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The Sound of Rebellion

Rebel Music is a new series by mtvU that explores how young people from countries such as Egypt, India, Afghanistan and Israel are striving to create change through music

Mariana Palau Mar 04, 2014
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Graphic artist Shilo Shivo in Rebel Music.

Graphic artist Shilo Shiv Suleman in Rebel Music’s India episode

Aside from giving the MTV audience a much-needed break from reality TV shows that usually flock the network’s programming, Rebel Music, a new series by US-based mtvU is an antidote to the conventional media’s coverage of the world’s most relevant events. Series director and series producer Raeshem Nijhon, graphic artist Shepard Fairey and executive producer Nusrat Durani have created a documentary series that visits some of the world’s most troubled countries through 30-minute episodes and explore how young people are striving to create change through music.

The series’ greatest asset is its killer soundtrack, a selection of songs that perfectly fit the stories covered. To the sound of never before heard music, it does a great job at highlighting the role that today’s youth plays in shaping trends of social and political change. We learn about young individuals who, although living far from each other, have two things in common; they are all proudly in love with the troubled country in which they live, and they are all creatively and innovatively rebellious.

Take for example, the case of Soosan Firoz, who is introduced in the episode dedicated to Afghanistan as that country’s first female rapper. She has received death threats from the Taliban because she sings about Afghanistan’s plaguing issues, and because she is a female performer. While listening to her poetry and beats, we see her responding with defiance, carrying brass knuckles and daggers when she leaves her home, maintaining a commitment to making music. The producers have also gone as far as interviewing Taliban leaders, in a daring attempt to hear accounts on both sides of Afghanistan’s conflicts.

The Egypt episode is by far the best at exhibiting all sides surrounding one conflict. Shot during the ongoing Arab spring in the summer of 2013, it introduces us to characters like Karim Adel, rapper with the group Arabian Knightz, and the famous Ramy Essam, who’s anti Mubarak song “Erhal” has been hailed as the anthem of the 2011 revolution. While they are busy organizing the June 30th anti-Morsi demonstrations with their music, Ali Osama, a Morsi supporter, sings about his belief of a second chance for the president.

Egypt’s neighboring Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also covered in an episode that reveals how the region’s young people find an affinity in music that goes beyond religious and ethnic identities. A passion for spreading messages of unity between Jews and Muslims is what leads Israeli progressive metal band Orphaned Land to consult with Palestinian band Khalas about their Arabic lyrics.

Towards the other side of the world, in Mexico, we see how the drug cartel related violence of Tijuana is shaping a long established culture of music with the birth of a new music genre called El Ruidoson. Although El Ruidoson incorporates electronic beats, it still maintains a Mexican identity with the presence of regional music and lyrics that talk about the issues afflicting the country. The songs of el Ruidoson were initially heard in underground parties during the darkest periods that shook Tijuana, and strived to revive the city’s oppressed party scene.

In an episode that stands out through a series of gripping interviews, India: Fearless Freedom covers activists fighting against sexual violence in our country, “It was difficult getting victims to talk to us, because there is so much stigma surrounding the issue,” says series producer Nijhon about the challenges she faced while filming the episode. We hear from characters like singer Bant Singh, who was brutally disfigured in an act of retaliation after he brought his daughter’s rapists to court; a woman who was raped after a man she met for lunch persuaded her to enter his apartment; and a young man in the streets of a slum claiming that he would never help “dirty girl” if she is being harassed. Victim or non-victim, they all exhibit the intricacies of sexual violence in India, and portray the issue as one that cuts across lines of social class and affects both women and men.

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Aside from including musicians like the Kolkata-based band Gandu Circus, who sing about the oppression of Indian women, the India episode exposes other forms of artistic expression. Determined to fight for women’s freedom, graphic artist Shilo Shiv Suleman uses illustrations to encourage women to challenge the scrutiny with which their actions, clothing and morality are looked at. “The media is telling us we need to be afraid, but that is counterproductive to the change we need,” says Suleman. Seeing her in Mumbai’s Koliwada village, surrounded by mesmerized children and grownups as she paints a protest mural that reflects local women’s worries, demonstrates the impact art can have in inspiring change. Furthermore, theater actor Shilpi Marwaha,  whose work is charged with social issues, stages a street performance about violence against women, educating over 300  men that show up to watch it. Marwaha sends a message through the camera, “I have a right to be free, and even if I walk naked on the street, you have no right to rape me.”

Reflecting on the making of India: Fearless Freedom, Nijhon finds that “there is a collective sense of consciousness rising around the issue of sexual violence,” and mentions that we need to ask ourselves how we are going to expand that consciousness. If there is anything that Rebel Music has taught us, it is that it can be done through an empowered generation of young musicians and artists.

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Watch the trailer to Rebel Music’s India episode here

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