Rapping about rights

Turning Tables
Denmark (Copenhagen)

“I marvel at the talent of youth in impossible situations and their potential to move things.”– Martin Fernando Jakobsen

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. 

Turning Tables is a constant source of inspiration from youth in impossible situations. At its heart is Martin Fernando Jakobsen, a 31-year-old DJ from Denmark. In 2009 Martin 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, Lebanon 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 an 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.

Turning Tables

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. That’s why he has also been working on participatory filmmaking projects with homeless youth in Denmark and Sweden.

Watch this music video is one of the results of the women-only workshop ‘Bridging Divides Through Music’ under the Voice of The Youth 2019 Project.

In October 2020, the Danish Novo Nordisk Foundation awarded TT a grant of one million euros for offering vulnerable young people training that exploits their full creative potential and enables them to seek employment in Jordan’s emerging film, television and music industry.

Spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, Martin told us that Turning Tables Myanmar has come up with a brand new innovative format for amplifying the voice of the Myanmar youth: “Even though it is hard times, we have managed to change some of our programmes to an online modality both in Europe and in the global south,” he says. “Turning Tables Myanmar, despite government-induced Covid-19 restrictions and frozen donor funding, has been able to develop a new format for artistic activism for television and online campaigning that was successfully implemented for the youth democracy mobilisation campaign ‘Rock Your Vote’ in October 2020 leading up to the Myanmar 2020 general election on 8 November.”

The objective of the campaign was to mobilise 5 million young first time voters to cast their votes by communicating the importance of democratic participation in an in demand  youth-to-youth format presented by popular activist musicians. “The campaign was firstly developed as a talk show format where six bands separately discussed the importance of voting and the impact youth voting could have for future positive societal change in Myanmar. The interviews were followed up by live music performances, which is in high demand among Myanmar youth since music venues have been closed since March 2020.”

“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 founder Martin. “I marvel at the talent and the potential to move things.”

atlas of the future turning tables

AtlasAction: Get involved by contacting TT here.

Written by

Lisa Goldapple, Editor, Atlas of the Future (25 October 2020)

Project leader

Martin Fernando Jakobsen, Founder


This project has been selected as part of CultureFutures, a new storytelling project that maps creative and cultural projects with a social mission – and the artists, collectives and entrepreneurs behind them.

Atlas of the Future is excited to join forces with Goldsmiths Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship and the British Council Creative Economy.

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