Hatim Bensalha: 'I love travelling by train'

The Moroccon rapper in H-Kayne on African Express, which features 80 musicians on one train as it makes a string of stops across the UK

Hatim Bensalha is a rapper in H-Kayne, a four-piece hip-hop group from Meknes, Morocco; they have been instrumental in popularising hip-hop in the country.

How did you get involved in Africa Express?

A journalist contacted one of my friends in England who does electro music, who then told me all about it. I was instantly interested and went straight to the website. What's great is that I am passionate about trains – I love travelling by train! Plus I've never been to England, and the fact that there are loads of different musicians taking part… Basically, I just really liked the whole concept.

What form will your contribution take?

I'm going to try and bring my own touch to it. I don't play any instruments but I rap in French and Arabic and I've got loads of different melodies in my head that I can bring to Africa Express. Sadly I'll be the only one representing H-Kayne – we'd have loved to do it as a four but apparently it was complicated to get us all involved.

One of your fans has said that H-Kayne's music "is about problems that all young people in Morocco understand". Do you see yourself as a spokesperson for young Moroccans?

Honestly, I would never claim that. When we started to write, the first thing that naturally came out of our writing was what we felt, our problems, hopes and dreams. Seeing as we are young Moroccans too, young people who have the same ideas as us find themselves represented in our music. But we can't say that we speak on behalf of a whole generation.

What inspires your music?

Quite a lot of west-coast American rap has inspired us, not in our own music but more for what we like listening to. We also like lots of Moroccan music from previous generations, and we try to infuse some of that into our own music. We listen to Indian music too – we're influenced by music from everywhere, really. We don't tell ourselves we should have a specific sound.

How did you decide to become a rapper?

It happened when I was about 15 or 16 years old. Rap happened to me by accident – it was something that no one really knew much about. We found it through breakdancing, which we used to do a lot of. But after a while it really made your back hurt so instead we all just picked up our pens and got writing. I'd tell my friends, "Hey, check out these lyrics from MC Solaar!" but really it was my own words. That's how embarrassed about it I was at first – we all were. It was something that didn't really fit in with our own culture – even though in Morocco we have a very oral culture. Rap had real connotations of thugs, street life, all that. But it was my original passion and got my first lyrics off the ground. They probably weren't very good, but at least they were real, and told the story of our lives.


Corinne Jones

The GuardianTramp

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