Social Movements & Culture

Post a link to some example of cultural production (art, film, music, or some other form). Write a few sentences to explain what you think is interesting about it, and how it connects to your research topic. Comment on two of your group members’ posts as well.

Your link and sentences are due by 1pm April 30th, replies by the following week. Two places to get you started:


10 thoughts on “Social Movements & Culture”

    The “Rapper Machines of Kibera”
    Kibera Hip Hop Artists

    Both of these links are examples of hip-hop coming from Kibera, the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa and home to an estimated 1/3 of Nairobi’s population. My interest in these videos is twofold. Personally, I love how hip-hop has become a global source of empowerment and has particularly taken root in places where other forms of music would be prohibitively expensive (think about how much money it takes to start a garage rock band versus people free styling. Not suggesting that other forms of music don’t exist because clearly they do). The global hip-hop culture has lead to a lot of South-South alliances that would never have existed without this art form to connect them.

    The other thing I find really cool about these videos is that they are part of the Kibera TV channel. It is an online news channel provided freely through blogs and Youtube and dedicated to giving the people of Kibera a platform through which they can express themselves. I think it is hugely important for everyone to be able to express themselves, rather than having someone else speak for them. In my opinion, this is the great populist power of the internet is that it allows everyone with internet access the ability to speak, even if it never reaches a large audience.

    1. I really enjoyed seeing this music coming out of Kibera. I too am a big fan of hip-hop, and I believe it is one of the most powerful genres of music for conveying social and political messages. Just as it empowered the urban poor in the U.S., it is providing disparate people across the planet a voice. It is amazing how it is transcending borders and cultures in its use as an art form. From France to Afghanistan I have seen people taking a beat and lyrics and creating hip-hop heavily influenced by their own languages, norms, and experiences while maintaining the structure that links them with any number of artists. It’s an excellent example of localization of a global phenomenon.


    Music and dance are an integral component of West Papuan culture, and also play a key role in the international Free West Papua movement. Benny Wanda, his wife Maria, and his children make up the Lani Singers, who spent two years recording a collection of songs which was turned into an album called “Ninalik Ndawi” Freedom Song). In the link above, you can listen to some of the songs through a BBC interview with Benny Wanda, explaining the significance of music in West Papua and symbolism behind the various songs that stand for freedom, love, pain, joy, and hope. He expressed that in West Papua, “Music is always around you…it’s a way to come together” whether it is during gardening or hunting. He noted that through music, he’s able to connect and captivate a broader audience; political talk gets “boring,” he explained.
    This connects deeply with my research topic because it highlights how music can be an important medium in social movements. The music of the Lani Singers reaches both international and local audiences, impacting anyone with the ability to listen and care. Getting traditional West Papuan music recorded into a tangible album allows the international community to hear and feel the music, learning about the struggles and goals of the movement through an artistic medium. The music also serves as a sign of hope for the locals – who see their leader advancing their traditional music and declaration of independence at the international level (something they wish for desperately). I personally enjoyed listening to the entire interview, and hearing Benny’s thoughts on how his music is impacting the sovereignty movement. I was very impressed with his humbleness, and great aspirations for his people and nation.

    **I also thought I’d share “Forgotten Bird of Paradise” – a documentary that was extremely fascinating to me, but didn’t quite relate to the Free West Papua social movement. This actually shows the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) – the original ‘Free Papua’ movement that incorporates violent tactics (and is hence, separated from the modern movement), as well as music and dance. It was just very interesting to see the contrasts between what Benny Menda is doing (urban movement with international politics and law involved) and what takes place in the rural areas (grassroots organizing with the use of firearms for retaliation against Indonesian military). It was a reminder that as much as “nonviolence” is advocated by Benny and the international community, for the villagers that are being murdered and raped by the Indonesian military, nonviolence only goes so far – they are fed up and are standing up for themselves and each other. The interviews and testimonies throughout are very powerful and depressing.

    Clip between 14:10-15:58 – interview with General Goliath Tabuni – OPM Rebel Commander
    16:50: West Papuan flag and song as a source of cultural identity and act of “passionate defiance”
    18:00: burning of Indonesian flag
    25:43: More traditional music

    1. Tabatha,
      I really liked this music! It was interesting because my only experience with South Pacific music is Hawaii but this sound completely different to me. I actually found myself hearing some similarities to bluegrass which I would have never expected. Really cool site. I’m also going to have watch that whole documentary (once the semester and finals are over :) )

      1. Really interesting content. I, like Maggie, have never really been exposed to music of that region, so that was a new sound to me. It really was quite mellow and laid back. I am interested to see examples of more fiery songs with political undertones. I hope to look at the documentary too once I have some more time.
        I really enjoyed your point about the power of traditional music as a medium in social movements that is captivating while still conveying a great deal of information. I think the song in my post played a similar role with an equally significant message. Such songs not only help to cement the bonds between people in a particular movement, but present something unique to the broader world that could spark interest in a cause.

