‘Hip hop and hymns: the two would always go hand in hand for me. My life would always straddle both. The sacred and the profane, all living on the same block, all divine in the end.’
Mawunyo Gbogbo’s memoir, Hip Hop and Hymns is many things. It is a heartfelt memoir about what it can mean to be black in Australia, and an honest account of a woman who is sick of pretending to be someone she is not, and tired of caring about what other people think. It is a story of loving hard and breaking down, and it is a call to action. Hip Hop and Hymns is a story Gbogbo wishes she could’ve encountered growing up in regional Australia. It is unapologetically black, unapologetically real, and absolutely necessary.
In her four-part memoir, Gbogbo writes about her family’s experience immigrating from Ghana to Muswellbrook, a small town in New South Wales, growing up the eldest of four, falling in love with Hip Hop, Hymns, and charismatic bad boy, Tyce Carrington, dealing with racist bullies, searching for belonging, persevering in a career in journalism, struggling with mental health, and more. In many ways, it is a story of coming-of-age and finding oneself, even after becoming unrecognisable.
At times, reading this memoir felt like being a teenager again, stomach twisted in knots as I entered a party I felt I didn’t belong at. Other times, I felt like I was witnessing a slow-motion train wreck, carriages of aluminium and steel tumbling like light-weight Legos in a child’s playroom. But most of all, I felt I was listening to the confessions of a friend. A friend who I wanted to hold, and comfort. A friend whose story is unique, but not unfamiliar to me. Because in telling her story, Gbogbo shares the experiences of many others like her, and I am left considering the universal lived experiences that many people don’t know how to express.
I think of parents who move their families with the promise of better futures, without realising the psychological work it entails. I think of siblings who grow apart after immigrating because they don’t know how to grow together. I think of school kids who can’t trust their teachers to defend them from racist classmates. I think of third-culture kids who struggle with belonging and grow up searching for something they can’t find outside themselves. I think of young girls who trade innocence like currency, exchanging sex for glimpses of intimacy. And I wonder if Stephen Chbosky was right when he wrote ‘we accept the love we think we deserve’, or if Mawunyo Gbogbo is right when she wonders if love is something we have to “survive”. Or if no one can be right or wrong when it comes to love, and that in truth we simply seek the love the world has conditioned us to believe we want.
When I first started reading Hip Hop and Hymns, I didn’t realise just how much of myself I’d see reflected in her words. a reflection that isn’t solely based on life experiences, but rather on the fundamental understanding that we, as people, are more than our mistakes. We are our recoveries.
There’s a relatability infused in Gbogbo’s prose that transcends age and ethnicity. There’s humour, there’s growth, and there’s a deep understanding that there can always be space for hope if you allow yourself to believe in it.
I am a big believer in the power of words. I know that one book, short story, or poem may never be able to change the world, but they have the power to change a single person’s entire worldview. And I have no doubt Hip Hop and Hymns will change, inspire, and comfort the minds of many.
Hip Hop & Hymns is available now from Penguin.
Konstanz is a third-year creative writing student with a strong passion for magic realism in all its forms. One day, she hopes to publish young-adult picture books and poetry that make people feel a little less alone and a little more hopeful. You can find her published works and passion projects online at @konstanz.marie or @KonstanzMarie | Linktree