First there was ``We Are the World,'' then ``That's What Friends Are For,'' sounding the beat of rock-and-roll activism. Now rap music has joined the cause, with a song and video called ``A.F.-R.I.C.A.'' that speaks out against apartheid. The project teams up the New York City rap group Stetasonic with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and African drummer Babatunde Olatunji and his Drums of Passion. The idea for the project came when the members of Stetasonic saw a report on ABC's ``20/20'' on Mr. Jackson's visit to the ``front line'' states in Africa. The Stets immediately sensed there was a need to educate people, not only about the problems in South Africa itself, but about that nation's stance toward the surrounding black-ruled countries. They contacted the producer of that ``20/20'' segment, wrote some lyrics, and recorded the song for Tommy Boy Records.
In an interview, Stetasonic's lead singer, Daddy-O, stressed the importance of reaching young people with a format he calls ``edutainment.'' ``I just say, if the music is done with feeling and people like the song and they can get into the group and if it's visually done, like to a video, I think it does have the power to change people's consciousness. I know a lot of things I've learned ... through songs.''
What sets ``A.F.R.I.C.A.'' apart from its predecessors, aside from the fact that it focuses on the front-line states, is that it's a grass-roots effort.
``This is not an all-star record. It's not the same thing that ``We Are The World'' or ``Sun City'' were,'' says Rick Dutka, vice-president of Tommy Boy Records and executive producer of the project. ``This is a rap group from Brooklyn making a statement, and they're speaking to their own fans - the rap crowd. But in many ways they're speaking to everybody, from what is a fringe or outcast segment of our society - that is, black youth.''
Mr. Dutka agrees with Daddy-O that music does have the power to make people sit up and listen. ``Music is always reflective of what people are going through,'' he says, ``and so much more than just the bland love song. Here are people taking it upon themselves to talk about a very important issue.''
Daddy-O adds, ``We want people to understand that this is not a black issue; this is not a Jesse Jackson issue; this is a humanitarian issue, and we think that humans should know about what's going on in southern Africa.''
All the royalties from the sales of ``A.F.R.I.C.A.'' will go to the Africa Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid to the front-line states.