An American Rapper Rhymes Her Way Through the Eastern Cape

Dessa on fire at Chapel Street Studios in Port Elizabeth (photo credit: Jacqueline Allegra)
Dessa on fire at Chapel Street Studios in Port Elizabeth (photo credit: Jacqueline Allegra)

Dessa — a rapper, singer and wordsmith from Minneapolis, Minnesota— touched down in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on May 11, 2015 to spend a week teaching and performing in communities in the Eastern Cape.  She gave writing workshops to high school students, held discussions with emerging creatives about making a living as an artist, and engaged on issues around race, culture and civic activism in community dialogues and hashtag conversations such as #culturefix. She closed her tour with a free concert to a packed audience.

Dessa’s visit  to South Africa was inspired by Port Elizabeth-based artist Rushay Booysen, who first met her in Minneapolis while on a U.S. State Department-sponsored exchange program.  With several successful albums to her name, she is a founding member of the indie hip hop collective Doomtree, and has toured internationally both as a solo artist and with the Doomtree crew, frequently performing to sold out shows both at home and away.

With a chair as her stage, Dessa treats high school students to a hip hop performance during morning break (photo credit: Rabea Ballin)
With a chair as her stage, Dessa treats high school students to a hip hop performance during morning break (photo credit: Rabea Ballin)

Rushay, along with CREATIVExPE  and the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, organized workshops with hip hop artists, poets, students, and cultural groups around Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and beyond. In Grahamstown, she joined a dialogue at Rhodes University about gender issues in the music industry and gave an impromptu performance with Zimbabwean artist Hope Masike, combining the traditional mbira sound with contemporary hip hop vocals.

Dessa was also hosted by Patterson High School where two Fulbright English Teaching Assistants are based this year. After performing in the school’s courtyard during morning break (using a chair as her stage) she led an interactive poetry and creative writing workshop with students in the library.

Dessa’s visit encouraged constructive and creative self-expression about social challenges, culture, and civic activism through the arts, demonstrating the power of music and rhyme to bring people together to create change.

For more about this program, see:https://medium.com/@USConsCapeTown/an-american-rapper-rhymes-her-way-through-port-elizabeth-south-africa-3179b50a2d64