Tag Archives: protest music

Jaiksana: War Child Beating Drums Of Peace

This article, by Peter Choge, was originally published by Music In Africa on the 13th of June 2022.


He has been described as a musician and activist. His story is one of overcoming adversity and beating the odds. Instead of letting his refugee status define him, Jaiksana Soro decided to become a voice for his people, highlighting their plight through his music and empowering them through grassroots projects. Music In Africa recently had the privilege of engaging this rising hip hop artist about music, his organisation Platform Africa and his vision for a peaceful, prosperous South Sudan.

Photo by Jaiksana Soro

MUSIC IN AFRICA: Tell us about yourself as a South Sudanese, as a refugee, as a musician and as a changemaker.

JAIKSANA: I was born in a refugee camp in northern Uganda on 2 August 1996. A brutal civil conflict had displaced countless people from Southern Sudan [now South Sudan], including my parents. In the refugee camps, we were faced with the challenge of trying to make a living in the absence of opportunities, deprived of everyday living necessities. So when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached in 2005 and we were able to return to South Sudan under the repatriation programme, we were not only relieved but also hopeful.

However, after a few years, things began to go wrong. Another conflict pitting South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar erupted between 2013 and 2016, causing us to return to the refugee camp. I was turning 20 in 2016, so I was more aware of things, and it was sad to have a home one day and then have everything taken away from you the next. That year, instead of despairing, I decided to co-found Platform Africa, a non-profit organisation dedicated to changing the narrative and empowering refugees. My music continues on that building block, telling stories and empowering others through it.

What does your music mean to you and what do you hope to achieve through it?

Writing songs and putting them out there can be really powerful. When you consider a song as a vehicle and what it can carry, music can be an important medium that helps put a mirror on society or help us find meaning in the face of difficult situations. Apart from my personal story and the issues I faced – such as conflict, being displaced to a refugee camp and dealing with my anxiety – things are really hard right now. The music project I am currently working on titled I Am Still Alive is about that: navigating my mental health and reflecting on subjects like family, displacement, dealing with loss and finding peace.

I hope that by being open about my experiences, I can create music that is rooted in real-life issues that people can relate to. When I released my song ‘Run’, which is about self-love and transcending the obstacles that hold us back in life, I received a lot of positive feedback and inspiring stories from people for whom my music played a therapeutic role in their lives and helped them overcome their struggles. When I wrote it, I didn’t know it was something that a lot of people would come to relate to. I wrote a song to heal and free myself, and for that to be meaningful to other people is very empowering. In addition, I hope that my music sets a precedent and emboldens people in the South Sudanese music space to be able to own and tell their stories no matter the shape or form of their native lens.

Why hip hop? How did you get introduced to the genre?

We didn‘t have a lot of music to listen to while growing up because my mother, like many other women in the refugee community, never owned a radio, let alone a TV. So all the music I interacted with came from video halls and bars with TVs. Video halls are like makeshift theatres because there‘s usually just one old 32-inch TV and a bunch of people, sometimes hundreds, gathered to experience music and the outside world. Since it was expensive to afford, we made sure to save and use our money for the most interesting programmes.

For me, a Sunday programme called SM, short for Special Music, was my favourite, and it was here that I got introduced to R&B and hip hop, and beyond just learning about new genres of music, I also experienced the use of words, rhythm and melodies to tell stories, and remind institutional power where true power lies.

Fast forward to the present date, I feel that hip hop has helped me find better alternatives to deal with issues in life. I dealt with anxiety, and still do wrestle with big questions around the meaning of life, and I built a relationship with music as a healing agent, using it as a crutch and a form of therapeutic relief or escape.

When I decided to work on my album, I naturally fell back on my favourite genre – hip hop. I wanted my music to be uplifting, but at the same time I wanted it to start conversations on issues that are often overlooked in our communities, like mental health or displacement, and rap is a form of expression that allows that kind of depth, and the ability to build lyrics with layered meanings that leave bread crumbs for people to follow and form their own interpretations of things.

What are the other genres you embrace?

Besides rap music, the other genre that I like is experimental music. My younger siblings are both rookie producers, and they sometimes make music that doesn’t use instruments in the conventional way, yet when you hear it, you go like, “Wow, this is aesthetically pleasing, in a melodic sense.” Because they’re not fluent in music theory, their creativity is not fenced in by the constraints of what professional or classical music should sound like, giving them the unique advantage of using surprise as an element of their compositional aesthetic.

