When the words 'hip-hop' spring to mind, one typically thinks of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. However, during a two-day workshop in Jabal Al-Hussein camp in Jordan, 30 young refugees from around the country gave an exciting and fresh take on the genre. The workshop ended with a hip-hop show which left the packed UNRWA Women's Programme Centre in rapturous applause.
Funded by the Danish Centre for Culture and Development (DCCD), the workshop involved an equal mix of girls and boys from Wihdat, Marka and Jabal Al-Hussein camps.
Two local producers supplied equipment, while members of the well-known Danish hip-hop group Den Sorte Skole (The Black School) gave coaching in turntabling and rapping. The energy was electric, with the participants enthusiastically absorbing their instructors’ lessons and adding their own attitude and style, drawing on their experiences as young people and as refugees.
Alienation and insecurity
Arabic samples infused the rhythmic beats and the raps reflected personal stories about life in refugee camps. In engaging and emotive performances, many of the young people spoke of the feelings of alienation and insecurity associated with being a Palestine refugee.
One performer, 15-year-old Ainam Shalhoud from Marka camp, dazzled the crowd with his wordplay: "The children in the camp are small, but their heads are big/ they have the will of the older people in spite of their small size/ the destruction of the houses, the destruction of the people, we are not settled down or secure/ security is having our freedom and our identity, there is no security in our lives/ we should learn how to develop and go further with our lives, despite what has happened".
Stories of Palestine
16 year-old Aya, from Wihdat camp, drew inspiration for her rhyme from the stories of Palestine passed onto her by her grandfather: "I remember when you told me about my country/ it is Palestine my mother and my soul/ when we fled from my country, we were told we would come back/ we left our house and our land, you told me granddad – we are fleeing/ and the olive trees; when they talk they say 'where are you, children of my country?'"
Martin Jakobsen, a member of Den Sorte Skole, (who performed at this year’s Roskilde music festival), emphasised the value of such workshops: "Man can't live by the belly alone. It's important to build success stories for youth, and introduce youth into the global culture and to avoid marginalisation. In two days it is amazing what you can do."
As Samer Shaqfa, one of the local producers, highlighted, the workshop provided the young refugees "with a method of communication and an outlet to harness their energy, and allowed both boys and girls to interact with each other in a constructive way and celebrate each other’s individual stories."
By teaming up with local producers, it is hoped that the workshop becomes sustainable and replicated in other camps. After a number of successful workshops in Lebanon, this project marks the first time the DCCD have funded one in Jordan, and the first time they have partnered with UNRWA.
Skills and enthusiasm
Hanan Al-Rawadi, the WPC supervisor, was clearly impressed with the young people’s skills and enthusiasm, highlighting their willingness to learn. Ms Al-Rawadi suggested that the young participants’ enjoyment was reason enough for the project to continue and expand.
Although the hip-hop scene in Amman may not rival that of New York, the energy that the young refugees brought to the workshop was impressive to behold. The opportunity to learn new skills, make new friends and take part in something innovative and exciting made it an unforgettable two days for everyone who took part.
The Jabal Al-Hussein Women's Programme Centre is one of 65 UNRWA WPCs that provide activities for the community, including a range of skills training and awareness-raising workshops for both women and young people. WPCs are one form of community-based organisation through which UNRWA works with Palestine refugees to design and implement services tailored to the needs of their communities.