There is no pathway to citizenship in China, but there are plenty of immigrants. For instance, Guangzhou is now known as the center of China’s West African expat population. While many work as traders, shipping clothes and consumer electronics back to their clients for a small commission, some enterprising African hip hop musicians have found success catering to this growing market. Yet, despite their superior hipness, they face the same legal barriers. Melissa Lefkowitz & Dorian Carli-Jones follow three such performers as they go about their lives and business in China Remix (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History.
Dibaocha, Flame Ramadan, and Ivan Manivoo have all found varying degrees of success in Guangzhou. The former two artists already have a number of releases to their credit. Dibaocha is particularly well-established, as both the godfather of the local hip hop scene and the father of two, with his Chinese wife, Cherrish (yes, with two r’s). Yet, Manivoo a student leader as well as a rapper and an all-purpose wheeler-dealer, probably has the brightest future. Yet, their music careers are all essentially off-the-books.
Clearly, Dibaocha has put down roots, but he still must go to great lengths to renew his visa. As a result, he is by far the most vocal in his criticism of Chinese immigration policies. Of course, anyone hoping the CP will loosen up is delusional, especially when their internal Hukou system of residency permits forbids native born rural Chinese from legally working in big cities.
Indeed, if one thing comes shining through China Remix with crystal clarity it is the spectacular class stratifications and disparities of contemporary China. If you doubt it, take a gander at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show produced to celebrate the opening of a luxury condo high-rise in Guangzhou. Manivoo certainly seems to enjoy the gig when hired to rap as the models strut down the runway, but it constitutes conspicuous commercialism, even by Manhattan standards.