As violence increases among Sudanese male youth involved in local street gangs in Cairo — demonstrated most severely with the fatal stabbing outside the American University in Cairo in June 2007 — hip hop groups work as a healthy coping mechanism to deal with the harsh reality. It also acts as an avenue for camaraderie outside of the gang scene.
“It has been shown in a variety of settings that there is a direct link between increased ability to express oneself and decreased levels of violence,” said Natalie Forcier, founder of the Campaign for Internationally Displaced Youth [CIDY]. The program is under the non-profit organization called the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies that works to develop the natural talents of refugee youth through various techniques of creative expression like poetry and music.
“The goal is trying to get them to express themselves in some way. Because right now all the anger and resentment is just being bottled up,” Forcier explained.
Indeed, V.I.P’s song lyrics — sung in Arabic, English and French — have more to do with unity among people of the world than the typical sex, drugs and violence-centered lyrics typically associated with hip hop genre.
Both Nour and Reagan regard themselves as messengers, charting their life stories through their music. In one song, Nour raps about hurtfully being labeled a “Janjaweed” by his fellow Sudanese, in reference to his hometown Darfur where the infamous militia group is most prevalent.
A common theme found in their lyrics is racial intolerance.
“We started to let the people know the Sudanese situation by rapping,” Nour said.
There are around six well-known African refugee hip hop groups in Cairo that perform regularly at venues like the Townhouse Gallery, El-Sawy Culture Wheel and The Factory in Maadi, while many other groups spring up on a more ad hoc basis.
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