My college roommate, Kurt Shaw, has spent the last few years of his life working with street kids in Latin America. He’s the director of the Shine a Light Foundation, an organization that helps coordinate the work of grassroots organizations in Central and South America that work with street kids. Shine a Light documents the techniques organizations are using, translates them into English, Spanish and Portuguese, and has been producing a set of training DVDs to help new grassroots organizations learn from established ones.
For the past few months, Kurt’s been living in Recife, Brazil and spending a lot of time with an amazing organization – PÃ© no ChÃ£o – “Feet in the Dirt”. PÃ© no ChÃ£o’s model focuses on helping kids express themselves, through breakdancing, capoiera, grafitti, beats and MC’ing. The kids in question live, play and sleep on the streets – PÃ© no ChÃ£o is able to help some of these kids navigate a world that features drug addiction, gang violence and AIDS, issues these kids cope with at a time of their lives when other children are in elementary school.
Working with Shine A Light, PÃ© no ChÃ£o took on an amazing project – helping street kids in Recife record a CD with the assistance of local composer and activist, DJ Big. The CD, “Ciudad de Rima” (City of Rhyme), will be released soon, but all the tracks are available for download – or for remix! – under a Creative Commons Attribution license from the Shine A Light website.
The chance to perform for an audience of 3,000 was an amazing opportunity for the kids… and for the community to see what these kids were capable of. But the music’s got legs beyond a public performance. As Kurt notes:
The applause was great, the mothers cried, DJ Big finally relaxed… but the most amazing thing is this: a couple of days later, I went to the Brasilian Social Forum, where a couple of the same kids were going to give a breakdancing workshop to the left wing activists who attend such events. As everything was warming up, DJ Big put Ocado’s “Living in the Favela Ain’t Easy” on the sound system. People tapped their feet, passers-by stopped… but most amazing of all, some black kids whom I had never seen before stood in the back of the crowd, singing every word. Not just the chorus: every word. Within three days of the concert, a fourteen year old kid’s lyrics had become something that people memorize, use to understand their own lives.
Chuck D. famously claimed that rap music was “the black CNN”, the way the African American community pointed to the issues they cared about. As hip hop culture goes global, rap is becoming the voice of a generation around the world, from Brazil to Palestine. Listening to these kids rhyme, I find myself wondering how we can reconfigure Global Voices so we’re pointing to the whole world of citizen’s media, not just bloggers and journalists, but rappers as well.
Please check these tracks out. Download them, pass them around, remix them, play them – these are kids who deserve to be heard.