by Rikke From and Abigail Mullin
On March 4, IES and the Nordic Studies Program were pleased to present a discussion with the Afro-Swedish hip-hop artist and writer Jason “Timbuktu” Diakité about the English translation of his memoir A Drop of Midnight. Diakité, who has recently adapted his memoir into a spoken word play to be performed in Harlem, New York, presented a portion of his life story through monologues, poetry, and music. The event, introduced by Barbro Osher (Honorary Consul General of Sweden in San Francisco), attracted an audience of over 60 guests from across the Berkeley campus and Bay Area.
Diakité’s story recounts his quest to understand his place in the world, raised by interracial American parents in homogenous Sweden. One central theme of his work is his deep desire to connect with his paternal family’s African-American heritage, which led him on a trip to the cotton fields of South Carolina. Through narratives from his grandfather and father’s lives, Diakité explored the legacies of slavery and racism within the United States, from the South to New York, and his own problems with assimilation in Sweden. He placed great emphasis on remembrance and communion with his ancestors as a vehicle to understand his own identity and place in the world.
In conversation with Professor Stephen Small of the Department of African American Studies & African Diaspora Studies, Diakité addressed questions about his upbringing in Sweden, his writing process, and the importance of race and heritage. He also touched on the Swedish language as a tool to be accepted during his childhood. In addition, Diakité expanded on the concept of “respectability” as a recipe for survival. When asked about his intended audience, Diakité stated that he intended his book to reach any biracial kid living in Sweden who is struggling with the largely homogeneous culture of the country. He concluded with his recollections on hip-hop and its influence in his life, and the way it taught him about black masculinity and African-American culture, across the world and in Sweden.