Some of the roots of Seattle hip hop go back to Zimbabwe.
In 1968, Dumisani Maraire came to the University of Washington as an artist in residence to share the music of the Shona people. He was supposed to stay a year, but stayed and raised a family here.
Now his two sons are active in Seattle’s hip hop scene: Tendai is half of Shabazz Palaces and Dumi Jr. is the hip hop artist “Draze.” Music was life for the Maraire family.
“All I remember from my childhood is these packed halls,” Maraire said. “And these hippies, they’re sweating they’re enjoying themselves. They’re dancing, they’re singing. And it was love, it was awesome. And my dad is just rocking out.”
As Maraire grew up in the Central District, he fell in love with hip hop music. Classmates made fun of him for also liking African music, and he kept the two music forms apart.
“I never merged hip hop with African music until I was a little bit more comfortable with who I am,” he said.
You can hear how he merged the two in his song, Children of the Light, mixed by Vitamin D:
“For the first time, marimbas are on a track with that harmony,” he said. Congas are represented by a drum machine. And there’s the sh-sh-sh sound of dancers with shakers on their legs.
It’s an African sound, and it’s also a Seattle sound.
“When you listen to my music, you listen to Shabazz Palaces, you listen to Macklemore – the one common thread that you don’t hear anywhere else is that it tends to be real music.”
They bring real musicians and real instruments – marimbas, horns, drums – to the studios. But it’s not new – Seattle has embraced authentic sound for decades.
“Go back to the culture, go back to the 60s, 70s, whether it’s Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, even my dad,” Maraire said.
And Seattle hip hop can be edgy, because the city is progressive, he said.
“We’re going to talk about the issues,” he said, “even if people don’t agree with us. …
The message is love. It’s always speaking a perspective for someone who needs a voice.”
"The hood ain't the same" by Draze: