"Beirut hip hoppers sound out the rhythm of peace"
By Raphael Thelen
Special to The Daily Star
Thursday, December 04, 2008
BEIRUT: "Hip Hoppers for Peace" was the slogan under which 11 artists of all political and religious backgrounds met Saturday night at the Student Lounge in Hamra to present and perform songs of their new album "Peace Beats." Lebanon's small but emerging hip hop scene flocked into the apartment-like rooms of Student Lounge, a space dedicated to intercultural understanding and dialogue, to see the latest project of the Permanent Peace Movement (PPM), a Lebanese peace-building NGO.
Supported by the United States Agency for International Development and executed by the members of the PPM, the project aimed to "bring together hip hoppers of different backgrounds and find ways to promote peace," Shant Kabakian, assistant project coordinator of the PPM, told The Daily Star.
"The PPM was born in the midst of the 1975-1990 Civil War, and since then has been dedicated to promoting peace in Lebanon and throughout the whole [Middle East and North Africa] region," added Kabakian, who is a singer and producer himself.
"We had two workshops, both three days long, with people from all religious backgrounds participating," 16-year-old rapper Firas Hassan, aka Oxigene, told The Daily Star, adding that they "talked a lot about peace, and this is reflected in our lyrics."
The result of the collective effort was handed out during the concert in the form of a 14-track album, featuring all artists involved in the workshop, which will be available at Beirut's Virgin Megastores next week. The project featured 11 male and female rappers, of whom most rapped in Arabic, except two who performed in English, one in French and one in Armenian.
Oxigene was the first one to take over the stage and performed his song "Artistic Revolution," calling for peaceful change through diplomatic and economic means.
A couple of songs later the largely male crowd of Lebanese, mostly students, was already smoothly jostling in front of the stage, and the atmosphere began to heat up.
The audience was spared the usual lyrics about crime and sex, and instead was treated to intelligent rhymes and topics that came straight from the heart of artists, like "I-Voice," a duo of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, who started rapping in 2001, or "A-Boxx," who has been in the rap game for five years, recording and performing in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.
A-Boxx's "No Change" kicks off the "Peace Beats" album, with lyrics like: "If I can switch position with rich politicians, I'd twist divisions of all these kids' religions so they could stop making all these sick decisions, quick collisions, leading them to split divisions."
The rappers displayed not only remarkable lyrical skills, but also creativity and a willingness to try out new ideas. One set of songs, for example, was accompanied by a human beatbox, a percussionist and a bagpipe player, while another piece saw a flute on stage.
Even if the sound equipment was not 100 percent professional, the endless rotation of artists on stage made up for it with their spirit and ability to improvise. Toward the end, the concert turned into a freestyle session, which gave everybody a chance to show her or his rap technique and lyrical talents to the steady flow of the two talented beatboxers.
The concert stood up to its name "Peace Beats," by not only raising hopes that there is a future for hip hop in Lebanon, but also for peace among its people.