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22.07.14
Af

Mona Munck-Lindblom

Hip-Hop Generates Hope in the Ghetto of Dakar

The poverty, unemployment and crime rate is huge in the ghetto area Pikine outside the Senegalese capital Dakar. Once, hanging in the street corner, was the only thing to do. But since 2006 street-art schools have allotted alternatives which have produced dreams about a better life as a hip-hop artist. And dreams generate hope.

He both lives and works in Pikine, and when we are walking through the local market he shows me all the shoes and handbags made at the workshop where he works. Over the last eight years Balvada has been a fixed part of the community around Africulturban. In 2012  the center initiated the project carré d’as (ace card) to promote four young rappers, and they invited Balvada as one of them. Doing the project the four rappers made an EP and went on a tour, and since then Balvada has been a famous name in most of Senegal.

With more than 1,500 likes at his Facebook page and several videos on YouTube, he is one of the young artists with success. He is working with the Senegalese rapper Gaston,  that lives in France, with whom he went on tour earlier this summer and he is present on the album W.A.R (We Are Rap), a tribute to the hip-hop from Dakar, which was released late June 2014. I experienced Balvada’s  talent when I saw him on stage during the hiphop festival Festa2H. The Festival is led by Africulturban and takes place every year in Dakar. The crowd was one hooting jumping mass when Balvada spit his rap as was his words the recoils of a machine gun.

But the real force Balvada has in his power is that he can rap in the old way of wolof (the national language) which is loaded with metaphors and only a few masters. That said, the biggest barrier for him to get famous outside Senegal and West Africa is the language.

”My dream is to practices my language skills and learn to rap in English, so I can get my music to Europe and the rest of the world” tells Balvada. He hopes that he one day can use his music to achieve social changes in the society he comes from:

My biggest dream is to come to London and get an education in music production, so I can make music for my own and for others, and then use the profit to make better life for the children in Pikine and Senegal. Cause life in Senegal is not easy and it is difficult to make a future here. I hope, that I one day can help the children here to get better life, so they can make a better future for themselves and for Senegal.

From ex-con to wordsmith

Africulturban is making social work in collaboration with the prison in Dakar. In the project Youth Urban Media Academy (Y.U.M.A) the center provides language courses and street-art lessons for the young inmates and after the release, they invite them to continue the classes at the center in Pikine. Ame Kana whom now is a regular at Africulturban was once part of Y.U.M.A. His parents kicked him out of their home because they did not want to accept his fascination of the hip-hop culture and he ended up in prison after some years living on the streets.

”Once, when I came home from a hip hop concert my parents had locked the door and they would not let me in” says the 26 years old freestyle rapper and dancer, and continues:

Because my parents thought that the hip hop environment was unethical and a clean road to a drug abuse, they would not accept my engagement in the culture

Until then, Ame Kana had never drinked alcohol or used any drugs. But not so long after his parents kicked him out, he was both addicted to alcohol and marijuana.

”When my parents kicked me out of the house, I had nowhere to go. I began to live on the street and soon did I drink alcohol and smoke marihuana every day,” utters Ame Kana honestly. After some years living on the street Ame Kana was caught by the police in possession of marihuana. The verdict was six month in prison. There he took part of Y.U.M.A which was his way out of the life on the streets, and the return to his old life.

It was a friend who made me participate in Y.U.M.A and beside the support in my rap and dance I began to take lessons in French and English. And I continued after my release.

Today Ame Kana lives in Pikine and he is reconciled with his parents who now can see that he is out of his drug abuse and that the hiphop is good for him. That is why he tells me that he is greatfull to Africulturban: “I am Africulturban greatfull. They helped me get my life and my family back.”

While I’m still in Senegal, he participates in a freestyle contest at Festa2H. It is clear for me, that he got a great flow even though I do not understand wolof, and by the reaction of the crowd I know he has done well. But unfortunately he endst as number two in the contest.

There is something in his eyes that reminds me of his tough past, but he has got a warm happiness and a nearly childish enthusiasm and bright belief in the future and I will keep my fingers crossed that he will win his next competition.

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Cover photo: Ina N. F. Thiam
Author: Mona Munck-Lindblom.
Mona traveled to Senegal in the beginning of june 2014 to attend to the international hiphop and urban culture festival Festa2H in Dakar. During her trip Mona got a inside view of the Senegalese hip-hop environment which is known for its political activism and its social work in the ghetto. Mona is cand. mag in Literature and Culture Encounters and she is a cultural writer at U-landsnyt.dk.

