Rhymesayers Entertainment recording artist and McNally Smith College of Music faculty member Toki Wright will be travelling to Sierra Leone May 6–18 as part of a two-week program through the United States Department of State Arts Envoy Program — an arts-based exchange program that sends American arts professionals abroad with the goal of fostering cross-cultural understanding and collaboration.
Wright, who heads the nation’s first fully accredited hip-hop studies program at McNally Smith, will work with aspiring young artists in the cities of Kenema and Freetown and perform in concert with the country’s leading afro-beat/reggae star, Emerson Bockarie. While abroad in West Africa, Wright will also do radio and television interviews and meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Michael Owen, as well as members of civil society organizations, the education sector, and government leaders.
I am honored to participate in The U.S. State Department’s Cultural Exchange program, which each year sends artists around the world to show global audiences the breadth of American culture,” Wrights says. “My main objective is to share hip-hop and its origins while also educating about and changing the many negative perceptions of hip-hop by developing young artists and encouraging expression.”
According to Boa Lee, the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Wright was an “outstanding choice” for the exchange, citing a similar trip Wright took to Shenyang Conservatory in Shenyang, China in 2011.
“The Embassy, through and in collaboration with the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau (ECU), invited Toki Wright to participate in the Sierra Leone program because of his background as an award-winning hip-hop artist,” notes Lee. “His prior experience working with a similar Department of State exchanges, his role as an educator in Hip-Hop studies at McNally Smith, and past involvement in programming for youth in Uganda, made him an ideal choice.”
“The ECU was also very impressed with Toki’s close work with the youth population and on issues related to youth empowerment in the Yo! The Movement,” Lee continues. “Also, there is a growing population of Sierra Leoneans now living, working, or attending school in the Twin Cities, and Toki lives and works in Minnesota”
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