Music and Peacebuilding through Hip Hop

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

“Since the peacebuilding field requires tools that are as diverse and complicated as the human spirit, the arts emerge as a logical ally. The task for peacebuilding practitioners is to find ways of incorporating the arts into the work of peacebuilding and to create a space where people in conflict can express themselves, heal, and reconcile themselves through the arts” (Shank & Schirch, 2008).



Music has been a used as means of expression and to bring awareness to social justice issues and group unification. One form of music that has been recognized to assist in social expression and change is hip hop. In the 1980’s, several Western hip hop artists gained popularity as they voiced opposition regarding U.S. involvement in the Middle East. “Talib Kweli, Mos Def, OutKast, Black Eyed Peas, and countless others followed in Public Enemy's footsteps and are ‘getting political’ by questioning the U.S. government's role in global conflict situations. These prominent artists are urging their listeners to become more politically active and are directly challenging the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq and Africa” (Shank & Schirch, 5).


Educator & theatre director Dr. Daniel Banks has internationally taught hip hop workshops to students of all ages. Through his teaching experience, he has witnessed people in conflict initiate peacebuilding efforts. He recalls standing in “ciphers from New York to Johannesburg…in Buduburam, the former UNHCR refugee camp outside Accra, Ghana and heard young Liberian refugees create the sung refrains (aka, ‘hooks’), ‘Liberian brother, Liberian sister, let’s come together and find a better future…we are all one people, no matter where we come from, no matter where we are.” (Coen et al., 44). Banks reports how he perceives hip hop to have conflict transformation abilities:


“This work is often inter-generational, almost always cross-cultural, and dives into issues of oppression and inequality. It is not only moving to an audience, but life-giving to the participants…there is something about Hip Hop theatre’s particular relevance and resonance to youth today that better situates its possibility for growth, conflict resolution, and the imaginings of futures than any other art for or interactive technique I have encountered. Perhaps it is the shared reliance on improvisation—a necessary element both in Hip Hop performance skills and everyday life skills for overcoming systemic marginalization” (Coen et al., 70).


There are many programs and workshops that incorporate hip hop into conflict resolution, and it continues to be a growing practice. Overall, peacemaking is a creative process, and utilizing different cultural art forms to assist can be extremely valuable.


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Cohen, Cynthia, Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, and Polly O. Walker. Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict. Oakland, CA: New Village Press, 2011.


Shank, Michael, and Lisa Schirch, 2008. "Strategic Arts-Based Peacebuilding." Peace & Change33, no. 2 (2008): 217-42. Accessed April 12, 2019. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0130.2008.00490.x.


#conflictresolution #peacebuilding #peacemaking #music #hiphop

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