A Hip-Hop Partnership between Denmark and Egypt

Af Camilla M. Kronborg

This is the story of a unique hip-hop partnership between Revolution Records in Alexandria and RAPOLITICS in Denmark. It all started back in 2012 and has now developed into a strong tie between raptivists in Egypt and students and youth in Denmark. The dream of the hip-hop revolution is very much alive!

Exploring Egyptian Hip-Hop

I  remember the first time I met Revolution Records. It was a cool night in the town of Alexandria in the north east of Egypt. I was on a 5 day research mission invited by the Danish Center for Culture and Development who were looking for new projects and partners in Egypt. The aim was to support the efforts of local artists in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring and the overthrowing of president Mubarak. We spent 5 days in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said talking to a broad variety of artists. From origami activists (!) travelling to Tahrir square with a giant figure in folded paper with messages of hope, to commemorate the first anniversary of the jan 25 revolution, to puppeteers and theatre groups using forum theatre to address pertinent social issues such as gender inequality and sexual harassment.

While it was very interesting and inspiring to meet all these great artists, they weren´t the reason I was there. I was there on behalf of RAPOLITICS hoping to identify a future partner: someone firmly rooted in the Egyptian hip-hop scene who would be interested in developing a project with us. As the third day ran out we had still not managed to meet any hip-hop groups, and I was beginning to feel slightly worried that I would not be able to complete the purpose of the mission. However, I had one last hope: a lead I had gotten from a local journalist who told me about an Alexandrian based hip-hop collective he had interviewed years earlier. I had made an appointment with the group called Revolution Records to meet me in my hotel later that night, not knowing anything about them or their work, but at this point they were my only contact.

Before coming to Egypt I had a vague idea that the number of hip hop artists and fans was on the rise, but as I sat and waited for the guys to arrive in the hotel lobby, I had no idea just how big this audience was. Revolution Records first formed in 2006 as a self-proclaimed system critic hip-hop collective and record label constituted by 14 members at the time. All progressive and with lyrics addressing the social and political injustice they experienced in the era of former president Mubarak. They denounced the regime and called for the revolution for several years before this became a joined agenda for dissatisfied youth all over the country. When I first met them, they had around 60.000 Facebook followers. This number has quadrupled since then with each track and activity gaining them more fans and followers.

Members of the Family

Over the past four years they have become an integral part of the RAPOLITICS family and we have come to know them all well. But more importantly, both Danish youth and still more Alexandrian and Egyptian youth have come to know them through their extensive work and tireless efforts to BOOST the hip-hop scene and literally pass the mike to young artists with a message to deliver. They have built a studio, realized 4 concerts for upcoming artists, launched an online radio channel (radio16bar.net), carried out a large number of workshops and trainings in the four elements and have been to Denmark twice to share their experience with Danish youth. Latest in September 2015 when they spent 10 days here making workshops and concerts in Danish folk high schools.

The Two Egypts

Their presentations at the folk high schools were centered around portraying what they called “the two Egypts”: the one you see in the tourist videos featuring images of the pyramids, smiling Bedouins etc. vs. the one recorded by activists in the streets during and after the Egyptian revolution, featuring police brutality and dubious politicians. The inherent message in the presentations were of course, that these two Egypts are very different, and reflect two distinct media representations and agendas. And even though they exist side by side, we are only ever shown the appealing one. To this end, the message of Revolution Records was clear. If we do not speak of the very real problems of police brutality, oppression and harassment, they will never go away. It is our jobs as citizens and as artists to speak up and lead the way towards freedom of speech and of artistic expression. This logic is also applied in their studio, as they explained during one of the workshops: "Our studio is open to all. We believe in the freedom of speech and that is why we allow everyone to record whatever they want – even if we don’t agree with it. We use the music to tell the truth – even under Mubarak when there was no freedom of speech, we could express ourselves through rap, and the studio gives this opportunity to today’s new rappers."

The Soundtrack of a Revolution

With the Egyptian revolution the hip-hop scene grew rapidly. Especially internationally there was a great focus on the role played by rappers and other artists during the revolution. Hip-hop went from being a musical bastard to becoming more socially accepted by youth as they saw how it could be used to demand and give voice. As Rock points out alluding to the poor reputation of Egyptian mainstream media among local activists: "Today people know, that they have to look to hip-hop to hear the truth."