14.11.13
Af

Rapolitics

I Rap to Break the Silence Inside Me

Meet Yukka. A 22 year old female rapper, self announced feminist and former law student from Egypt who’s been rapping about women’s rights, equality and the Egyptian revolution since 2011. Interesting, right?

Her parents reject her rap career and deny speaking with her. As she explains, it’s impossible to get a boyfriend as a female rapper. Recently she’s been blacklisted from some concert venues in Egypt because of her revolutionary rap against the upper structural forces in the country. She’s expecting to be investigated by the national security force in the nearest future, something she fears, as they informally are known to have raped, tortured and undermined women during the revolution, she tells. Now this November, RAPOLITICS is running a project highlighting Yukkas personal story.

From Diary to Rap Lyrics

RAPOLITICS met Yukka for the first time during Spring 2013 as part of the BOOST project in Alexandria. Quickly she managed to impress us with her charismatic and strong personality and story. In September, she participated in another RAPOLITICS-project with 35 raptivists from the Middle East, North Africa and Denmark. Through her artistic expression she manifested herself as being a strong-willed and ambitious young rapper carrying heavy loads in her heart.

She started writing down her thoughts in a diary when she was ten years old. A bit further down the road she realized how writing in rhyme and rhythms seemed more natural to her. From a young age the themes of Yukka’s writing expressed her thoughts of feeling oppressed in her own home as well as by the system and society surrounding her.

In her teenage years her diary rhymes developed and turned into actual rap lyrics. When asked about her reason to rap, she says:

I rap to break the silence inside me. It wasn’t enough just to write my thoughts down for myself. I needed to break the silence for many girls just like me. I wanted to inspire them to speak out loud, do whatever they want to do, and not care about what people think about it.

Head Held High

In 2011, Yukka started focusing on the revolution taking place in Egypt. This subject goes hand in hand with her educational profil, as she studied law to be able to increase possibilities of general structural equality and freedom of expression in Egypt.

Her texts primary are about what she considers the degrading and politically unacceptable behavior exercised by the Muslim Brotherhood. But they also address how the police and military is worsening the situation with their actions, resulting in blood baths. Being a female rapper in Egypt, Yukkas has taken a remarkable decision to face the world with her head held high and she immediately stands out as a unique example of a strong outspoken woman in the society she comes from in Alexandria. Yukka’s story strongly reflects the many political issues and cultural clashes Egypt is facing.

Yukka in Denmark

As part of the RAPOLITICS-project simply entitled Yukka funded by CISU, a photo exhibition will take place in Copenhagen the 21th of November 2013. Yukka herself is going to be at the opening to tell her story and answer questions from visitors. And of course Yukka is here to perform as well. She will be recording a collab-track with three Danish female rappers, and together they will perform the 23th of November at café Zorro.

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About the blogger: Katinka is a communications volunteer at RAPOLITICS. She holds a Bachelor Degree in International Development Studies and is at the moment taking a Master’s Degree in Communication from Aalborg University Copenhagen.

13.10.13
Af

Emilie Henriksen

RapLab: A Revolutionary Hip-Hop Training Camp

What do 35 rappers from Denmark, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine have in common? They all want to change the world through their music. Therefore, RAPOLITICS invited them to participate in the RapLab MENA-DK project where the goal was to create a musical manifest for the future and to exchange knowledge on cultural issues and raptivism during an intense nine day training camp.

Tina Mweni heard about RapLab at a RAPOLITICS-meeting where one of her co-rappers asked her to join, and the project immediately appealed to Tina due to its revolutionary nature.

”I see RapLab as a revolutionary project. Hip-hop has the ability to connect people despite their nationalities and religious beliefs”, says Tina Mweni. To the question as to why she considers RapLab to be revolutionary, Tina explains:

”It is quite unique to be part of a project where so many rappers from different nationalities are able to meet up in a single place despite certain hurdles along the way. Some of the rappers come from places where it is battle to get out of the country due to statuary obsticles , while others live in countries where their lyrics are banned”.

Hip Hop brings people together

Palestinian rapper Rami knows all about the hardship of being from a country with a limited right to move around freely. He grew up in Palestine – a country that has been occupied by the Israelis since the sixties. He participated in RapLab in the hope that he would meet new people who could challenge his perspective on life. He also believes that hip-hop can be used as a tool to bring about social change.

