and buy my CD; maybe if I, maybe if I, maybe if I, maybe if I—.
Bomani: Yeah, I couldn’t help but join in on that—.
Omekongo: Yeah, no doubt man, that’s what we’re for.
Bomani: So a matter of fact, I’m glad you spit that one, because that is actually other thing that a lot of independent artist are dealing with. It’s something that I think we both come to grips with a young and our artistic careers is realizing that we weren’t going to be Jay Z and that we weren’t going to be little Wayne because you can’t rap about how much you love the women in your life.
Omekongo: Yeah, yeah.
Bomani: How much you love your blackness, how much you value yourself more than your money; you know what I’m saying? And expect the same level of success. So how you have been able to, you know, because I also want to be famous. I want people to know who I am, so how have you’ve been able to reconcile that as far as just understanding what your, you know, what your name is going to end up being in the game and being able to stay there.
Omekongo: Yeah, I think for guys like us is one thing I learned as a professional speaker, they say when you’re telling your message less of me and more of we.
Omekongo: I’ve learned that in—through using my work to celebrate other people and to talk about other causes it draws more attention to my other work.
Omekongo: And I’m really—and so it’s not a marketing strategy for me, I really want to help these organizations and individuals get their message out, and these you know, many of these organizations happened to be working across the globe so indirectly my message just get out across the globe so I would encourage people to, you know, there’s a part in Jay Z’s Fade to Black movie where these guys like, yeah I want to write about this and that but people are saying write about guns and everything. And Jay Z turns the camera on himself and he’s like, see what we’re doing in hip hop, you know, this artist feel that they can’t be themselves, and I know he was talking about him because he said truthfully I want to rhyme like Common Sense.
Omekengo: You know, but he wants that money, you know, so I just encourage all of you all to find new audiences. I mean this is a small world right now, find new audiences, you know, New Zealand, South Africa, people are longing for your music and hip hop and every country that always starts off on a social justice tinge and a political movement—what was I talking Australia, Japan, so other countries—.
Omekengo: Yeah, yeah, and you know, Israel so other countries that are getting [inaudible 18:26] for hip hop now, they may be prime for your message and they will fly you out there to perform. What’s that? No doubt.
Bomani: So where has been the most interesting places that you’ve gone to do your poetry and your hip hop?
Omekengo: Man, I’ve been to South Africa, Cuba, Holland, Tanzania, France, being a trilingual poet helps, you know you speak French, but even when you don’t, you know, you don’t have to speak English to go to many of these countries because a lot of people are learning English through our music. So, I mean, I’ve been to 18 countries, you know I performed in about 9 of those, the other ones have been academic stuff and the like but all across the U.S, 10 African countries, UK just you know, lots of places man.
Bomani: Now, what is the biggest—do you have to deal with people’s perception of hip hop when you get there because I know I’ve been plenty of places, but once you tell them a. you’re an American and b. that you do hip hop, they think they already know what you’re about, you know what I’m saying? How has that been going overseas?
Omekengo: It’s like KRS1 said man that mic you speak through goes from here to Mogadishu and how you represent us is the issue. You know, I’ve been on courts where, you know, people don’t even know I’m from—it’s like West African countries, they don’t even speak English likes Senegal. They don’t even know I’m from the States because I look like them but as soon as I speak, they’re like, “What’s up Ma?”, you know, and I’m like, and then I’ve had some guys like, “Can you hook me up with some black Bs in America?” like I’m where are you getting this from, they’re like, “I learn English through hip hop”. And so, I’m like, oh well don’t call me that and my girl’s not that. So you know, it’s just—and they’re trying to be your friend so they’re saying what they think they know so there’s a lot of teachable moments, you know when you actually go to the people and sit down and talk. You can’t look at them as ignorant. They’re just doing what they know and that’s why with guys like us, we have to be bridge builders to show them something else because most likely, little Wayne’s not going to come to their city or their village, you know or if he does, he’s not going to spend time in their schools.
Bomani: He’s going to come to the stadium.
Omekengo: Yes. He’s not going to go to their schools, you know, or anything so that’s our job.
Bomani: Right, okay, another good tie in right there and a lot of what you’re doing right now is doing work with schools. I know you’re doing a lot of stuff about bullying, because that’s part of your personal experience.
How, and another thing artist need to understand is being able to use that. It’s good for you and it’s good for the kids and its part of you being a living artist, about you being a working artist, being able to have, to be over to teach these classes. So tell people more about what you do with young people.
