Home More News Breakdancing news: Diplomacy meets hip hop as 22 artists visit US

Breakdancing news: Diplomacy meets hip hop as 22 artists visit US

Breakdancing news: Diplomacy meets hip hop as 22 artists visit US
Hip hop ambassadors from 22 countries visited Washington, D.C., New York, including the Bronx, where hip hop was born, and North Carolina during the two weeks they spent in the United States on J-1 visas. At the Bronx Documentary Center, they met hip hop photographer Joe Conzo. (IVLP)

Music entrepreneur and hip hop artist Mimie returned to Cameroon after spending two weeks in the United States in April with a new outlook on the importance of music and ways to make it work for her and her fellow Cameroonians – and that’s exactly what the State Department was trying to achieve when it invited her and 21 other musicians to the United States for some hip hop diplomacy.

The visit took Mimie – full name Melanie Aurelie Ngoga Fanang – and other hip hop artists from as far away as Mongolia to as close to home as Costa Rica, to Washington, D.C., New York and North Carolina, where they were mentored by, learned from and networked with American music industry professionals. They explored hip hop’s role as a civic engagement tool and learned innovative ways to teach and preserve history.

“They’re getting that level of excellence that the U.S. music industry has established and building out those connections so they can go back to their home countries and help to drive and build up the local creative economy,” said Eileen Carey, public affairs officer at the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which helped to organize the visit through the International Visitor Leadership Program.

The IVLP is part of the State Department’s Global Music Diplomacy Intiative, which was officially launched last year by Secretary of State Antony Blinken – who once had ambitions to become a musician himself, he said. 

Hip hop ‘diplomats’ from around the world and some of their U.S. hosts are seen at the National Museum of American Diplomacy in Washington, D.C., April 2024. (Courtesy photo)

More than 200,000 international visitors have engaged with Americans through the IVLP. Five-hundred of them have gone on to become heads of state or government. Among them were Indira Gandhi, who became India’s prime minister in 1966, and Britain’s prime minister during most of the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher, 

In Washington, the hip hop diplomats were given an overview of the U.S. system of government, American culture and society and explored ways to empower and engage youth through art and music young people love, like hip hop.

“I understand now why Americans have music in their blood … it allows them to express themselves.”
Mimie, Cameroonian hip hop artist

The visit had an impact on Mimie, who was already an accomplished artist and entrepreneur, with 1.3 million Instagram followers and nearly 80,000 YouTube subscribers, and on her community back in Cameroon.

“My music hasn’t really crossed borders but I took advantage of this opportunity to put myself out there ‘on the other side’ and I think it had an impact on my community,” she said. “Today a lot of people have their eyes fixed on me, and that means to me that I was able to bring change to our community, in terms of music and hip hop in particular.”

She plans to work with the manager of the school she set up a year ago in her hometown of Douala to “teach our kids about our heroes, those who helped to develop our culture. Because we didn’t have that at my academy. When a child comes to the school to sing, I didn’t take into account the very basics of why they came, the basics of music: Where does music come from? Why do you want to sing? What impact will you have on people who listen to your music? What impact will you have on people who want to be like you? It’s the impact of music on others and that’s what gives someone the desire to sing.”

“Americans have it in their blood. They understand that music allows them to express themselves,” she said.

She also wants to overcome stereotypes held by many parents in Cameroon that music is for “les ratés” – failures or no-hopers – and kids who don’t want to go to school, she explained.

“That’s wrong. I persevered in my music despite having a master’s degree, and it took me to the U.S. I also want to show parents that children should be able to choose their path in life, one that fulfills them,” she said.


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Participants also attended a panel event and jam session at the National Museum of American Diplomacy hosted by Next Level, an initiative of the State Department and Meridian International Center that uses all of hip hop’s components – music, words, dance, and art – to foster creative exchanges across cultures.

In New York, they visited the birthplace of hip hop in the Bronx — the genre turned 50 last year — and attended concerts and laid down hip hop tracks during a studio visit.

Hip hop was ‘invented’ 51 years ago at a party on Sedgwick Ave., in The Bronx, one of the high holy places of the genre that was visited by the IVLP group. (IVLP)

Rappers, break-dancers, poets, singers and DJs from Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Costa Rica, France, Greece, India, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, the Philippines, North Macedonia, Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland took part in the two-week intensive visit.

And in North Carolina, they learned about hip hop in academia and attended a cypher event at the University of North Carolina. Cypher is a gathering of rappers, beatboxers, and/or breakers in a circle, extemporaneously making music together.

Dee MC, Indian woman in a man’s world

India was represented by Dee MC, one of few female rappers and songwriters in the country. Her non-stage name is Deepa Unnikrishnan.

In an interview with Indian publication Mid-Day, Dee MC said she went into hip hop because it was “a path that is so less travelled by women that it gave me a shot at becoming one in a billion.”

One of her songs tells the story of how her parents struggled with the idea of her pursuing a career in hip hop as opposed to “something more stable” like chartered accounting, which she studied in college. They finally accepted her choice after she appeared in a Bollywood movie – the only woman rapper in a group of men – and toured internationally.

In an Instagram post, she called being a part of the IVLP hip hop diplomacy program a “massive feat” for all those selected.

Long history of US music diplomacy

Hip hop diplomacy is the latest in a long line of U.S. music diplomacy programs, which have existed since World War II. Then, composer Aaron Copland, best known for his Fanfare for the Common Man, which was written to inspire patriotism as the United States entered World War II in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, toured Latin America.

The hip hop  IVLP exchange is part of the Global Music Diplomacy Initiative, launched by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in September 2023 to promote peace and democracy through music. The initiative also supports U.S. foreign policy goals to expand access to education, economic opportunity and equity, and societal inclusion.

The  IVLP is the Department of State’s premier professional exchange program.  Through short-term visits to the United States, current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields – from STEM careers for women, to global security, free speech in the media, and now, hip hop –  experience the United States firsthand and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts.

Participants don’t apply to be part of an IVLP program; they are nominated by the U.S. embassy.

That’s why Mimie was a little puzzled by the email she got from the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, advising her that she’d been selected to represent Cameroon at the two-week hip hop program in April.

She hadn’t applied for anything, and didn’t understand why they were contacting her, she told the Washington Diplomat in a phone interview from her home in Douala.

“But I have a friend who’s a musician here in Cameroon – Salatiel – and it turns out he recommended me to the U.S. embassy,” she said.



Karin Zeitvogel

Karin Zeitvogel started her journalism career at the BBC World Service and has worked since then for international media outlets and organizations including Agence France-Presse, U.N. agencies, Voice of America, RIA Novosti and the National Institutes of Health. She's lived in nine countries, speaks fluent French and German, good Spanish and a smattering of other languages.