I am always blown away by the creative sounds they come up with. My brother Taylor Beats once sat in a room with a musician called Franko jamming on the piano and they ended up making a record about local South Sudanese food. They talked about food in a comedic way and the song topped the charts in South Sudan. Do we call that an experimental music theme?

Another genre that I love is Afrobeats, which I prefer to describe as African sounds because I don’t want to use the word ‘Afrobeats’ as a blanket term that portrays the continent/African music as a monolith. African music is finally assuming its position on the world stage – songs like ‘Ameno’, ‘Love Nwantiti’, ‘Jerusalema’, or musicians like Diamond Platnumz and Burna Boy.

Others are enjoying record numbers of streaming, viral challenges and dance videos on short-form video platforms like TikTok, Reels and YouTube Shorts. But the standout point is that African sounds and the genres or styles evolving from the continents are fresh. Because they’re uniquely tied to our identity and cultures and it’s something that only we can bring to the table, so there’s a responsibility on the part of African creators to document our sounds and patterns.

Finally, R&B and EDM are among the other genres on my list. The album I am currently working on is a musical palette that blends many of these genres and incorporates sound samples that push the boundaries of sound design and integration of themes to strengthen both message and meaning.

Who are your greatest influences musically, and what role do your Sudanese roots play in your music? What is the role of traditional music?

Witt Lowry, Ivan B, and NF are my biggest influences but I also listened to a lot of Emmanuel Jal’s music in the past. His War Child album was ground-breaking in terms of how he presented the stories of former child soldiers like himself.

To answer your second question on the role of my South Sudanese roots in my music, I was basically raised in times of civil conflict, lived as a refugee and witnessed domestic violence. Because of that, I am constantly working to bring about change in my life and community through my activism and music, so my roots and story are like a map or guide of where I came from, where I am now and where I want to go. In a few words, it helps me become authentic and I want for my music to mean something. In terms of sound, I am also exploring our local South Sudanese sounds and incorporating some of them into my music to create something that is holistically different and unique.

Traditional music, in my view, promotes the creation of identity and community. Each community has its own collection of instruments, structures or rhythms and vocabulary, which serves as a powerful tool for people to not only celebrate who they are but also to recreate what has gone before and to establish who they want to be in the future.

In an age where technology is revolutionising how we listen to music, a focus on developing digital libraries of our traditional music is essential not only to preserve it but also to allow people to sample and improve it. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the amapiano genre from South Africa, for example, sounds just like my traditional music from the Pojulu tribe. Who knows, if we are able to create a collection of our sound and incorporate amapiano, we could be the next global fad.How can you describe your journey as a musician so far?

How can you describe your journey as a musician so far?

This is usually where we list all of our trophies and accolades and brag about our vast wealth, but for me this is a chapter that has yet to be written. However, I was nominated for the Best New and Promising Artist at the South Sudan Musician Awards in my first year as a musician, and despite not winning, that went a long way in proving we have the right foot in the door. Our message of self-positivity has quickly earned us a large following and listeners across South Sudan, Uganda the US, Germany and beyond.

What are your future goals?

Setting up a music studio in the refugee camp is one of them. I want to offer everyone in the refugee camp a voice and a platform to express themselves. We recently began a podcasting and media production programme for refugees in the Rhino Camp refugee settlement through our organisation Platform Africa. We secured a project called #ASKnet, short for Access to Skills and Knowledge network, and in parts of the workshops I was able to bring my producer DJ Poppa to record some tracks for the refugees, and the experience is still one of the best I’ve had this year.

We are currently working on a mobile lab project in partnership with Global Innovation Gathering where we took a truck and converted it into a mobile workshop and workspace to deliver workshops to remote villages in the refugee camp. So we’re hoping to set up a mini studio in the lab project to produce music as well.

In addition to that, I want to establish South Sudan’s first professional label and assist in the development of the future generation of storytellers.

Your vision for South Sudan?

My vision for South Sudan is simple. I want to see a country that can put its tumultuous past behind it and build a just, peaceful and affluent future that is led by its youth. This has to start with a political will to make it happen, meaning the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.


Featured Album: Pianissimo By Matthias Vogt

Photo from Matthias’ Bandcamp page.

Having lived a bit of a double-life as a musician, being a respected jazz musician by day and spinning discs at large clubs at night, Matthias Vogt has experienced the ins and outs of the music industry. By colliding these two very different musical worlds Matthias manages to create his own, unique sound for whatever project he is working on in any given moment (they are many).

His latest album has an environmental protection theme. It features Matthias’ piano compositions along with spoken word. In an introductory video Matthias posted on his Facebook page, he explains how he conducted interviews with environmental activists and integrated those conversations into the music.

This is a beautiful album that is not to be skipped through, but slowly taken in, knowing where it comes from. Take a moment out of your day to listen to Matthias’ socio-political reflections as he portrays them through his music.

Accompanying Matthias’ piano work is Demian Kappenstein on drums and Daniel Stelter on guitar.

Via Matthias’ Bandcamp you can obtain the new album on beautiful vinyl, 100% eco-friendly and made from recycled products.


Exclusive Video Premiere: Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz by Free Radicals

By Profula – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Karankawa was an indigenous tribe that lived along the coast of the Gulf of México. Along with the Atakapa tribe these indigienous communities thrived for a few thousand years in the area before Spanish people, under the command of royalty and religion, invaded the land, bringing disease and terror.

Today, ancestors of these people live scattered around northern México as well as the greater Houston area. The city of Houston is the fourth most populous city in the US and now considered one of the most diverse cities in the country. According to the 2020 census Hispanic, Latino, African-American and Asian people make up around 70% of the population.

Where some people might see such diversity of ethnicity and cultures as a positive and enriching thing, others find it bothersome and prefer their life in a monotonous bubble. In the whole of the United States clashes have occurred because of race, gender and religious beliefs. In the melting pot that is Houston, one musical group in particular has been at the forefront of protests and marches against racism, against wars, for equality, against police brutality, support Palestine, et cetera. This is the musical genre soup that is Free Radicals.

The band members have throughout their 20 odd year career mostly released instrumental music and used their voices rather at before mentioned marches and protests. But throughout their career the band has collaborated with rappers, singers and spoken word artists who have lent their voices to various projects. In 2020 the band released the critically acclaimed ‘White Power Outage vol. 1’ which, in a very direct way addresses denazification in the US, or rather the lack thereof. Now, two years later, the band is back with vol. 2 and we could not be more excited to premiere one of the singles off of the new album and its corresponding music video.

I’m honored to have had the opportunity to converse with the band via email and I’m stoked to now share the Q and A with the Shouts audience.

Halldór Kristínarson: Can you tell me a bit about the new volume and in particular the song/video we are premiering, ‘Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz’?

Free Radicals: Seven years ago, Free Radicals released the instrumental version of Checkpoint on our breakdance music album Freedom of Movement.  We always knew we wanted to come back to the track and do a rap version, and now finally, the whole project has come together with four powerful and musical voices. We decided we could only do the topic justice if we included rappers from Houston, Palestine, and South Africa. Apparently, having English, Afrikaans, and Arabic lyrics on the same tune is not a normal thing to do, because when we registered the song on YouTube and on streaming services, we could choose to list only one language.

We first invited EQuality, who has been collaborating with Free Radicals since our 2004 album Aerial Bombardment with his insane spoken word piece We All Inhale. He had also joined us to take on Israeli apartheid on Every Wall on our 2012 album The Freedom Fence. He opens up  Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz for his fellow rappers with a bang. When we the got tracks from Prince Alfarra from the Gaza Strip, and Jitsvinger from South Africa, we were completely blown away. 

We knew that this song was going to be everything we had imagined for years, but the icing on the cake was the voice of one of our mentors, Lindi Yeni, a South African who taught dance in Houston for many years. Her theatrical experience kicked in and she improvised a skit between herself and a South African border checkpoint guard during apartheid. Lindi is a legendary figure in Houston, who helped arrange political asylum for South African performers during the apartheid years, and is seen here performing for Nelson Mandela.

To say that this was our dream team would be an understatement!

Exclusive Premiere:
Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz by Free Radicals

HK: Some protest musicians are subtle and poetic, hiding a bit their messages while others tackle issues very openly in their lyrics. What can you tell me about the evolution of your style of protest music, did you consciously reach this point or was it all a natural happening?

