On the occasion of Human Right’s Day, on December 10, 2013, the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) promoted four-days of artistic activism for human rights in Tripoli, Libya. In cooperation with local and international partners and with financial support from the European Union, OMCT convened educational, artistic workshops for children and youth, commissioned a huge graffiti mural on Al Saidi Street in Tripoli, as well as an original hip hop song, and held a conference on civil society’s fight against torture in Libya, movie screenings, and various musical concerts. On December 10, 2014, OMCT released a documentary film about these events, called “No to Torture – A Libyan Experience.” The film captures the hope and energy felt by artists and activists in Libya only one year ago.
In this continuing series of interviews, OMCT speaks with young artists, Libyan and non-Libyan, who participated in last year’s events. In these conversations, the artists remember and discuss their experiences at the Human Rights Day events, and how circumstances have changed in their lives, Libya, and the region as a whole, since then.
N°3: Emad Elmiraoui aka Mad Stone
(This interview has been edited for clarity)
Rapping since the age of sixteen, Mad Stone says rhyming took over his life. He is a founding member of the Tripoli-based hip hop group, “Razor Record”, but also works on his own solo projects. Holding down a day job as an English teacher, Mad Stone knows first-hand how to interact with children. This experience was an asset during OMCT’s event last year, with the artist sharing his passion for hip hop music with children and youngsters, teaching them how to rap for the first time, and helping them rehearse their pieces. In the OMCT film, you can see Mad Stone rapping, as well as the performance given by the children he worked with.
What sort of memories do you have from last year’s events in Tripoli?
The reaction we received from the children sticks with me the most. They were really active and happy. Most of the kids came from IDP [Internally Displace People] camps, and they were dying for activities to do. At first, they were a little bit shy but we managed to make them feel more comfortable with the music, and we gave them some tricks to help them write their songs.
I also remember the large mural on Al Saidi Street. To this day, whenever I visit this street I see this incredible creation. It has really become popular on the streets of Tripoli.
There is one memory that particularly sticks out in my mind and that I cannot forget. On the last day of the workshop, there was this young girl living in one of the IDP camps who asked me if we would do this event every year. I told her I wasn’t sure whether we would. She started crying, went to her mother, and asked her to make it happen every year. It was really touching, particularly now that the situation in Libya has deteriorated so much.
Can you explain how you worked with the children and tell us more about the song they created?
The children did a great job applying the song-writing tricks we taught then. We wrote the first part of the song to show them how we work and then helped them with the other parts. We all worked on the project together and then they went home and came back the following day with really creative, smart, and meaningful lyrics. We were really proud of them to be honest.
The song was sampled by Wessam Elhejaji, aka Philosopher, Razor Record’s leader, and we composed and wrote the refrain (me, Wessam, and Hosam, a singer who is also a member of Razor Record).
The song is called “Abriaa,” which means “Innocents.” It is the children themselves telling the world about their unheard voice and forgotten stories, as Tawergha people [a minority population that has been forcibly displaced from its home city “Tawergha” since the revolution], and as Libyans as well. They talk about the violations they have experienced and the unfairness of being punished for something they did not do.
What is the meaning of December 10 for you and how are you engaged in support of human rights in your country this year?
In Libya, it is very hard to organize any activities unless you have an organization that can help you. Through music, we do as much as we can, and our lyrics are meant to be engaging. Before the revolution, it was not easy to record a rap song, because rap wasn’t a local traditional art according to the old regime. But now hip hop is very popular and is one of the most effective ways to express a person’s thoughts and feelings, and help them speak their mind. The young men and women in Libya accept hip hop culture as their own because they feel it comes from their own life stories.
What sort of artistic projects are you working on these days?
I am working on an album called “Conception.” Hopefully, it will be ready by February 2015. It is my first solo album, but there will be a few tracks in collaboration with some local artists. As soon as I’m done with the album, I’m going to Tunisia to work on some new projects with some really talented Tunisian rappers.