Rapping about rights

Turning Tables
New York (United States)

Can you rap about human rights? Make hip hop on good governance? DJ your way to peace? Turning Tables believes you can. From refugee camps in Lebanon to post-Arab Spring Tunisia, divided Myanmar and the urban slums of Africa, marginalised young people from different backgrounds gather around turntables to find their voices and common ground in music and film.

At the heart is Martin Fernando Jakobsen, a 31-year-old DJ from Denmark. In 2009 he was living in Beirut when he set up Turning Tables (TT) to give refugees there a platform and a voice. What started as small hip hop workshops in refugee camps has turned into permanent ‘Turntable Labs’, with sound studios and film production facilities in the most unlikely places – as well as Voice of the Streets festivals and tours.

Local crews in Kenya, Myanmar and Jordan run projects with street children, immigrant women, refugees and tribes in urban slums, and youths are encouraged to speak out about how they want the future to be shaped. ‘Pushing through the week’ targeted tribalism and segregation in the ghettos in Nairobi, ROY BOY dropped spoken word off the back of a extensive writing training and, often excluded in society, Palestinian girls have been “rapping their butts off“.

“We never tell them what to say, but that they have to say something in their lyrics or film,” says Martin. “We also tell them that nobody gives a damn about them and if they want to change something in their lives they have to do it themselves.”

Technology is the root of everything TT do as they work hard to inspire politically, socially or economically marginalised youth to make creative pieces for social change that can be disseminated on social media. However, Martin sticks to a lo-fi approach with equipment that isn’t too sophisticated and expensive, so it’s accessible.

Martin doesn’t see hip hop as the solution to the world’s problems, but knows it’s important for everyone to be able to be involved in global youth culture. Informal social movements can help to push for awareness, inclusion, equality, justice and human rights. His new focus is working with the west and TT has already started participatory filmmaking with homeless youth in Denmark. “The most interesting part for me personally is that Turning Tables is a constant source of inspiration due to the flow of powerful products coming from youth in impossible situations,” says Martin. “I marvel at the talent and the potential to move things.”

Submitted by

Lisa Goldapple, Editor, Atlas of the Future (24 February 2016)

Project leader

Martin Fernando Jakobsen

Creative Commons License

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