When I started digging into Norwegian hip hop, I came across Pumba pretty quickly and the video for his song «Hvor jeg kommer fra» (“Where I come from”). Released in 2008, «Hvor jeg kommer fra» came seven years after the racist murder of Benjamin Hermansen, a Ghanian-Norwegian fifteen year-old, in Holmlia in Oslo. Pumba (Richard Edward Bravo) was born in Norway and is of Chilean-Peruvian descent. In «Hvor jeg kommer fra» he addresses issues of personal and national identity.
In a short write up for NRK, the article points out that Pumba wrote the song not just for himself but for countless others working through these identifications. The article states,
Han følte han måtte skrive låta “Hvor jeg kommer ifra”, fordi det er så mange som kjenner det akkurat på samme måten. Og veldig mange får fortsatt spørsmålet: Hvor kommer du egentlig fra?
He felt he had to write the song “Where I come from,” because there are so many who experience the same thing. And many still get the same question: Where do you come from?
Norway, a country of only 5.3 million people, has an immigrant population of about 944,402 as of March 2019. That is nearly 1/5 of the entire nation. A look at the demographic data from 2019 shows that two of the top ten countries with immigrants to Norway are African (Somalia and Eritrea), three are Middle Eastern (Syria, Pakistan, and Iraq), and three of the top five are European (Sweden, Poland, and Lithuania), accounting for a large number of immigrant workers. These are the top ten countries for a variety of reasons that range from labor to asylum seekers.
The outward diversity of Norway, though, does not necessarily correlate into a completely egalitarian state. Even though about a fifth of Norway’s population is immigrant or the children of immigrants, the ruling government lacks diverse representation. Rune Berglund Steen commented, “Even Trump’s government has more people with minority ethnic backgrounds than the Norwegian [government].” Out of the sixty-eight ministers and secretaries that the new prime minister proposed in January 2018, only two were from minority backgrounds, “State Secretary Anne Karin Olli, who is of indigenous Sami heritage, and German-born Rebekka Borsch.”
Along with all of this, there is the discussion of “ethnic Norwegians.” Cecelia Cutlre and Unn Røyneland discuss Pumba’s song and identity in Norway in their essay “Where the fuck am I from? Hip-Hop youth and the (re)negotiation of language and identity in Norway and the US.” Within their article, they discuss the term “ethnic Norwegian,” a term that “could make immigrants feel excluded and deprive them of the possibility of becoming Norwegian.” Individuals, as Cultre and Røyneland argue, can move among ethnic and cultural fields, identifying themselves with more than one field, regardless of their origin.
According to the Norwegian Language Council (NLC), they did not see the need, in 2006, to change the term because “ethnic Norwegian” referred to people of Norwegian descent. They stated in an email to NRK,
We do not believe that there is a need to replace ‘ethnic Norwegian’ by another term. We believe it is incorrect to call people from other countries ‘Norwegians’ because ‘Norwegian’ by definition refers to someone of ethnic Norwegian descent. A Pakistani who settles in Norway does not become Norwegian, not even if he becomes a Norwegian citizen.
The Pakastani man could never be, according to the NLC, Norwegian. Instead, he would be «pakistaner med norsk statsborgerskap» (“Pakistani with Norwegian citizenship”) because he is not “ethnic Norwegian.” This reasoning, then, denies even children born in Norway the right to become fully Norwegian. These discussions, I feel, stem from Norway’s history, specifically the “400 year night” under Danish rule. During this time, were the people who lived in Norway Norwegian? Or, were they Danish? Or, were they Danish-Norwegian? Were individuals such as Ludvig Holberg Norwegian or Danish? His statute sits near the harbor in Bergen, yet he went to school and worked in Copenhagen. These are important questions to consider, but they are discussion for another day.
With all of this in mind, Pumba’s «Hvor jeg kommer fra,» Like Hkeem’s «Ghettoparasit,» addresses these issues. Pumba lays out the problem from the outset of the song:
Nr vi drar til hjemlandet vi er nordmenn, skikkelig å
Og nr jeg er her er jeg chilener peruaner svarting du veit
Hvor faen er jeg ifra?