”Hip-hop has a way of bringing people together by being universal. At the same time, hip hop is a great instrument to motivate people”, explains Rami who also hopes to motivate people with his music:

”I rap about my life, the society, the fucked up politics, my dreams and the dreams of those around me. I can never be the voice of those who are voiceless. No one can. But I can always motivate them to speak and to agree or disagree with what I am saying.”

Being born and raised in an occupied country, Rami has already experienced a lot of hardship that made him become more socially conscious as a rapper:

”I was born in Jenin where I lived a messed up childhood like most of the Palestinian children. Mine was extra hard due to the fact that my parents got divorced while I was an infant. And being raised by a single mother in an Arab country is a hell of a life”, says Rami and continues:

”It was one of my motivations to speak about pain and anger, about how lonely we all could be even though we are surrounded by people. I still live a fucked up life, but I am enjoying every bit of it”.

When asked about whether or not RapLab met his expectations, Rami states:

”Somehow it did, but it’s still early to tell. Nonetheless, I truly enjoyed the experience. One of the main things I’ve learned was the ability to converse with intellectual minds that I’ve met through the programme and to share my knowledge with them – and vise versa, of course”’.

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About the blogger: Emilie is a communications volunteer at RAPOLITICS. She holds a master’s degree in Danish and Film and Media Studies from University of Copenhagen.

02.07.13
Af

Kiki Hynding Hansen

The voice of Egyptian raptivists cannot be silenced

From the outside it looks like any other dusty brown building in Egypt. But when you get closer you see paint on the wall outside the building announcing that something interesting is happening on the second floor. If you dare to enter and climb the old rusty staircase you will find a hidden treasure.

The center will be a base for the Alexandrian hip hop scene – a place where everybody interested in hip hop can meet and exchange ideas and create music and art together. Only a few days after the grand opening, the center has already attracted a great number of youth. We visited the center a random Monday evening and it was full. There were at least 30 young people involved in activities and conversations. Not even power cuts – a great problem in Egypt these days – stopped them from doing what they came for. They beatboxed instead using the power of their tongue and had electrifying cyphers accompanied by unplugged instruments, we even heard a harmonica at a certain point. Politics in Egypt cannot stop the youth, it cannot stop the raptivists!

Two days after the opening, Revolution Records already had the first track ready – recorded, mixed and mastered in their own new studio. In a few days, workshops will start up for those interested in both rap and graffiti. And soon the first hip hop workshops at schools in Alexandria ever will be started up. The past couple of months everybody has been working tirelessly on making the place ready for the opening: isolating, rebuilding, painting, cleaning up and practically living in the studio to be able to work as many hours as possible. Now it’s time for Revolution Records to put away the tools and paint and get back to what they really want to do.

Revolutionaries by heart

Revolution Records started out as the first underground hip hop label in Egypt in 2006 consisting of nine young men. Today, Revolution Records mainly consists of the rappers Ahmed Rock, Rooney, C-Zar and TeMraz, but around them are a lot of friends, fans and supporters all helping out. They are not just talented rappers, they see themselves as revolutionaries. Not only because they took part in the revolution in Egypt, and shared their revolutionary songs at the Tahrir Square with thousands of people. But also because they are taking up the fight to live the kind of life they wish too, they insist in pursuing their goals and dreams despite the obstacles and challenges they face from conservative and religious powers in Egypt. They insist in being raptivists. Text from the song ‘Kalam Shaware3’ (Street language):

Raised and coming up from the street school – the revolution is coming from my heart. We all need a revolution and we are the music revolution.

Revolution runs in the veins of Revolution Records and they want to contribute to revolutionizing Egypt by expressing their opinions and giving a voice to the protesters on the streets. Also, they want to address the importance of creating a functioning hip-hop scene in Alexandria where young people can find the needed space and support to be creative. They told NY Times 17.05.2012:

We think that Egypt wants a revolution, not only a political revolution but an everything revolution: revolution for the way of thinking, revolution for our life style and the old bad traditions.

Revolution Records not only participated in the 2011-revolution in Egypt, they predicted the revolution with their track ‘Wa2t el Thawrageya’ (Revolutionary time) from December 2010:

They say that the revolution in the people’s hearts has died / but I see it growing. I see anger inside a silent people / inside the hearts of a whole generation that’s standing in place, stuck.

