A close-up view of the Martyrs’ Square statue in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, shows bullet and shrapnel damage to the monument.
Young hip-hop artists in Lebanon are using their music to deal with their lives in the wake of years of violence, reaching across religious and sectarian divisions and promoting nonviolence, and they’ve joined forces with pro-peace organizations while they’re at it. —KA
In a small crowded bar in Hamra, West Beirut, an appreciative young audience is enjoying FZ’s beatboxing and the rapping of MC Yassin (aka Yeah-Seen). The reconstructed Lebanese capital now has as many live music clubs, fashionable cafés and hedonistic party venues as it used to have bombed-out buildings. But this Beirut crowd is getting entertainment with added political commentary. Yassin’s words express disgust at conditions that Palestinian refugees like him must endure in Lebanon. “I lived all of my life dreamin’ but the dream is over. Whenever I ask for a job, they tell me, ‘No you’re Palestinian!’.”
“Rap here has nothing to do with gang culture or bling,” the event’s organiser, MC Edd (aka Edouard Abbas) explains through a haze of cigarette smoke. A “very political emmcee” as he describes himself, Edd was born in French-speaking Ivory Coast but uses Arabic-language rap to attack the sectarian nature of Lebanese society.
It was precisely hip-hop’s ability to reach across these sectarian divisions that drew the attention of Permanent Peace Movement (PPM). Founded by students in the aftermath of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war and now among international peacebuilders promoted by Peace Direct – one of the charities in this year’s Independent Christmas Appeal – the small NGO trains community leaders in defusing tensions and equips people with the skills to articulate grievances without resorting to violence.
One of its most eye-catching initiatives is to recruit the arts for the purposes of reconciliation. Last year PPM persuaded hip hop artists including Yassin and Edd to become unlikely (and sometimes unruly), messengers for non-violence.