Art has always served as a tool for social and cultural change. It defines and shapes social habits and behaviour, and has been used throughout history as a form of protest against the status quo. Art is both the cause and effect of cultural change; the emergence of new artistic currents shapes societies and the idiosyncrasies of those societies give rise to new artistic currents. In recent decades, Hip-hop culture has followed this pattern.
Hip-hop, understood broadly as a form of oral, visual and physical expression, has secured itself as an essential element of contemporary culture, with particular influence among the young, urban demographic. It has proven to be an incredible tool of empowerment for those whose voice is often unheard. However, as a byproduct of hip-hop becoming mainstream, its message of solidarity and empowerment has become diluted with the glorification of materialism and gang culture.
This project was born in response to this; the need to reaffirm hip-hop as a form of artistic expression capable of stimulating social change.
It is from these concerns that the name and concept of the project emerged: #Voices4Weapons. Whilst spoken word is an intrinsic part of hip-hop culture when we speak of “voices” here we do so in a broader sense – our ability to express.
- We are using our voices INSTEAD of weapons; using expression (whether verbal or visual) as a way of channelling frustration and as a method of conflict resolution. It is an armistice and a recognition of the value of peaceful democratic processes in opposition to the violence present in our societies.
- Nevertheless recognising that expression can instigate change (voices AS weapons); just as a gun might do so forcefully, speaking about our experiences and opinions is how we make valuable contributions to society, and can function as a catalyst for social change.
As youth workers the empowerment of young people is our central mission. This project focused on young people from conflictive urban areas who are otherwise unlikely to be involved in international projects of this kind. By encouraging the participants to share their daily life and the social reality we increased their intercultural and intersocial awareness, and instill a sense of common experience and solidarity. Hip-hop was used as a medium to address the frustration caused by such issues as social exclusion, discrimination, racism, sexism and poverty, and encouraged young people to take more active participation in society.
With Voices4Weapons we returned to hip-hop its original power; giving voice to the voiceless, by using the arts as an instrument of expression and self-affirmation. In particular, for those young people who’ve been left behind by the globalisation process, and who have been pushed to the marginality typical of the urban and suburban areas of large post-industrial cities.