  3. Love this! I enjoyed listening to all the different Kibera hip-hop artists rap. Each of them had a unique style of rap, with a combination of the local language and English. It was interesting to note all the American hip-hop influence (slang, clothing, movements). I did cringe when one of the rappers used the n word frequently….however, I’m sure that’s just as a result of what they hear from American rap. I wholeheartedly agree about hip-hop’s ability to reach everyone, serving as a medium of empowerment. I especially liked your comment about the expenses of a garage band. Hip-hop really has no limits and can give a voice to everyone. It’s quite amazing that we can listen to the voices of those living in the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. It just goes to show how quickly media can be shared and impacted – the possibilities seem endless.

    “Nasihat”- Composed and sung by Bashir Maidani, lyrics written by Bari Jahani

    This song, which is in the Pashto language (one of the national languages of Afghanistan and specifically the language of the Pashtun ethnic group), is very interesting for numerous reasons. First of all it includes reasonably accurate English subtitles based on my knowledge of the Pashto language, making it accessible to a much wider audience unlike many other cultural productions of Afghanistan. Secondly, it presents an original, potent reflection on the nature of violence in Afghanistan, especially the matter of suicide attacks. The song has two distinct parts that represent a conversation between a son and his mother. In the first part the son speaks of his intention to leave his family in order to carry out a suicide attack, emphasizing how the stories and encouragement of a mullah (religious cleric) has convinced him that this is the right thing to do. He evokes the heavenly rewards that have been promised, believing that he is on the verge of a better existence and thus asks for his mother’s blessing on his journey. The second part of the song is the mothers rebuke to her son. She highlights how the mullah is fooling him and how his choice will bring devastation to his family, community, and country. The issues that this conversation brings up are sorely needed in a country that has seen decades of uninterrupted war, and it challenges the basis of the narratives used to justify ongoing violence. This leads into the third point of interest of the song, which involves the insight that it gives into a variety of cultural characteristics and political, religious, and psychological issues in contemporary Afghan society. It provides an excellent example of the Afghan tradition of turning poetry into song as well as the emphasis in Pashtun culture on the relationship between mother and son. It has political overtones with its mention of how Afghanistan’s neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan are involved in encouraging violence and instability. More importantly it provides a reflection on Islam, an often untouchable subject in Afghan society. The contrast of the narrative of Islam encouraging violence that the son presents to the use of Islam to appeal for peace on the part of the mother reveals a larger struggle for the soul of Islam in Afghanistan. Additionally the song confronts the role of religious figures specifically. Mullahs hold powerful positions in Afghan society, and the challenge to these traditional embodiments of religious authority and the notion that they are using religion to trick uneducated people who rely on their teachings for their own gains is a jarring reprimand to some of them. Finally, the song illustrates how the devastation and psychological trauma in Afghan society makes these ideas of suicide more viable, especially when put together with the religious narratives espoused. All of these points are significant to the advancement of Afghan society both in dealing with its personal demons and portraying itself to the world, and I find the whole piece fascinating.
    The song relates to my research project in that it illuminates how certain characteristics of insurgency might mask its true nature. While some might assert that religion is one of the major motivators of insurgency in Afghanistan, this song provides an alternate view. While the low level fighters who carry out attacks believe they are aiding in a wider religious struggle, the song suggests that the mullahs directing them are in fact reaping numerous economic benefits at their expense. Thus the motivation of the leaders of the insurgency might be fundamentally economic, with religion being a co-opted feature in their larger goals. This is an important thing to note in a study seeking to understand the conditions that create and sustain insurgency enterprises.

    1. Mason, I really enjoyed reading your entire analysis of “Nasihat”, as well as listening to Bashir Maidani’s song. I find this song very fascinating – it is tragic but beautiful, captivating my heart with all the raw emotions. The combination of the traditional music, authentic lyrics, and images of Afghanis were extremely powerful. How did you find this song? I noticed it only has about 6,000 views on youtube so I wouldn’t guess that it’s very famous (but definitely should be).
      All in all, Bashir’s composition of this song is just incredible. I agree that the English sub-titles allow a much greater audience to interpret the song and attempt to understand the deeply rooted struggles that have plagued Afghanistan and its people. I particularly like when you analyzed the contrast of the narrative of Islam encouraging violence (which the son presents) to the mother’s use of Islam (appeal for peace).

      1. Hi Tabatha,

        I was shown this particular song by an Afghan colleague while working in Kabul, Afghanistan. There are other versions of it without subtitles on YouTube that have significantly more views which suggests that it is far more popular with Afghans, but it is still interesting that someone went through the trouble of translating the lyrics to English. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I agree that the message is powerful

    2. Mason,
      I really appreciated how much analysis you gave us with this song! It definitely helped me to appreciate it more. This song was beautiful and really interesting. I haven’t seen anything that so bluntly argues against suicide bombing and it was really fascinating to get a glimpse of the social/cultural ways in which Afghans are combating extremism locally. Really cool.

Leave a Reply