When Rap2Rep (now Voice2Rep or “Voice to Represent”) launched in Liberia in 2015, it was envisioned as a campaign to encourage creative activism among young people using Hip-Co – a popular Liberian musical genre often referred to as ‘political music’. The campaign has since expanded to Nigeria and Zimbabwe, and also gained international attention.

 

The campaign in Liberia was named by the United Nations as one of the finalists for the SDG Action Awards for “harnessing conscious music as a tool for social change through the platform of youth participation.” Voice2Rep was specifically recognized for informing people about the risks of Covid-19 and debunking myths around it. 

Voice2Rep has relied on local musicians and artists to grow the campaign into a national movement of active citizens. Beyond the lyrics and music production, the participants and the mentors are matched by the AL team to others in the industry to receive support to create distribution strategies. This is done in tandem with a countrywide network of popular community radio stations. The program also includes mentorship and training, network building, and advocacy. Participants learn how to use their songs to influence thinking, behaviors and local policy in a way that elevates bottom-up approaches. 

Our Arts4Change program also includes our Integrity Film Fellowship which is aligned to our Integrity Icon campaign and aims to develop a generation of socially-conscious filmmakers who have the skills and knowledge to tackle accountability issues through visual storytelling. Through the production and distribution of short films in local languages, we engage communities in conversations and actions on inclusion and governance issues.

There are a few foundational principles that set our Arts4Change programs apart. The first is our positive approach and intentionally moving away from a focus on perpetrators by lifting people up and supporting solutions wherever possible. The second is appealing to “unlikely networks” when inviting applications. This enables us to open up the work beyond the usual suspects, by bringing in creatives, musicians, film-makers, technologists and others who can develop new collaborations, Lastly, our bottom-up approach is central to this work, bringing together new ideas and energy from the grassroots, shifting the ways decisions are made.

We speak to 4 Arts4Change participants below who share some of their key learnings from the program.

  1. Djelika Mama Traoré participated in the AL Mali Film Fellowship in 2021, producing “Ma Passion”, a film exploring the many obstacles and prejudices that aspiring women artists in Mali have to overcome in order to pursue their dreams. The film looks at the demands placed on women in families and in society more broadly, showing how these responsibilities often obscure any dreams that women have of pursuing art in meaningful ways. The film won the Grand Prix Kodjo Ebouclé of the 21st edition of the Clap Ivory Coast film competition in Abidjan last year. Djelika was also invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 2022 to show the film and participate in panel discussions on women in film at the invitation of the International Women’s Film Festival Africa. “What touches me the most is that the message conveyed in the film is heard in Mali and in Africa. I hope that my film can contribute to changing mentalities and the conditions of women artists in our societies”, Djelika shares. She adds that the film has resulted in lots of debate about the roles women play in Malian society and has opened up useful avenues for female artists to explain why they’ve chosen a career in the arts. “I’ve encountered lots of people who don’t understand these kinds of artistic passions well. I hope I can continue to use film to tackle related issues that help make the voices of underrepresented women heard.”
  2. One of the youngest artists of our first Voice2Rep Zimbabwe cohort is 20-year-old wordsmith and activist Othiniel “Oxzy” Musonza. He uses his music to shine a light on issues of corruption, abuse of human rights, and restriction of free speech. “Most of the socially conscious music I produce is inspired by my own personal experiences. For example, the song Musacheme speaks against gender-based violence and was inspired by witnessing my mother experiencing abuse at the hands of her partner when I was a child,” he shares. He adds that participating in the Voice2Rep program has taught him to more effectively use his voice to call for change. “I want to challenge critical social issues confronting young people in Zimbabwe, to question the priorities and consistency of public officials, and to advocate for a Zimbabwe that empowers its youth,” Oxzy says.
  3. Sibabalwe Mhluzi is a South African-born videographer, video editor and camera operator from Stutterheim, a small rural village in the Eastern Cape. Siba studied Film and TV Production Techniques at City Varsity and has since worked for established media production companies. As a participant in the Integrity Icon Film Fellowship by Accountability Lab South Africa, he produced a short film, Homelessness, which tells the story of people who have experienced unlawful evictions and are now forced to settle in informal settlements in the Eastern Cape. Siba dreams of telling impactful stories for change that will help uplift his community.“I got to work with some interesting and very talented people. During the Integrity Icon Film Fellowship, we were mentored by SL Productions who became my biggest cheerleaders during the course of the fellowship. At any given opportunity, they would encourage me. They saw my passion for filmmaking and said to me I must keep telling stories and never give up.” He adds: “I think our society needs more local role models who young people can look up to. So shine your light and in doing that, don’t forget to impart knowledge and skills to others. Use your resources and whatever you can to impact someone else’s life,” he says.
  4. Marvellous Tshuma, or Marve Tee as she’s known on stage, was a finalist in the 2020 Voice2Rep Zimbabwe campaign. She’s a young woman from Binga, and a member of the baTonga community who grew up in the village of Samende Syabanga as the only person with albinism in her family. “As a person with albinism I experienced discrimination and societal segregation but that made me the stronger being I am today and it became the foundation of the work I do,” she shares. As a finalist in the Voice2Rep Campaign, Marve received training that provided her with a deeper appreciation of the structural roots of the issues her communities face, and strengthened her skills as an advocate for social justice. The campaign also helped her to polish her lyricism, and provided her with access to a recording suite through which Tulemekane, her song about unity, was produced for the album Freedom. Following her participation in the campaign, Merve is a more vocal and effective advocate for the rights of people with albinism. “When I look at how I grew up, I’m moved to soldier on and help others with albinism to endure life better than I did.”