2 December 2022

Finding solace and identity in 'Hip Hop and Hymns'

| Chris Roe
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Mawunyo Gbogbo wearing headphones

Music and faith played a big role in Mawunyo’s journey to “a good place”. Photo: Frederick McHenry.

Growing up in a country town can be difficult if you don’t fit in.

For journalist Mawunyo Gbogbo, fitting in, or more importantly, finding peace with her own identity, has been a lifelong journey that began when she moved to Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter with her Ghanan family.

“I’ve struggled with my identity my entire life and I think most people have in some way or another, whether you are from a diverse background or not,” she says, reflecting on the themes of her autobiographical book Hip Hop & Hymns.

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“It’s a coming-of-age story about growing up black in a country town in Australia, and also about some of the challenges I’ve faced trying to build a career in the media as a woman of colour.

“And it’s a tragic love story,” she adds.

book cover

Hip Hop & Hymns is both a book and a soundtrack. Photo: Supplied.

Mawunyo’s book is a multimedia experience that includes a Spotify playlist of poignant music that has shaped her story.

“It really does come with a playlist,” she smiles.

“Every chapter in my book is named after a hip-hop song or a hymn, as the title would suggest.”

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Wiradjuri journalist Stan Grant described her story as “Puberty Blues with a hip-hop beat”.

“It’s funny because when I set out to write, I didn’t realise just how much of it would be music related,” she says with a laugh.

“I sat there thinking, ‘What are two things that I really love?’ and I thought that hip-hop has been such a huge force and a massive influence, and so has Christianity and the church, so it became Hip Hop and Hymns.”

child smiling

Mawunyo’s search for identity began in a town where “no-one looked like me”. Photo: Supplied.

Mawunyo explains that she was drawn to hip-hop as a child living in a town where no-one outside her family looked like her.

“I found I was watching TV shows and listening to music where I saw black people, usually African Americans, reflected back at me and so I really connected with the music,” she says.

“I think the arts really helped me to find belonging.”

After high school, Mawunyo decided to pursue a career in television and studied journalism at Charles Sturt University.

“I was very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and I thought that being different would be an advantage because, you know, who wouldn’t want something a little bit different – right?” she says with a shrug.

“I thought that it would be something that would help my career but I’ve actually found the opposite.

“Being a black woman in Australia, especially 20 years ago when I was starting out, it wasn’t something that was embraced, especially not on television!”

After a bumpy ride through the often superficial television industry, Mawunyo became an accomplished and award-winning journalist and says she is now in a good place.

“I’m currently an ABC journalist specialising in popular culture,” she explains.

“I mainly write online articles, I appear on TV every now and then and on radio to talk about some of the stories I’m working on.

“But it’s taken 20 years to get here!”

Woman on red carpet

Mawunyo Gbogbo is an award-winning journalist and pop culture commentator. Photo: Supplied.

She hopes that the themes explored in Hip Hop and Hymns resonate with anyone struggling to find their place in the world.

“It isn’t just about my racial identity. It also covers so many other things like mental health and love and relationships and family and I think for myself when it comes to my identity, I’m very, very strong in my faith, which is another form of identity,” Mawunyo explains.

“And it’s been a long hard road for me to get to that place, but I think, because I’m so strong in my identity when it comes to my faith, I have been able to find my identity in other ways as well.”

In endorsing her book Stan Grant says, “In the journey for a place to belong, Mawunyo shows us the way home to ourselves”, something that the author herself took some time to understand.

“I told him that I didn’t know what he meant by that for the longest time,” she laughs.

“But I understand it now. Because what he’s saying is that you’ll find your identity and your belonging within yourself, right?

“So we can try to fit in and go on a journey where we try to please people while still feeling like a misfit. But at the end of the day, it’s your own beliefs and values that will determine your identity.”

Mawunyo Gbogbo will be in Wagga’s Collins Booksellers on Baylis Street between 9:30 am and 1:30 pm on Saturday (3 December) and at the Curious Rabbit on Johnston Street from 6 pm to 7:30 pm.

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