Omekengo: Oh man, I started something to called, The One Million Youth Campaign. You know www.1millionyouthcampaign.com— the number one, my goal is to motivate a million young people across the globe to live their best lives and originally it’s going to be a 100,000 youth campaign in the US but I want to came up with the idea, I was in Ethiopia, so I’m like if I do a hundred thousand in the US, I can do a million across the globe. And so my plan is you know, what I do is I go in the schools, I do leadership workshops, I do trainings about how you can—not only learn to respect yourself, and who you are in your own background but learn to appreciate people of diverse cultures because we do have more things in common than we do that, that separate us and I want people to understand that going beyond the Islamaphobia, the anti-Semitism, the racism, the sexism and just let people know that we have so much in common and so I’ve taken that to schools and community centers across the globe.
Bomani: And what’s—there was a specific—I’m sorry. The campaign that you did, explain that to me one more time, because I—it’s still going on, right?
Omekengo: The One Million Youth Campaign?
Bomani: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Omekengo: Oh, absolutely non-stop, absolutely.
Bomani: Okay. Because another thing that I’m really trying to do a lot here at the Indie is to connect people to these organizations, to these people that are getting things done. It’s actually good because you’ve had me on your show like twice and I’m finally interviewing you on my show. It took a while to make that happen. Are you still doing a show for Montgomery County—.
Omekengo: Montgomery County Municipal Cable, yep. It’s called Real Talk, a show where we look at issues facing our youth. If you’re out there, you deal with youth issues. I want you on the show, we film in Maryland.
We get the web link put it out to the world. I want to celebrate young people, period, so if you are young person or you work with young people, got something you want to talk about, come on Real Talk and let’s get it popping for real.
Bomani: Alright, and I’m telling you this brother does not sleep but somehow we find ways to be a husband and a father and work out and all this kind of good stuff. So I’m going to be on my Congo when I go home.
Omekengo: Over million views on CNN.com.
Bomani: That’s what’s up. Yeah he’s a regular contributor of CNN.com so I’m actually glad—your timing is really good and I didn’t realize how good it was until we started talking because I don’t know if you notice yourself, but I notice around me, circular conversations happen. And the conversation that’s been happening around me a lot recently is about woman and woman’s rights in equality, and men’s role in that. And I don’t know if I prepped you that, that’s what’s going to be our next segment conversation. But that’s going to be out next segment conversation, I think you’re the perfect guy to talk about it. So we’re going to come back in a second, this is Bomani Armah with Omekengo Dibinga; we are here at the Even Place. This show is called the Indie, independent thought, independent business, independent art, we’ll be right back.
[Interview starts back 23:25]
Bomani: Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, this is Bomani Armah, we are here broadcasting from the Even Place for my show The Indie, independent thought, independent business, independent art. We have Omekongo Dibinga here, Young Maya. I just remember that part, that’s actually completely, plays into what we’re talking about right now. Like I said, my world, the conversation happens in circle and no matter who I’m talking to these days it always seems like a topic comes up, and the topic that’s becoming up the most is women’s rights and equality specifically men’s role in it. And so let me set this up for people, so Omekongo recently in the last three years, four years ago?
Omekongo: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bomani: Took on the rap name Young Maya and it’s a popular thing among hip hop artist to take on the name of someone famous.
I do it a little bit; I call myself a couple of names, the hip hop Levar Burton for one, but usually you pick like a gangster or Mafioso name but your boy over here, Omekongo picks the name Young Maya, so break now for people what Young Maya is about.
Omekongo: Yeah man, I talked about to you Maya Angelou, being someone who saved my life as young person reading her work and how she inspired me and so I saw all this, you know Young Gotti, Young Killer, Young Hitler, you know whatever, and I was
Bomani: Young Genghis
Omekongo: Yeah and I say, you know out of respect to her, and out of respect to women, and as a man, I’m going to take the name of a woman, and I called myself Young Maya, which happens to stand for the Mighty African Youth Advocate, and I feel like in everything that I do, I channel what it is that she did and has done and continues to do for her own life.
Bomani: And that’s really crucial because a lot of people don’t understand the connection that men need to have to respecting woman like at some point we think that we just need to get out of the way and let woman have the way but we also need to be part of breaking this cycle of looking down on women. Something that I notices the other day, and I’m pretty sure my sons picked this up in school because they don’t hear me doing it but you know that’s something that kids do, is my sons do the thing that typical guy’s do when about to get in the car, they open the door for their brother and they say,’ ladies first’ and they say it completely as an insult, and I realize, and then it made me realize that’s something that we do, you know what I’m saying that calling a man a woman and saying that a man and a woman are the same or equal in some kind of sense.