Social and political roots

With songs like this, Revolution Records has been in the very front of the Egyptian hip hop scene, as revolutionaries, as artists, as raptivists. Since the hip hop scene started blossoming in the aftermath of the revolution, a lot of other rap groups have followed their lead. Revolution Records has – with their honest and authentic style – been true to what they believe in and what they believe to be good hip hop.

What appeals us about rap are the social and political roots. Not the commercial hip-hop which is so popular today”, Ahmed Rock said to the Danish newspaper Politiken 6.10.2012

Another young rapper who has stepped into the Alexandrian hip hop scene is the young female rapper Yukka. She started rapping in 2010 inspired by other young rappers like Revolution Records. Today, she is also part of the crew behind the new center and very much engaged with RAPOLITICS. She is coming to Denmark later this year to participate in a RAPOLITICS-project about female artists in Egypt and about how it is to be a female in the Middle East. She recently finished this track together with a handful of other Egyptian rappers.

The whole crew around Revolution Records has been working non-stop the last 4 days to finish their newest track ‘May3rafsh Skoot’ (My voice couldn’t be silent). The track, which is done together with the group Wasla, is their comment on what is happening these days in Egypt, with the manifestations against President Morsi after a chaothic year on power. Therefore, it was particularly important for them to finish it just now before they themselves went to the streets. With the new track they also released a new music video.

Yukka, Revolution Records and the upcoming rappers in Alexandria are showing the world the power of hip hop to transform mindsets, to connect people, and to challenge the status-quo. The opening of the center is the first step in an exciting journey, which will culminate with a hip-hop festival in Alexandria in January 2014, where RAPOLITICS also will be represented. But it will not end there. With the opening of the new center, youth in Alexandria has gained a valuable platform for self-expression, artistic creation and learning.

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Kiki Hynding Hansen
is a member of the RAPOLITICS’ board. She was involved in RAPOLITICS-projects in Bolivia and Denmark, and has studied the rap scene in Vietnam. She is currently responsible for the partnership project with Revolution Records funded by the Danish Center for Culture and Development. kiki@rapolitics.org

27.06.12
Af

Aya Lee

Shootings in Sierrra Leone!

This year Sierra Leone launched its first international film festival. I was in Freetown to participate in the festival and meet two young filmmakers from the Media Center WeOwnTv that are invited to facilitate pocket film workshops in Denmark later this year.

First West African Action Film

The action film State Crime is another example of showing Sierra Leonean history in a new way. The film is not just Sierra Leone’s, but West Africa’s first action film. The 3 hour long film introduces us to a real story about a soldier and puts light on a dilemma that according to Lansana never has been told in public before in such way – even if it is a very classic problem. During the civil war situations where soldiers officially served the government during the day, but unofficially fought for the rebels in the night were very common. The word sobel (a contraction of soldier and rebel) describes this bifurcated sympathy.

Even if State Crime is very long and the special effects are of poor quality, we are left full of respect for the work the filmmakers have done. It is necessary to take the conditions into consideration. First, the resources are very few. Second, it is the first action film in West Africa, which means that it also plays a role as a predecessor of its kind. The film crew has done a great work finding costumes and facilities – something we didn’t consider, when we saw the film. But lenting army costumes from the military is an extraordinary achievement. State Crime won the most prestigious award: The Salone Star 2012. The award included 10 million SLL for the next film project.

Deep Respect

With our new insight in the challenges that the filmmakers have to deal with, our approach to the festival became more humble and respectful. The fact that the films and the whole film festival has succeeded at all is impressive. As the festival coordinator Layna Fisher says “Just to get a scissor can take two days”.

When we got to the peak of the festival: the award show that celebrates the end of the festival, but also manifests the beginning of a film industry in Sierra Leone, it is with a deep respect for the hard work of the involved who had to fight with failing electricity, bad sound systems and too many challenges, that we take our seats in the cinema and start following the award show.

Prominent personalities from the industry of culture and entertainment speak and express a renewed hope for film production in Sierra Leone. A hope they had given up. And it is difficult not to be excited about the young filmmakers dedication and willpower. There is a new energy; a group of young people that deeply wish to take part in developing and creating films in Sierra Leone for Sierra Leone, but also for an international audience. As it has been said under the award show, the young directors also have to direct their productions to an international audience, if they have any dream of living of being a filmmaker.

We leave the cinema with a feeling of having seen something that is about to begin. Or at least has the potential to be a beginning. We have great respect for the people behind WeOwnTv and Sierra Leone International Film Festival and look forward to welcoming Lansana and Arthur in Denmark in the beginning of October.