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Nicki Minaj Joins Dictator Performance Club

Nicki Minaj is being criticized for her decision to perform in Angola despite reports of gross human rights violations carried out by the government there.

performs onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
performs onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Christmas: a time for pine trees, gift-giving, church services, tacky lawn decorations, and Nicki Minaj performances endorsed by Angola’s iron-fisted dictator? No, really.

On Dec. 19, Minaj, an American hip-hop artist known for her colorful wigs and love for twerking, will perform at a holiday party in Luanda, the country’s capital, hosted by Unitel, a communications company run by the family of José Eduardo dos Santos, who has held power in Angola since 1979. It was not immediately clear how much Minaj will be paid for her Saturday performance, but in 2013, Mariah Carey was reportedly paid $1 million to play at a benefit concert in Luanda. (Carey and Minaj now share a manager.)

On Tuesday, Thor Halvorssen, founder and CEO of the Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for global human rights, penned a letter to Minaj asking her to reconsider her decision to perform and “to do business with the corrupt Angolan dictatorship and endorse the ruler’s family company.”

The dos Santos family has been accused time and again by human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, of arbitrarily detaining journalists, activists, and opposition politicians. In June, more than a dozen youth activists were arrested after meeting to discuss books on political resistance. 

Among them was Angolan hip-hop artist Luaty Beirao, who was accused of rebellion and carried out a five-week hunger strike in prison.

“As a strong-willed independent artist, shouldn’t you be advocating for the release of the imprisoned rapper Luaty Beirao rather than entertaining the dictator and his thieving family?” Halvorssen wrote to Minaj.

Minaj’s agent did not immediately respond to Foreign Policy‘s request for comment on her decision to go ahead with the concert, and her latest Facebook post about the upcoming show was from Dec. 10.

But her scheduled performance, however controversial, is just one of many examples of celebrities teaming up with dictators for a good show.

In March 2011, Beyoncé announced that after making $1 million performing for members of the Qaddafi family at a New Year’s concert in 2009, she gave the money away to charity.

In 2014, American pop singer Erykah Badu performed at a concert for the king of Swaziland, who has held power for nearly 30 years, bans political parties, and systematically oppresses his opposition. She even sang him “Happy Birthday.”

“All the people were smiling when I sang,” she tweeted. “[I] was smiling. We ALL felt good in that moment.”

And in July, FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi spent time with Ali Bongo, the dictator in Gabon who replaced his father in 2009. Messi has denied reports he was paid 3.5 million euros for the appearance, which was documented by Bongo’s regime, but the Human Rights Foundation claims the footage was later used as propaganda by the government.

Still, if Minaj goes ahead with this performance, it won’t be the strangest one of her career: In April, she performed at 13-year-old Matt Murstein’s bar mitzvah in New York, then posed for a photo shoot with a group of elated teenage boys.

Get a load of these little hunks I met last night @ the Bar Mitzvah 😩 they were very ummm turnT

A post shared by Barbie® (@nickiminaj) on

Photo credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Correction, Dec. 15, 2015: The king of Swaziland has held power for nearly 30 years, since 1986. A previous version of this article said that he has held power for nearly 30 decades. 

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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