Hip-hop heals wounds

“If The Kalevala, the national epic of Finland, were compiled today, the stories might well be recited by rappers,” says Researcher Dragana Cvetanović from the Aleksanteri Institute. Cvetanović is currently working on a dissertation on rap lyrics.

Dragana Cvetanović and Karri

“Rap music is the modern-day equivalent of oral storytelling, for which people have always had a need,” she says.

“Rap always draws on local culture. It has become a natural way of expressing what people see around them. The styles vary, but the basic idea is the same in China, Africa, Europe, the United States and everywhere else.

Cvetanović hails from Serbia, and one of her areas of specialisation is the hip-hop culture of the Balkans. According to her, rap music has helped heal the wounds from the wars in former Yugoslavia and served as a channel for cooperation between nations.

“The issues are still difficult to discuss in newspapers and other media, but the traumas can be addressed in rap, which offers people an opportunity to express how they really feel. A Serbian rapper, for example, can say what it feels like when the whole world is against you and part of your country disappears. Rappers also address Kosovo, the European Union and other delicate issues,” she explains.

This freedom of expression, however, is also used for adverse purposes. Some artists in the Balkans still write nationalistic and homophobic lyrics.

“I believe that the positive messages appeal to much larger audiences. To begin with, the positive rappers are clearly more talented,” Cvetanović says with a laugh.

“Rap music is one of the ways through which Serbians have learned to show respect for their country. One artist rapped that Serbians may not know how to be as sophisticated as the Brits, but we have a beautiful language and great traditions. In other words, he highlighted our positive qualities without putting down the neighbours.”

Cvetanović discussed the global language of hip-hop with Finnish rap artist Karri “Paleface” Miettinen, who is known for the social commentary in his lyrics, at a Cultural Forum event at the Aleksanteri Institute on 6 February.

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Text: Saku Schildt
Photo: Ari Aalto
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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