For a woman it’s a rise up, for a man it’s like, “Oh man you’re comparing me to a woman” and we don’t understand that it’s those small things like we’re not raping women in the Congo, you know what I’m saying, but it’s still the little things like that that create an environment but we can say and think things about women that completely throws everything off balance. Tell me more about what you do to try to balance out what’s going on it and help woman in their strive for equality.
Omekongo: Well, one is to make sure that I’m doing my best to respect women every day, starting with my family, starting with my wife, starting with my two daughters, my sisters, my mother, doing my best not only through lyrics but doing the best to practice what I’m preach, letting them know that my daughters who are six and four, that they can do anything that they want to do. They don’t have to be limited and I think it’s very important that we practice these things every day. Look, I think Women’s History month is cool.
Bomani: We’re in the middle of it right now, right or was it last month or it’s this month?
Omekongo: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think International Women’s Day is cool but part of me is like, women to me are the strongest of the genders and you know, women are the foundation of everything and I get kind of annoyed that we set aside, I mean all of these months, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Latino Awareness Month, Hispanic Heritage Month; they’re all designed to celebrate people who have been marginalized in some way or put to the side. I’m still frustrated with what we have done as men to women to just completely put them to the side that I believe that we should celebrate them in every way and every day, in our lyrics, in our writing, I mean when was the last time you heard a song on the radio where a guy’s trying to find his love. You know, I didn’t see the movie [inaudible 2731] so I can’t speak about it but I heard Dick Gregory said, “Where am I going to go if I want to see a story about a black man’s trying to find his black love?” you know, just the idea. We just don’t do things like that anymore. I believe—.
Bomani: It definitely doesn’t happen musically.
Omekongo: Yeah, yeah and I feel like we’ve got to celebrate women every day and in every single way.
Bomani: Now, and your married to a very ambitious, strong, black woman.
Omekongo: That’s an understatement?
Bomani: Every time I’m calling, you’re like “Yeah, she’s in South Africa fighting this and fighting that.” I’m like yeah, yeah, yeah and it’s good you like, I mean, I think strong men want strong women, and so, I mean there’s a lot of things that are going on right now where this topic that is coming up.
I mean one of the things we talked about on the very first segment is specifically the sexual violence that’s happening towards women and places like the Congo and there it’s not even about, it’s not even like a social-psychological problem that these men are having. It’s actually done to break up these families, to shame the men, to shame the women, to make sure that after they leave, that these villages that we’re leaving are having issues. What are some of the ways that End of Silence just trying to bring more light to those topics?
Omekongo: Oh, absolutely, and you know, definitely have to say hi to my love, Kendra and for those of you out in the Riverdale area, she’s opening a [inaudible 28:45] hot yoga studio later on this year 2013—go get your sweat on. Check that out let me know if you’re interested. You know Raise Hope for Congo and other organizations that I’ve worked—with are one for Congo women. One of the things that we do is that we don’t funnel our money through big time organizations. A lot of these big international development organizations, many of them are doing good work, you know some, you know that money has going to pay somebody’s salary and get them a nice house and somebody’s [inaudible 29:15].
I’m not with that. You know, when we bring money and resources and other things directly to the populations that we’re working with, so you know, like the members of Raise Hope for Congo, [inaudible 29:26] project. You know Alicia Shannon just started a [inaudible 29:29] for Congo women, you know actually take trips over to these regions and do work, in the hospitals, in the schools, you know, bring the money there and then get the supplies and on top of that, there are many Congolese, you know in many of these countries, there’s Congo India. We have to remember that people—the indigenous populations are also working to change the situation. It’s not just folks in the West bringing everything over.
Bomani: Coming to save you all.
Omekongo: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I don’t get with savior stuff, you know I mean, I’ve been there, you know so a lot of us who go there are partnering with what’s already happening on the ground to augment it or help use our resources to give it a bigger mega phone, to let other people know how they can get involved.
