Even Amidst Unthinkable Turmoil, Hip-Hop Offers a Refuge in the Congo (Video)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the reverberations of war remain omnipresent despite the fact that 2003 marked the official end of the Second Congo War, considered by most historians to be the deadliest war in modern African history. The war itself and its aftermath have claimed more than 5-million lives and for many of the country’s residents, neither have really ended. Armed militia groups terrorize much of the nation, where disease and malnutrition also run rampantly. And yet, as history often reminds us, it is out of the darkest corners that the most vibrant resolve comes forth, and the DRC is one of the world’s most shining examples, particularly when it comes to Hip-Hop.

In a recent profile for Al Jazeera America, an organization called Yole!Africa is highlighted. The group focuses on youth empowerment in a region of the world where more often than not, young men and women are left with fleetingly few resources with which to explore with self-expression. In fact, the organization’s immediate surroundings are not at all conducive to a fledgling youth culture; the Yole!Africa compound in the city of Goma is covered in barbed wire. Nevertheless, those involved with the program are fighting every day for the opportunity to forge a voice, a part of life that is taken for granted in countries like the United States. Goma has also birthed the Lutte pour le Changement movement (LUCHA), which translates into the “Struggle for Change,” and it is within the parameters of that movement where Hip-Hop has flourished.

A 22-year-old Congolese rapper called Double D has helped found a local recording studio, which in part resulted out of the progressive ideals of the LUCHA movement. According to Al Jazeera America, “When rebels kidnapped several of his young relatives on their way to school, Double D felt compelled to rap about it. ‘When they take little children and put them in the army they die for free,” he says. “When you see that it makes you cry.'” Journalist Kate Lamb goes on to share some harrowing details that both inspire and handicap the freedom of expression in the DRC. “In late June, Double D was preparing to give a free concert with his band, the Real Fight Band, in the northeastern city of Beni. Last year, rebels there hacked more than 250 people to death with axes and machetes. ‘I’m going to invite all the people of Beni to hear my message,’ he said, before stepping into the studio to have a meeting with a DJ.”

Though seemingly anecdotal, artists like Double D are experiencing similarly harrowing ordeals, but Yole offers them creative asylum. “Through their songs, Hip-Hop artists at Yole call out the government’s corruption and ineptitude while at monthly ‘baraza’ sessions they sit down and dissect socio-political dynamics,” Lamb writes. From her expansive, deeply detailed dispatch, it’s evident that the same tidal currents that spurred Hip-Hop’s rise to prominence in this country are cultivating a similar landscape in a part of the world that for most Heads, seems both literally and figuratively a world away. However, the similarities are far too many to go unnoticed. Centuries after the first enslaved Africans arrived on American shores, their offspring have forged what is arguably the world’s most influential cultural movement and it is surely safe to say that the young men and women partaking in the DRC’s contemporary Hip-Hop boon are the relatives of the same men and women who forged the path stateside.

To learn more about the rich, tragic socio-political history of the DRC and how the current youth movement is aiming to reshape the country’s future, read “In Congo, hip-hop gives youth a political voice” at Al Jazeera America. For a glimpse of how the young people of Goma are utilizing Hip-Hop, check out the video below for an incredible dance mob, set to the sounds of popular Congolese rap.

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