Filmmaker Muhammida El Muhajir has been traveling a lot lately. In the past year she has visited Japan, Cuba and several European countries. This winter she plans to fly to Brazil, and sometime next spring she'll go to Africa. Armed with a hand-held video camera, El Muhajir is filming a documentary on the international impact of hip-hop on pop culture around the world. She wants to document how youth in other countries make hip-hop, a distinctly American form of music that developed out of Jamaican and African American styles during the late '70s. A rough cut of her film will be screened Tuesday night as part of the two-week festival "Words, Beats and Movement: The Forces of Hip-Hop."
The film so far depicts El Muhajir's experience in Japan, where hip-hop has a loyal fan base. "They take it to another level in Japan," she says. "The kids have Afros, gold teeth and red and blue bandannas just like they are in the Bloods and the Crips." But one video deejay tells El Muhajir that Japanese hip-hop fans embrace thug fashion, but not thug mentality.
El Muhajir's half-hour film splices interviews with Japanese hip-hop artists Zebra and K Dub Shine, Public Enemy's Chuck D and others with footage of the Tokyo leg of the Smokin' Grooves tour. Although the film quality leans toward the low end (El Muhajir learned how to use the camera on the job), the footage gives a sense of the presence of hip-hop culture in Japan by including shots of kids in hip-hop fashion and walls plastered with posters advertising hip-hop music in Japanese.
"I was just winging this," says El Muhajir, who barely knew anyone in Tokyo when her plane touched down. But after discovering a hip-hop hangout, Club Harlem, El Muhajir found people willing to talk on film. She discovered that while the subjects of American and Japanese rappers may differ, the audience appeal comes from the same place. "Hip-hop is a vehicle for expression for young people everywhere and that's the power of the whole music," she says.
El Muhajir attended Howard University on a track scholarship and majored in microbiology. But after graduation, she moved to New York to do "something fun and creative" and wound up filming "Hip-Hop and Global Pop Culture" in bits and pieces, while also holding a variety of other entertainment industry jobs.
Recently El Muhajir snagged a new position that joins her interest in hip-hop with her wanderlust. As the music marketing manager for Nike, she'll be traveling nationally and internationally, trying to persuade hip-hop stars to wear Nike gear. Now based in Los Angeles, the East Coast native got her driver's license two weeks ago. But you won't hear hip-hop coming from her car stereo. She prefers Aretha Franklin and Al Green.
"Since I'm around it so much," she explains, "I listen to other stuff."
"Hip-Hop and Global Pop Culture" will be shown Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the National Museum of American History's Carmichael Auditorium, 12th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Admission is free. For information, call 202-833-9800.
On Saturday Chris Houston Oldland will try his hand at "choreographing" a painting to three pieces of jazz, collaborations of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. The recent Corcoran School of Art graduate has recruited two friends to help him create the work live during the seventh annual Arts on Foot festival.
Each artist will follow an instrument with a primary color: red for the piano and trumpet, yellow for the saxophone and horns, and blue for the bass line and drums. While Oldland mapped out instructions for the four-panel work and the group has had several rehearsals, room exists for improvisation. "It's not paint-by-numbers at all," he says.
Oldland, who usually works in steel and cloth, says this piece, titled "1 in 2x3," is not such a departure for him. "The inspiration for all my work has been music and sound in some fashion," he says. "This just breaks it down."
Saturday at 3 p.m. in front of WPA Projectspace, Seventh and E streets NW. For festival information, visit www.artsonfoot.org
CAPTION: Clubgoers filmed at Tokyo's Club Harlem, which is a hip-hop hangout.