FR: Recently, on social media, someone commented about the album cover for White Power Outage Volume 2, saying “What is this? Some kind of subtle attempt to imply that businessmen, judges, police, and politicians are all white supremacists?” We responded, “We weren’t trying to be subtle!” 

We live in a country that has had no reckoning with our history of apartheid and genocide. In Germany, there are zero statues of Nazis that are still standing, they teach the Holocaust, racism, and genocide in school. The United States has only barely ever started the process of denazification. Here, in the South, every attempt to teach real US history in schools is attacked, statues of slave owners and Indian killers abound. There’s no subtlety, and we’re certainly not trying to be subtle when responding to it.

Our political messaging comes from the street protests that we perform at. Our marching band, the Free Rads Street Band, has marched with Palestinians protesting Israeli oppression, Muslims and other groups fighting against Muslim ban laws in India, janitors demanding a living wage, anti-war protests, anti-corporate greed protests, students demanding gun control, people for women’s rights, etc. 

Sometimes, journalists have mentioned that we were talking about border walls in 2012, years before Trump, and oil wars in 1998, years before the 2003 Iraq War, as if that was somehow prophetic. But there was nothing prophetic about it at all. There were protests against border walls in Texas and Palestine all the way back to the 90s, and of course, there were protests against the earlier Iraq war in 1990. Protests in the streets have been shouting about these issues for decades, and we just try to amplify those messages.

HK: How important is it for you to be able to use your art as a vessel for political activism?

FR: Our albums have always had political themes. Our first release, The Rising Tide Sinks all in 1998 was the beginning of a long collaboration between our musicians, social movements, and visual artist John Kitses. However, 99% of the shows that we’ve played have been just instrumental music, and we don’t make political speeches from the bandstand. We play at parties and clubs, weddings and funerals, street protests and break dance competitions. So, we’re used to just focusing on instrumental music most of the time, with politics only really coming in at the street protests, and when we release an album.

HK: How is the scene in Houston, when it comes to socially conscious music and art? Are there many artists who use their talents to raise awareness or promote a positive message of change?

FR: With the most diverse neighborhoods in the entire world, the Greater Houston area has all kinds of pockets of resistance and art. There are incredible LatinX, Black, Asian, indigenous, African, Muslim, and white musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, dancers, and comedians who wouldn’t even be capable of leaving off political themes from their arts, it’s too much a part of them.

Just to mention some of the Houston artists who have participated in the White Power Outage albums with us…  Swatara Olushola fought to expose the scandal of the Sugar Land 95. Obidike Kamau was the long time host of Self Determination on KPFT, and is an activist for reparations. Marlon ‘Marley’ Lizama teaches writing to incarcerated youth. Jason Jackson teaches music to refugees and kids in shelters with Nameless Sound. Zack Hamburg blogs about cars and climate change. Henry ‘Hennessy’ Alvarez is part of the local chapter of the Brown BeretsKarina NistalMichele ThibeauxEQuality, 200 Texas Poet Laureate Lupe MendezDeniz ‘deecolonize’ Lopez, and Nosaprise all make music about social justice. Brian Is Ze has an intersectional take on gender and health care issues. Akua Holt is the host of Pan African Journal on KPFT.

We didn’t just invite rappers, singers, comedians, and spoken word artists who we like listening to, we focused on connecting with artists who are also activists!

HK: What do you hope to achieve with your latest album?

FR: We hope that the album will be the soundtrack for dismantling white supremacy, corporate capitalism, the military industrial complex, and environmental destruction! Or, if we fail, we hope the album can be an elegy for the dream of a sustainable and equitable world.

HK: What is on the horizon for you?

FR: White Power Outage vol. 2 features 66+ voices of all ages, and right now, we are especially looking forward to our June 7 concert with living legend Harry Sheppard, our 94 year old mentor, band member, and friend.

HK: Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

FR: On the two volumes of White Power Outage you will hear the beautful voices of the kids from Peace Camp Houston chanting these:

Down Down with Deportation!
Up Up with Liberation!
No Hate! No Fear!
Immigrants Are Welcome Here!
¡Racista, escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!
Freedom for All! No Cages, No Walls!