Bomani: I didn’t realize it until I took a trip to, my first trip to Africa, a couple of years ago, and then speaking to people there and coming back, what kind of a bad reputation NGO’s can have at times because they’re just known for raising millions and millions of dollars and not really sending practical things at the places that [inaudible 30:22]
Omekongo: Let me tell you this, okay a guy was telling me he was in South Africa, and he said he asked a lot of young kids what they want to do in America when they grow up. They want to do hip hop. They see the cars, the women, everything, he was in Kenya once, asked a lot of kids what they want to do when they grew up, they say they want to work for the UN. I said “Well, that’s cool, I said why? They ride around in the big cars, they got the big houses, they got people working for them. You see what I mean, so it’s like that perception [inaudible 30:48].
Bomani: They’re the ballers.
Omekongo: Exactly. It’s real in many cases.
Bomani: Right, right, right. So, what is—the topic that you were talking about, you know when you go to foreign countries and they think that you have a perception of women, going back to what we’re talking about? What is the [inaudible 31:06] perception of the women in the places that you’ve been like in South Africa, can you tell the difference is—I’ve been told that Africans treat their women much more respectfully than I’ve also been told that they’re like, you know, their woman are walking two steps behind them, you know what I’ m saying, what was your experience going to South Africans.
Omekongo: Yeah, you know, it’s definitely different across a continent, 55 nations and there are—.
Bomani: There isn’t an African way to do it.
Omekongo: Yeah, yeah, yeah and there’s also age differences, you know guys who are in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, may treat them a little bit differently than guys who are younger. Well what I do love seeing is that most of the cases that I’ve seen, the women are standing up and demanding a certain type of respect because now, you know, in certain countries, we’ve got African presidents, [inaudible 31:49] and other women in Parliament.
You know they got—in Nigerian, a woman who’s a billionaire so their roles are increasing so regardless of how men are treating them, many women now are demanding that they be treated in a respectful way if that’s not indeed already the case.
Bomani: And we could be kind of arrogant about how many rights that we’ve given to women. My guest two weeks ago was a [inaudible 32:12] guitar and we were talking about Muslims and the Islamic world and how they treat women. He’s like you know, as much as people want to blow up with what goes in Saudi Arabia. The Muslim world has elected three female women presidents. The Unites States hasn’t done that yet, you know what I’m saying, so there’s a whole bunch of stuff going on all over the world when women are demanding their rights and getting them.
Omekongo: And let’s just add real quickly, you know we can’t also go over there and just be so paternalistic in saying oh because a woman’s wearing a berka, she’s a subservient. She can still be in charge of the household or running a business herself and be fine with certain aspects of the culture. You know freedom is not just walking around in jeans and six-inch stilettos, you know what I mean, you have to respect the cultures of the places that we’re in as well as women working there.
Bomani: You’re right; we do have a very paternalistic idea what freedom is if people’s freedom doesn’t look like ours. And now I know this because you’ve written songs about it and I’ve, recorded them. How much has having your daughter’s affected this perception? It has to change the world, doesn’t it? And you’re already—I always told my guy friends who are quote unquote players and you’ve always struck me as a stand up guy. When they have daughters, they are all like, Oh my God, oh my God but you don’t strike me as that guy so like, how does that affect you?
Omekongo: It made me work harder because as I talked about like with the Congo, fighting for freedom and the Congo’s have been the family business. I don’t want them to inherit this family business. I want to end this stuff.
Bomani: And [inaudible 33:43] start a new one.
Omekongo: Yeah, you know, I want them to live in the world where they can just be like my father once said, his life’s always been defined by resistance. I want their life to be defined by acceptance.
They want to just dance, to just start a company dancing, just be a teacher, just you know be normal. So if I can help as many people through my work, live normal lives then it’s less work for them, you know.
Bomani: Right, right, right. So, we’re going to close this out. I want to give you an opportunity to tell everybody all the projects that you’re working on, how do get in contact with you, and just for me, as you know the African-American, who wants to be African, if you could tell everybody your full name, I appreciate that as well.
Omekongo: No doubt, I can do that. The full name is Omekongo [inaudible 34:18]. I just basically told you my lineage, to my father, my grandfather, and my great grandfather. That’s how we do it in Congo. You want to get more information about what I’m doing, go to upstanderinternational.com. Learn about all the projects, the TV shows, CNN, all of the stuffs that I’m doing and holler at me. We’re going to change the world together.
Bomani: Alright, this has been the Indie, my name is Bomani Armah. We do this every week, we talk about independent art, independent business, independent thought. Mr. Omekongo Dibinga over here is part of all of that. We are broadcasting live in the Even Place. You’re going to hear a lot more from this brother, a lot from me very soon. Thank you all very much for joining us and you all have a wonderful day.