Questlove of The Roots branches out to Africa

Questlove is pictured at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York last year. (Photo: WSJ)

On a recent trip to South Africa, Questlove, drummer and bandleader for The Roots, says he relearned a valuable lesson that he’d almost forgot – the reach of music across continents and cultures.

The artist, also a DJ and record producer, was asked by Oprah Winfrey to perform at at a graduating party for her South African Leadership Academy for Girls. He almost balked at the request, worried he would have to censor himself in front of dignitaries and the teenage students.

“I learned the biggest lesson of my life that night,” he said in a recent interview with Speakeasy. “Never underestimate the power of the absolutely potent substance that is hip hop.” The students knew more about his music than he expected, and he was reminded of how far music can travel.

Sharing hip hop with the world, and giving fans an opportunity to engage directly with artists, was one of the original aims of Okayplayer, a music site Questlove started in 1999. Conversation was promoted with community boards and the site provided valuable exposure for new audiences. Okayplayer’s offshoots include the Caribbean-lifestyle site LargeUp, jazz site The Revivalist and Okayafrica.

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