16681982_1210693555693233_7293072178192764129_n By: Anne Sophie Ranjbar, Associate Director and Maima Caranda, Volunteer

As you walk through Monrovia, you can’t miss the catchy West African beats that play on every street. While Nigeria has traditionally been the hub for music in the region, Liberia’s young “Hip Co” artists are rapidly building a following in the region and beyond. Music has the power to inspire and inform people—acting as a medium through which to channel popular sentiment and shape collective dreams. As Liberia faces its next presidential election—a critical opportunity to consolidate democracy and peace after a troubled past—music can also serve as a tool to raise citizens’ awareness of the importance of safe, peaceful elections.

After supporting popular musicians Amaze, Peaches, J-Glo, and Young Hova to create the hit song Know Who To Vote For, the Lab wanted to help aspiring young artists to do something similar. With generous support from the US Embassy in Monrovia, the “Rap to Be Repped” program gives “underground” artists the platform they need to find their voice and use it to catalyze positive change. Forty young people applied for the opportunity to receive mentorship and training from the country’s most successful musicians and to perform their first songs to experts. Then, a panel of DJs, producers, musicians and promoters carefully reviewed the underground artists’ abilities, characters, voices and song lyrics, and selected the five top finalists to compete in the first national Rap to Be Repped Live Concert and Competition.

Rap to Be Repped winners On March 31st, despite the hot Liberian sun, hundreds of people from in and around Monrovia gathered at the outdoor Sports Commission arena to hear these young artists’ messages about the elections. The only admission fee was presentation of a voter registration card and a healthy dose of enthusiasm for Liberian music. The musicians roused the crowd with their songs about “peaceful elections”, “rightful choice”, “your leh go vote” (“let’s vote”), and “don’t let them kaley” (“don’t allow them to fool you”). In an exercise of democracy, attendees voted for their favorite song via an SMS on their phones (courtesy of a free short code from Cellcom and technical support from iLab Liberia). Female rapper Lauren  Kolleh (aka “Daddy’s Girl”) won by a landslide and fans flooded the performance area to congratulate her with cheers and celebratory dancing. Her original anthem “We Need Change in Liberia” hit home to a hopeful generation of young people seeking to create a better future.

As the event drew to a close, our team used KoBoToolbox to conduct a short, multiple-choice survey of 32 attendees on their experience at the concert and its impact. The results showed that almost half of the crowd came to hear new music or be with their friends, but afterwards more than 90% indicated they would talk about the elections, vote, or even volunteer to monitor the elections. The crowd also indicated by a large majority that that the key issues they learned about were knowing about the candidate you vote for and saying no to violence during the elections.

rap to be repped winnerSome people just came for the music and social scene, but everyone left with a commitment to take action towards a more peaceful and accountable election process. Lauren’s song has now been heard on the radio across Liberia, and as a demonstration of her new platform, she even had the opportunity to meet the Crown Prince of Norway on his UN Goodwill Ambassador tour of Liberia. We hope to capitalize on this momentum with future Rap to Be Repped events in the coming months and years (citizens need to be “repped” after the election as well!).

Learn more about the Rap to Be Repped campaign and its impact first-hand from Liberian Hip Co artist, Accountability Lab accountapreneur, and Rap to Be Repped mentor Henry “Amaze” Toe on the recording of our latest Quarterly Impact Call.