Where is the Rap Revolution in Jordan?

Af Lucas Nielsen

Try to google “Arab Spring and revolutionary rap” and you will notice two things.

First, an enormous amount of articles will appear, many of them asking questions such as “Is Hip Hop Driving the Arab Spring?” and “How Has the Arab Spring Changed Arabic Hip Hop?” Both very interesting articles by the way, so follow the links and read them after finishing reading this post. Second, you will notice that RAPOLITICS’ upcoming project with rappers from Egypt has surprisingly conquered the second highest google-placement – not bad, right?

But let’s get back on track. This post is about Jordan, so here is a challenge: try to find an article about revolutionary rap in Jordan. It is impossible! There is a logical explanation to that: Jordan simply didn’t experience a revolution triggered by the Arab Spring!

Jordan, a country surrounded by Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and which is home to more than 2 million Palestinian refugees, managed almost completely to keep itself out of the wave of revolutionary revolts sweeping across the Arab world. But didn’t Jordanian rappers reach out to their brothers and sisters with revolutionary rap songs showing their solidarity? Sure. However, Jordan is simply not on the radar when the issue is revolutionary rap; the focus is understandably on rap artists from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Palestine.

Expanding the rap scene during revolutionary times

Overall, the hip hop scene is relatively small in Jordan comparing to other countries in the region. RAPOLITICS has worked to expand the Jordanian rap scene since November 2011 with the project RAPOLITICS Bokra (Bokra means tomorrow in Arabic). Actually, the project included both Syria and Gaza, but the situation in Syria exploded just by the time we were about to implement activities there. Paradoxically, the reason for excluding Gaza from the project was the status quo of the political situation there. Our partner organization continued to be closed by Hamas and the difficulties of getting the rappers out of Gaza – despite of a more flexible border with Egypt – stopped us.

But in Jordan, the political stability enabled us to implement a series of activities, including training sessions in Amman for rappers from Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Denmark. Two meetings in Amman were perfect opportunities for upcoming rappers from the region to meet each other for the first time, engage in discussions and record tracks with each other. Listen to a track that was recorded by Danish, Lebanese and Jordanian artists. It reflects the purpose of the Bokra project by speaking about the future:

Playground workshop with MC Jay

RAPOLITICS uses rap as a way of engaging adolescents and youth in discussions about social and political issues that have an importance in their lives. Another part of the project was, thus, to conduct an intensive Playground-workshop for adolescents in the city of Zarqa, where the Jordanian RAPOLITICS-coaches facilitated dialogue and reflection games and engaged in discussions with the participants about their lives, challenges and dreams.

MC Jay from the rap group Arab MC’s was one of the Jordanian rappers that facilitated the workshops in Zarqa. Their Facebook group is called “Arab MC’s (Arab Underground Hip Hop Revolution) and their debut album “Echoes from the Streets”, released in January 2012, promotes a message of raptivism that is very much in thread with RAPOLITICS’ work. In an interview with RAPOLITICS’ intern Linda, MC Jay explains that rap music suffer from a specific perception within the Middle East in general. It is looked upon as being haram in the sense that rap music is a concept from the western world e.g. U.S.A. Therefore many people in the Middle East observe the art of rap as a ghastly influence of their children’s minds. However MC Jay had a very positive experience with the use of rap as an empowerment tool, and he believes that the negative attitude will change over time. MC Jay and the other rappers involved in the project continue to be role models for young people throughout the Middle East after the end of the Bokra-project. Arab MC’s newest track:

So, where is the Rap Revolution in Jordan?

I think it is underway. Tomorrow, maybe. It has not been boosted by the Arab Spring, but Jordanian rap is being shaped by the frustrations and dreams of a generation of young people that find themselves surrounded by neighbors struggling for e.g. their freedom to expression while they too struggle to obtain a platform from where they can be heard and from where they can advocate for change. What do you think?

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Lucas Nielsen co-founded RAPOLITICS back in 2009 and has been very active since then as fundraiser, project manager etc. He was very much involved in the RAPOLITICS Bokra project as a ressource person and was also living and working in Jordan in 2011, where he focused on strenghtening UNICEF’s youth work in the Middle East.

Background info. RAPOLITICS tried to expand the space for rappers in Jordan with Bokra. And we focused on expanding the knowledge of raptivism to adolescents and youth. We and others organizations should do more to support the hip hop movement in Jordan. The Bokra project have ended so far, but RAPOLITICS still has its eyes on Jordan and other countries in the Middle East. In September the Egyptian rap group Arabian Knightz will visit us with MC Deeb and DJ Ramy. Furthermore, we will later this year invite four rappers from the Middle East to participate in our next project in Copenhagen entitled Tomorrow Today.