"We Rock Long Distance" Documents Minnesota's Hip-Hop Influences

University of Minnesota graduate student Justin Schell will travel to Ghana next month with M.anifest to film musical collaboration between one of Minnesota's most talented rising musical stars and his grandfather, a noted scholar and musician from a different African generation.

J.H. Kwabena Nketia is not a hip-hop artist, but his grandson is. Known as "Professor" in the academic community for his pioneering work in composition and African ethnomusicology, he was always simply "Grandpa" to Ghanaian hip-hop artist M.anifest.

With a voice full of wisdom from almost 90 years of life, Nketia speaks words from a small book of poems that bear an unexpected, yet unmistakable, resemblance to his grandson's music through their rhyme and rhythmic energy.

This discovery leads M.anifest, who has spent the last 10 years of his life in Minnesota, to return home to Ghana to embark on a collaboration of profound artistic and historic significance: creating music with his Grandpa for the first time. While M.anifest discovers more about his world-famous grandfather, Nketia takes on a new musical challenge near the end of his life, or as he says wryly, "when I'm still in the waiting room and not in the departure lounge."

The trip is part of Schell's larger documentary called We Rock Long Distance, which weaves together the stories of M.anifest, Maria Isa and Tou SaiKo Lee -- three Minnesota artists who use hip-hop as a way to create connections between different generations. Schell will follow Maria Isa to Puerto Rico and Tou SaiKo Lee to Thailand in other portions of the project.

Justin Schell, director of We Rock Long Distance, is a Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature and has worked on numerous documentary projects with the Immigration History Research Center. For more information about the film, visit http://www.WeRockLongDistance.com.