Protest Song – Young people learn human rights through hip hop and rap

Brandon Block, Human Rights Education Manager at Amnesty International UK, introduces a new set of human rights education resources for music teachers which promotes creativity and self-expression.

Interview conducted by Emilie White, HRE Network & Communications Coordinator in the IS HRE team on 26 April 2013, at the AI UK office, for the International HRE Network News:

EMILIE: This is Emilie White from the Human Rights Education Network News speaking with Brandon Block, the Human Rights Education Manager Amnesty International UK. I’ve heard a lot of noise about your Protest Song Competition which has been involving about a thousand schools. Can you tell us more about it?

BRANDON: Sure Emilie. We are at a really exciting moment right now because we’ve received all of the entries from young people around the country who have written their own protest songs. We’ve judged them, and they are coming here to Amnesty to find out who won on Tuesday, so it’s a really exciting time.

EMILIE: Where does the Protest Song come from? Is it part of a whole educational activity?

BRANDON: That’s right. Last year we created a new education pack that we made available to secondary schools around the country. It’s called “The power of our voices” and the purpose of the pack is to engage young people in human rights issues by introducing them to the history of protest songs.

We created this pack because we really wanted to engage teachers who we didn’t usually reach out to, so we wanted music teachers to get involved in Amnesty’s work, we thought young people who maybe didn’t relate to traditional forms of activism for human rights might find music as a really exciting way in. We created the pack that includes three different lessons. Each lesson focuses on a different side of protest songs in their history. The first one really focuses on the history protests music, looking at five different songs from around the world; there are songs from the Egyptian revolution recently, songs from the suffragette movement in the UK, songs from Zimbabwe and so on.

Young people can look at those songs and they can study them and they do presentations about them.

The second lesson is really about looking at protest music as a sort of personal expression and focuses on Emmanuel Jal, the former child soldier, who now uses hip hop as a way to engage people in protest music.

The third lesson is really exciting because it’s a lesson that is led by a well known rap poet here in the UK, who teaches young people step by step how to create their own protest lyrics. So the whole package is really exciting and we have had great feedback from schools on it.  

EMILIE: Excellent! I heard that you can download it and you can receive the multimedia sections and also you don’t have to have high technology schools, so it can be replicated.

BRANDON: That’s right and the pack does include a lot of media right now, so that when I said that a poet “leads the third lesson”, what that means is that  there are videos of the poet embedded into a power point, so it is great if you do have the multimedia capacities and if you would like the whole pack you simply go on to our website and send a request and then we’ll send you a file transfer for it, and it’s free of charge of course.

But for schools that can’t access that because it’s too multimedia heavy, the lesson plan that accompanies it allows teachers to lead all parts of that.

EMILIE: What are your ambitions for the future? What has come out of it?

BRANDON: Well one part of the pack is that young people were asked to create their own protest songs and send them in to our competition, and we got over 700 entries both into the lyrics part of the competition, and into the protest music part of it.

In the future we are hoping to get more and more young people engaged in this and I know that the music industries has already expressing interest here in the UK. The winner of this year’s competition will get a professional recording done in a studio, which is really exciting. They don’t know that yet, so hopefully they won’t see this before they find that out. Then in the future we would love to get other sections involved and find ways to get other young people around the world engaging and writing their own protest songs.

EMILIE: Excellent. Thank you so much! Of course people can get more information from your web site, so thanks very much for talking with us today.

To download ‘The Power of Our Voices’ education pack, visit the Amnesty International UK website 

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