A student in the workshop in Denmark asked about the current status of the revolution and the view of the subsequent governments upon the hip-hop community, and the rappers reply was sad and uplifting at the same time: "For a time, we felt like we won! We could say whatever we wanted and could perform publicly with our songs. But now it is in many ways the same as before the revolution – or even worse. But we continue. Just recently we began making a track with Mohamed Mounir, who is a huge icon in the underground scene. That represents a giant step for the underground hip-hop scene, and events like this will force the mainstream media to recognize the hip-hop scene and the fact that it has a huge audience."

Voice of the Voiceless

Back in 2012 we finally met after I had to postpone our meeting twice beeing stuck in a meeting and dinner on the far end of the Alexandrian pier. So when we met it was close to midnight, and I could hardly keep my eyes open. When groupmembers Mezo and Rock first arrived I didn’t identify them: two quiet looking guys in formal suits, tie and all, and a leatherbriefcase tucked under one arm. Safe to say, they did NOT look like rappers. I guess that they took one look at me in my neutral semi-formal mummywear and thought the same. So they left the lobbyarea where I was expecting them. However when they came back the second time we both realized who each other were, greeted each other and sat down to talk.

I told them about RAPOLITICS and our work and visions of using hip-hop culture to give voice and create participation among marginalized youth all over the globe. I explained how we were looking for someone who shared that vision. It quickly became apparent that their slogan “voice of the voiceless” was not just a catchfrase but a real ambition and one that was perfectly aligned with what we wanted to accomplish in Egypt. And so, a partnership was born. With time another institution joined the partnership: last year we teamed up with the bureau at the Danish based Vallekilde Folk High School. We have a three year commitment with them entailing youth exchange across borders and a joined purpose of keeping the studio alive supporting Alexandrian youth in their efforts to address the injustice, corruption and social inequality they experience.

The studio is for them. For the underground artists and hangarounds who have nowhere to vent their frustration in part because the city offers no cultural venues and in part because the regime has a less than positive outlook on grassroot activism – including when it is in the form of artivism, or critical social conscious music as is the case for most of the users of the studio. The students at Vallekilde understand the importance of this, and have worked tirelessly to support the continued existence of the studio through fundraising, concerts and practical help reconstructing the studio after it had to be moved to a smaller location.

For Real

In the hotel lobby the clock had passed midnight and the receptionist came for the second time wanting to turn of the lights looking to turn in and get some rest on the sofas we were occupying. My body was still begging me to go to sleep, but my mind had been woken abrubtly during the meeting with 2 x Mohamed a.k.a. MC’ s Mezo and Rock. In their own subtle and humble way they had talked about their dreams of opening a studio. About how they wanted to boost the Alexandrian hip-hop scene empowering the voices of its artists at all levels through concerts, workshops, radio shows, graffiti events, campaigns and much more. Despite their understated appearance, there was no doubt in my mind that these guys were for Real. They had a cause and the ideas and the kind of determined energy and focus necessary to realize it.

As I went to bed that night I felt confident, that I had found a project partner with great potential. I could never have imagined though, that now 4 years later, we would have accomplished all the things we have together. Just a few weeks ago, the students from Vallekilde returned to Denmark after realizing the third exchange between our organizations where the students of Vallekilde visited the studio in Alexandria. And I think once again of the words Mezo said to me that night four years ago: "We will fight because it is necesary. The revolution came, but we still have a lot of work to do and we need to join forces with all the youth who share this vision of a better Egypt."

So we continue to join forces with our partners and friends in Revolution Records and are exited to see where the journey leads us – stay tuned!

In the meantime enjoy this video about our hip-hop partnership with Revolution Records (video above).

Camilla M. Kronborg was for two years Chairwoman in RAPOLITICS and very much involved in our partnership with Revolution Records. She is now a dedicated volunteer involved in our project development activities in Bolivia. camilla@rapolitics.org

"From 2006 till today we are fighting for the same cause/as long as your own self isn´t satisfyed and the peoples eyes are blinded from truth that we find/hidden by lies/we are mirror for a society where freedom of speech is not allowed."

Thawragya | ثورجية – Revolution Records