Music may be described as a series of manipulated sounds. As simple as the description is, the potential this accumulation of sounds has is colossal and yes; revolutionary.
An art form not bounded by language or sight, music propels you to the present. Considering the current state of the world, the present is quite turbulent. A sensory wave of powerlessness is rushing over citizens as it becomes increasingly difficult to live autonomously. But if we are to truly examine the mental state of the population through the music it’s producing, we find the alternative.
Music is a reflection of the times, and people are fighting back.
Through this article, we will travel across continents exploring various artists, their music and its place in times of revolution.
Meet René Juan Pérez aka Residente. A man of many talents, René is a rapper, writer, filmmaker and the founder of an alternative rap group Calle 13 (Street 13).
René is from Puerto Rico and has endured his fair share of unjust impositions. Perez recently embarked on a journey to make music based on his DNA. After retrieving the results, he began to travel to the various locations where he can trace his heritage, gathering sounds and collecting stories which symbolize an inherent form of unity. Besides winning an impressive 25 Grammy Awards, Perez was awarded a Nobel Peace Summit for his song lyrics and dedication for bringing awareness to social causes.
A few steps away in China is another young fighter called Xie Yujie aka Melo. This 23-year-old rapper is responsible for creating riffs of rebellion and delinquency in a rather orthodox setting.
“Where there’s oppression, there’s resistance,” Melo states at the beginning of one of his tracks. Signs of individuality are unwelcomed in collectivist China where people are expected to dress and behave the same.“Daddy Ain’t Going to Work Tomorrow,” is an angsty anthem denouncing established norms and hierarchies.
Palestine & Syria
From China to Palestine, we encounter a trio of rapping rebels. Poetically enough, DAM stands for ‘blood’ in Arabic and ‘eternity’ in Hebrew. The frontman of DAM, Tamer Nafar, self-identifies as an atheist, feminist and progressive activist looking to make change by reflecting the reality around him.
In an interview with The National, Tamer says that he was greatly influenced by Tupac. He couldn’t understand the words at first but could relate to the struggle. “Music is an international language,” he says.
In a neighboring country, hip-hop has also become an unyielding tool for defiance. Syria has witnessed one of the most devastating accounts of hardships in recent years. Constant bombings, chemical attacks and a shortage of food supply cultivated an aching for self-expression and an outlet to voice frustration. Those are some of the themes covered by artists like Al Sayyed Darwish, Bu Kalthoum and Assasi Non Fuse.
Voyaging into the inner streets of Kenya, we find another hip-hop artist calling for societal transformation. Kenyan rapper Octopizzo (real name Henry Ohanga) recites verses recalling moments of brutality inflicted by the police force. The young rapper talks about a first-hand account when policemen opened fire and diffused tear bombs harming Kenyan citizens. Since then, Ohanga has openly called for civil involvement via peaceful protests.
“Kenya belongs to all of us. Violence is not the solution,” he said during one of his talks.
Music has always possessed a transcending element. Jazz, punk and heavy metal are pivotal pillars solidifying a movement against the hegemonic norm. It seems there is something special about hip-hop. It was ignited by local emcees in the South Bronx in New York during the late 70s. “The music led to an entire cultural movement that’s altered generational thinking – from politics and race to art and language,” Tukufu Zuberi says.
Possibly, it is the sharing of struggle or constructing rhyming verses that makes hip-hop an international platform for muted voices. Described as a global form of resistance, hip-hop is finding its way through Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Kenya, China and Latin America. It is producing groundbreaking change by connecting with the younger generation and bringing awareness to degrees of injustices. It offers solidarity through difficult times and courage to speak out but most of all it recognizes the prospect of change.
It seems like there is a need to vocalize our struggle through hip-hop because corruption and exploitation run deep through many areas of the world.
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