While globetrotting around the world collaborating with international hip-hop artists Aisha Fukushima learned to go with the flow, discovering on her epic trip that planning each day down to its last detail was not the best way to travel.
“I had to be willing to run with it,” said Fukushima about her year-long journey exploring hip hop cultures, and artists who combine rap and activism to promote social justice, what she calls “RAPtivism." Fukushima traveled through Africa, Europe and Asia thanks to a $25,000 Watson Fellowship, a program offering promising college graduates a year of independent exploration and travel outside of the U.S.
Fukushima was awarded the Watson after a stellar career at Whitman, where the Seattle-born artist had her hands in many different programs. Among activities she designed and implemented was the Whitman Institute for Scholastic Enrichment, a program that introduces college life to low-income local middle school students with academic promise.
“I’ve always been interested in social justice. Even as a kid,” Fukushima said.
Fukushima attended Whitman because she wanted a small liberal arts college environment. “Some of my best friends were professors who would take the time to have coffee with me and casually discuss serious topics like social justice,” Fukushima said.
It was at Whitman where the aspiring musician learned to take risks but also have fun, advice she gave herself while traveling, and one reason why she refused to stick to a strict itinerary.
“I had to rise to the occasion when something happened,” she said, remembering how spontaneous events conspired to put her in the right place at the right time. “Sometimes I needed to go from pajamas to jeans and rush off to a neighborhood in the middle of the night to record a song.”
This easy-breezy demeanor is how Fukushima wound up on Moroccan television speaking to a national audience in French.
“One of the unexpected things that happened on my trip was when I went to watch an artist perform on a Moroccan TV show, and the next thing I knew I was in a chair in makeup and then on the air,” she said.
Why did the producers put Fukushima on live TV? “They wanted to know about RAPtivism.”
Fukushima describes the music she performs as RAPtivism, a global hip hop project using music that powerfully resonates with global efforts for consciousness and solidarity against injustice.
“Music and culture can actively contribute to universal efforts for freedom and equality by challenging apathy, ignorance and intellectual oppression,” said the former rhetoric and film major, who minored in French and women’s studies.
Fukushima used her Watson Fellowship to collaborate with leading artists around the world. Since returning to the U.S., Fukushima has been in San Francisco producing an album featuring the dynamic and talented artists she met on her travels.
The three-year labor of love is being released for free online on March 24. While feeling excited about the release of her album, “RAPtivism,” Fukushima admits producing a political album with artists who are also activists presented a massive set of challenges.
“I was trying to get a track from a guy who was arrested for protesting elections in his native Senegal. I’m trying to get a track from him and he’s in jail,” she said.
Despite the difficulties, Fukushima is finally ready for her album to take off, because she said that “listeners have awakened to a global movement of hip hop" she has labeled RAPtivism.
The evidence points to Fukushima knowing what she’s talking about. The singer, educator, writer and self-proclaimed rap activist—who has engaged in hip hop communities in France, Japan, Morocco, England, South Africa, Senegal, India and Denmark—has been featured in prominent international media such as “Oprah Magazine,” “The Bangalore Mirror” and “HYPE,” one of South Africa's top hip hop magazines.
“I hope this album spreads the music and messages and the inspiration I’ve felt the past couple of years producing it,” she said. “I wanted to create a space where the talented artists appearing on the album can be heard on a global platform.”
This global platform is a massive social network Fukushima developed while riding her Watson Fellowship around the world. Taking advantage of the new trends in music (online publishing) she produced “RAPtivism” independently and isn’t charging listeners to download the music.
“I wanted it to be accessible around the world so online is the best choice for me,” she said. “Plus, there are 20 different artists who made this happen, so we all agreed it would be totally free.”
For more information on Fukushima’s album, click here.