Swiss-Lebanese rapper La Gale and her crew crash-landed in Imbaba last week, to give Cairo a taste of their Punk-infused Hip-Hop. Eihab Boraie meets with the enigmatic musician to talk Palestine, racism and why she doesn't care about image...
I am a lover of all things Hip-Hop, so when I was informed that a La Gale, a half-Lebanese and half-Swiss female rapper was coming to Cairo, I anxiously grabbed my microphone and a photographer and set out to learn more about her passion for her craft. Before I could do that, however, I would have to find her somewhere in Imbaba. Whilst getting lost in the heart of sketchiness, I found myself being guided by a man on a mule. He led me to the gates of another reality in Imbaba; The Swiss Club.
Entering the Swiss Club felt like entering a world that only exists outside of Cairo; a beautiful open space filled with splendid gardens. I found La Gale sitting with her Swiss entourage, including Rynox, Nino, and DJ Eagle (one of the founders of American-Swiss Label Six2Six records). I thought I would be talking with La Gale alone, ahead of her show with Arabian Knightz, but welcomed the addition of great artists who have something to say. This turned the interview into a wider group discussion about Hip-Hop and politics, as the feisty frontwoman took it upon herself to give me a live translation of their contributions.
For those who don't know their Swiss Hip-Hop, La Gale is a multilingual, heavily tattooed, independent actress-turned-rapper, who isn't afraid of challenging the state and its norms. Despite acting in two films to positive reviews, this multi-disciplinary doesn't hesitate to say she prefers making music to acting. When asked which she would rather be the best at, she replies: “I want to be the best cook, the best gardener, the best plumber… actually, I am a shitty plumber!” demonstrating that her tongue is both sharp and witty, adding comedy to her diverse repertoire.
Her musical journey began at a very young age, and has taken many turns along the way. “I started writing music at a young age and was more into the Punk Rock scene. I am still into the Punk scene, because the more I got to know the world, the more I revolted…I had to let it out in constructive way, and Hip-Hop is a good medium for that.”
Historically, Hip-Hop emerges from the streets of oppressed, underprivileged states with citizens that yearn to be heard. In my naivety, I had to admit that I was unaware of the issues effecting the Swiss, as often I drown in the flood that is the Egyptian daily news cycle. La Gale is very quick to explain that the problems in Switzerland pale in comparison to Egypt, but that every country has its own set of problems. The major issue that has been nourishing the Hip-Hop scene is the very same problem that is affecting the whole world; the subdivision of the masses by those in power. In Switzerland, the masses are divided by language. In a country with multiple languages, it is very easy for its population to align themselves along lingual lines. Rynox explains that “Switzerland has three or four official languages, and there are crews in each language but they fail to venture outside their city and come together as a community.” To bridge the divide that exists, La Gale and her fellow comrades started performing DIY shows in some of the poorest areas. “All of the shows that we started were in squats and occupied places, where the Punk Rock scene thrives,” she explains.
Sticking to her principles of being socially and politically conscious, La Gale made it very clear that she is boycotting Israel. “I am part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, so I would go to Ramallah or the West bank, but I would never play Israel.” This boycott doesn't stem from a disdain for the Jewish faith, but rather her anti-Zionism standpoint. La Gale is quick to point out that she has many friends that are Jewish and are anti-Zionist. Racism has been steadily rising in Europe, correlating with the growing influence of far right political groups. The situation has deteriorated so much that even sons of immigrants are racist towards fresh immigrants. La Gale explains that “The Swiss population lives comfortably, the social institutions are well oiled. People don't like to be disturbed, and they fear immigrants. But what they fail to realise is the economy needs them. Our banks are filled with outside money from fucking Mubarak to Mubutu. It is their money that makes Switzerland comfortably wealthy, but almost no one realises it or is willing to admit it.”
At this point of the interview, it seemed that no matter what we started talking about it would end up leading back to politics. It seems that La Gale understands she has a powerful voice and rather than bashing fellow Hip-Hop artists or talking about fashion or music trends, she would much rather be talking passionately about the issues that are troubling the world.
Some artists would shy away from Egypt during these troubling times, but not La Gale. “We were more excited than afraid to come to Egypt,” she reassures. La Gale is not the biggest fan of social media, but she understands its power. In fact, She set up her Twitter account especially to follow Sandmonkey, as she wanted to know what was happening in Egypt from Egyptians. As for promoting herself on social media, La Gale admits that she doesn't concern herself with packaging an image. Her debut LP had no videos, and very few, if any, images of herself. She is comfortable being who she is, and would rather be acknowledged for the merit of her rhymes than her beauty.
La Gale’s self-titled debut LP packs an amazing 10-punch combination. Each song tackles societal issues, and even though my French isn’t up to par, I was able to pick up points here and there, as I marvelled at her flow. ‘La Gale’ translates into English as ‘scabies’ which is a pretty apt as the sound is very infectious. Right from the opening track, Trop de Temps, the beats are heavy and beautifully layered with a myriad of synth work that provides a dynamically textured bed for La Gale's lyrics to fuck on. “I chose a guy who wasn't involved in the Hip-Hop scene at all to produce the album. His name is Christian Pahud and he's the drummer for Honey for Petzi, and knows how to do it all,” La Gale explains.
Trying to compare her style to others would be a gross injustice. If a gun was put to my head to compare it to something, I would say that the beats remind me somewhat of Missy Elliot and, at times, Dr. Dre, while her flow is reminiscent to MC Invincible with the lyrical content of a Rage Against the Machine. Even if you don't understand French there is still plenty to enjoy on this album. It isn't everyday that Egyptians get the chance to hear a powerful woman take the stage and highlight issues that aren't exclusively Egyptian, but global.
Her live performance was explosive, and it was easy to get into even if you don’t know French. For those who were there, the show won’t be forgotten anytime soon. There are those who believe that Hip-Hop is better when it isn't trying to broach politically charged subject, but then again, those are likely the same people who think Kanye West is a proper rapper. I prefer my Hip-Hop to make a statement, and with La Gale debut there are no shortages of statements made, making her a better representative of Hip-Hop then most of the phony-ass rappers, garnering Grammys.
Photography by Ayman Kamel.