According to our colleagues at Freemuse, in the 3.5 years the organisation has been monitoring authority abuse on rappers around the world, they have found at least 60 international rappers to have been detained, harassed, jailed and now facing legal consequences.
Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi is one of these people. Freemuse accounts that he was detained and later released on bail, but now facing charges for “spreading propaganda against the [Iranian] state. In his song Normal Life he addresses worker’s strikes, corruption and imprisonments in his country.
Nokrolik is a 22 year old rapper from Belarus and another victim of authoritarian oppression against artists. Recently he was sentenced to spend a year in jail for questioning the president’s intelligence in one of his new songs. This appearantly scared the little president man very much. Enough so that when Nokrolik will have finished his sentence he will be deported out of Belarus.
Please share the music of these artists and help spread their word. Find out more about Freemuse’s campaign to raise awareness about oppressed rappers via their tRAPped campaign.
Belarus is a European country between Russia (in the East), Ukraine (in the South), Poland and Lithuania (in the West), Latvia (in the North West). Since 1994 – for 26 years already – it’s been run by Alexander Lukashenko, who changed the constitution several times to stay on his position for 5 terms already, at the same time concentrating power in his hands.
This year he went to the elections for the 6th time. He put all respected competitors into prison, calling them villains. All state media praised only him. And he didn’t let independent people into local election commitees and even as observers. After the elections, the Central Election Commitee announced that he won by 80%, but it’s obvious to almost everyone here that he lost.
For the first time under his rule people would come out for a peaceful protest in more than 50 cities and towns of Belarus. They didn’t attack a single building or anything, but would be brutally beaten up, shot by rubber bullets, thrown light and sound grenades at. More than 5,000 people were arrested and put into prison for 10-15 days, where many of them would be kept virtually without food, water and medical help, while at the same time – which is told by many just-released prisoners – beaten up on a daily basis. As of writing this text, the peaceful rallies against the president continue, there are strikes in many plants and factories, even the state-owned ones. But the president doesn’t want to leave or declare new elections.
Belarusian musicians started to release songs and statements in support of free and transparent elections and against police brutality in June – after the first peaceful protests against the unlawful arrests of several candidates and their team members. You should understand that in Belarus musicians can get several years of concert ban (unofficial, but effective) if they say something against the authorities. This happened two times: 2004-2007 and 2011-2017. And concerts, as you know, are the main source of income for the musicians. So they risk their careers (for many of them Belarus is the main market), but still they do this. And there are so many examples, so many songs, that it was really hard to pick just 10.
How can you support Belarus? Tell your friends about this through social networks, tell the media in your countries and of course listen to the protest music from Belarus. Our flag is white-red-white, which was changed by Lukashenko in 1995 in favour of the pro-Soviet red-and-green. Our slogan is: “Zhyve Belarus!” (Long Live Belarus!).
Грязь (Griaz’) – “Перемен” (Peremen)
The chorus obviously refers to the 80s song by the cult Soviet band Kino (“Peremen”/”Changes”) – which is one of the main protest songs by itself – but completely different in style, dynamics and atmosphere. Verses are in the form of letters from son to father, who doesn’t sleep at night, while running the country. At first he was a loved father, but then he stopped listening to the nation and started war on his own people. It’s an obvious referral to Lukashenko, who’s often nicknamed “bac’ka” even outside Belarus (the word means “father” in Belarusian, so he’s kind of father of the nation). The chorus says: “Changes! Everybody wants, everybody wants changes”.
Nizkiz – “Правілы” (Pravily/Rules)
This is not really a political song and there was no direct message from the band. It’s about rules, about things we care about. But with going into streets and someone raising a flag. Which made people think it’s connected with the recent events and the band never said it’s not. And openly confirmed it later. The band gathered 4 thousand people in Minsk at their sold out show this February.
Дай дарогу (Daj darogu, Give way) – “Баю-бай” (Baju-baj /Hushaby)
This one is good, because it brilliantly shows the realities we live in – police beating up all who stand against the president – both on the level of the song and the video. It’s sung from the point of view of a police guy, who’s not so clever, but completely into his brutal work. Last night the leader of the band Yuri Stylski was detained, supposedly for headlining a peaceful march in his native Brest.
Vladimir Pugach is a leader of a pop/rock band J:МОРС (J:MORS), one of the most popular here since the beginning of the 2000s. He has always stayed away from supporting either opposition or president, and the band twice had problems for not performing in support of Lukashenko (2005 and 2010). But this time their singer declared his open position for transparent elections and against police brutality well before the elections. The song says that everything will be good in the end.
Naka & Friends – “Вам” (Vam/To You)
This song by a batch of prominent alternative artists was composed to a poem by a prominent poet Vladimir Neklyaev (who was running for presidency in 2010), after the brutal detentions in late June. It appeals to the policemen with questions like: “Where did you learn to be scoundrels? Where did you learn to be villains? How did you become thieves? How did you manage to become asslickers?”
Naviband – “Inshymi” (Different)
A pop band that was always loved by state media as well as the indie/pro-Belarusian crowd. They represented Belarus at “Eurovision 2017” and played alternative Belarusian festival “Basowiszcza” in Poland. But one month before the elections they released this song and they clearly said they are against police brutality, and later expressed their support for transparent elections. The chorus says: “Smoke in our eyes, we don’t see any dreams / We will wake up different somewhere in the deep”.
Tor Band – “My nie narodiec” (We are not narodiec)
Lukashenko quite often says disparaging things about Belarus and its people. He likes to call the country “a tiny scrap of land”, despite the fact it’s twice (even a bit more) bigger than Austria, Hungary, Portugal, Serbia or Czech Republic, and only a third smaller than Poland. He also likes to dismiss Belarusians as “narodec”, which is a diminutive word from “narod” (folk). People don’t like it. So this song is an answer. Before this spring no one knew this band from a small town Rogachev in Gomel region (Eastern Belarus), now they have a few socially charged hits.
Anna Sharkunova – “Pesnya schastlivykh ludey” (Song of the happy people)
She was a part of the local (and never contradicting the president) pop stage for quite a long time, but then disappeared. She started her return last year with a more grown-up image with a cover of Lyapis Trubetskoy’s “Voiny sveta” (Warriors Of Lights) – a hymn of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Several days before the elections she released this song, which was considered by many anti-presidential, with many well-known people of different professions in the video. Although the lines are not that political, they are about true friends and all the best things in life. “We are few, but we exist” is the message.
The cult figure of Belarusian rock, former leader of Mroya and N.R.M., who wrote and recorded some of the main Belarusian songs/albums of all decades, starting from the 1980s. He has always been openly against Lukashenko and twice suffered unofficial, but effective bans from playing concerts in Belarus: 2004-2007 and 2011-2017. He released several statements and this song before the elections. Iron state became rusty, it has no other way but to fall so that the new country will rise.
IOWA – “Мечта” (Mechta / Dream)
IOWA is a pop band, which was formed in Mogilev (Eastern Belarus), but in 2010 they left for Saint Petersburg (Russia), where they became a popular mainstream act. But they still consider themselves Belarusian artists and yesterday they released this song and a statement in support of Belarus from their leader Katya Ivanchikova:
“We can say as often as possible that changes are bad, that they don’t lead to anything good. I’m reading dozens of such comments. But in the end it comes to the fact that unfreedom equals unhappiness. Unhappy people can’t build future, can’t dream, can’t bring up their children in freedom, can’t broaden the boarders of their perception and say: “I know what’s my word worth”. The right to choose is not a privilege, it’s something natural”.