When we go to our homeland, we are Norwegian, proper too
And when I am here, I am Chilean, Peruvian, Black, you know
Where the fuck am I from?
Here, what is Pumba’s and other’s «hjemlandet»? It is not, from the framing of the sentence, Norway, even though they may have been born in Norway. Does «hjemlandet» just mean ancestral origin? No matter what the connotation, the point is that in Chilie or Peru, individuals view him as Norwegian. In Norway, people view his as Chilean, Peruvian, or Black. The movable ways that others identify him makes him ask, «Hvor faen er jeg ifra?»
Throughout the first verse, Pumba shows the malleability of his identity. He moves from assertions where he states he is Chilean, Peruvian, and Norwegian. Each forms part of himself. This mixture of ethnicities makes Pumba into a polyglott who can navigate multiple spaces: «Tenker på det ene språket, og snakker med det andre» (“I think in one langauge, and speak in another”). Pumba even tells the listener not to be surprised if he answers in Spanish. He concludes the first verse by rapping about Norway’s economic stability and opportunities, stating that people have a chance to make it.
The refrain, though, continues the questions about identity and place of origin.
Folk som jeg måter spør meg ofte hvor jeg kommer ifra/
Jeg veita faen men alt jeg veit er at jeg er her i dag/
Mine foreldre jobber hardt for for meg inn hit/
Bodd her nesten hele mitt liv og er noen ganger i tvil/
People like me often ask where I come from
I don’t know, fuck, but all I know is that I’m here today.
My parents work hard for me here
Lived here all of my life and it is sometimes in doubt
Here, the questions of identity take center stage. Pumba states that he, along with others question where he comes from. Where does his identity reside? Ultimately, does it matter since he is in Norway today? Even with this assertion, though, the situation remains tenuous because while his parents have worked hard in Norway, their existence within the nation
«er noen ganger i tvil.»
In the second verse, Pumba makes some of the same moves that Hkeem does ten years later. He calls out the media for labeling him and those around him as criminals, and he bites back by stating, «men vi har bygd opp oslo» (“But we have built up Oslo”) by driving the taxis, subway, and busses and by running vegetable and kebab shops. Immigrants are on tv, radio, and everywhere. Pumba even comments that he met a ski instructor named Abdul.
Pumba ends the second verse by stating that he, along with everyone else he mentions, «er en del av landet» (“are part of the country”), adding to it with their food, culture, and beliefs, as Hkeem puts it. Ultimately, as
Cultre and Røyneland point out, identity shifts and changes. We become part of different cultures through exchange. We experience different cultures through exchange. We can identify with different cultures through exchange. This is one of the things that makes life worth living, the melding and mixing of cultures. When we get fanatical about distinguishing cultures, we isolate ourselves and cause individuals to question their own identity. This should never be the case. We should be proud of our cultures, but we should also seek to bring cultures together not sanction their separation causing people to ask, «Hvor faen er jeg ifra?»
Flexi Aukan, the son of a Chilean father and a Norwegian mother, explains this tension when he states, “Folk spør «hvor kommer du fra?». Jeg svarer at jeg er fra Hauketo, Holmlia, Oslo sør, Søndre. Jeg svarer ikke «Norge», jeg har alltid sett på meg selv som mer utlending enn norsk.” (People ask, “Where do you come from?” I answer, that I am from Hauketo, Holmlia, Oslo south, Søndre. I don’t answer, “Norway.” I have always looked at myself as more of a foreigner than a Norwegian.”) Flexi refers to himself as «utelendinger» (“foreigner”) and this appears on the shirts that people hold up in the video for «Hvor jeg kommer fra.» Flexi, like Pumba and other immigrant children, identify first and foremost with their neighborhood, then possibly with their cultural ancestry, and finally with their Norwegian identity.
These are still things I am working through, so I do not have complete answers. However, I hope that Pumba’s song helps some. As well, I would suggest checking out his song «Jeg ser deg» (“I see you”) from Richard Bravo because it covers some of the same issues. Next post I will start looking at Karpe, so stay tuned. Until then, what are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.
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