Speak out! Be heard!

Su’Ad Muse


Photo by Coc@ CC

Raising awareness about issues in our communities, and around the world, is one the most powerful ways we can make a difference and create change. Dr Phil, our favourite TV psychologist, famously said “you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge”. But you can’t acknowledge what you don’t know. So change needs to begin with knowledge. All it takes is one person to speak out and spread the word.

And, young people all over the world have done just that. First, they focused on the issues they were passionate about: from climate change poverty and domestic violence, to sustainability, education and conflict. Then, using their talents and doing what they love most, they found creative ways, such as music, dance and film to get their message across. These young people did not rest until they were heard loud and clear. Most importantly, no matter what anyone said, they refused to be silenced.

The beat of change
“Through music we changed our reality.” AfroReggae member Anderson Sa

From the favelas (slums) of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in the midst of racism, poverty, gang warfare and drugs, there came a beat - a beat of change and new beginnings. In 1993, police gunned down 21 innocent people to avenge the deaths of three murdered cops. A group of young friends reacted and decided that enough was enough. They understood that fighting back with sticks and stones was not the way. As young as they were, they knew that violence only leads to more violence. A new way of bringing about change, that would make people listen, was needed.


Photo by Megan Cole CC

Music was their answer and so AfroReggae was born. The favela was a place of poverty; they had no instruments, no teachers, no money, nothing. But that didn’t stop them. With whatever they could find, trash cans, bottles, tins, they played their music. AfroReggae was as much a social movement as they were a musical sensation. Their music was funky and fresh, but most importantly it carried a message. It was a medium to show the true realities of favela life and make political statements.   

AfroReggae didn’t only make music. The group strongly believed youth needed to be educated to stop the cycle of drug trafficking and violence. Right from the beginning, using music and dance, they set up projects and programmes to show young people that they had opportunities in life. Alongside youth, AfroReggae also worked to unify the favela and making it a safer environment. They exposed corrupt cops, staged talks with drug lords and held free and regular concerts in the favela, bringing the people together not just to entertain them, but empower them.

They did all this with the determination to create change pushing them forward. And with their plastic drums and rubbish cans they slowly started to gain momentum. So much so that, in 2000, the group signed an international record deal. Staying true to their cause, AfroReggae vowed to put their earning from their record deal back into there projects. They have now expanded globally with a strong UK partnership and over 3000 young people in Rio participating in music, dance, theatre and circus programmes. What started as a simple beat is now a global rhythm. Indeed, through music they changed their reality.

The dusty foot philosopher
K’naan Warsame, a Canadian musician, originally came from Mogadishu, Somalia. Somalia, a land of past poets and present trouble-makers, was once an African success story, but, since 1991, it has been ravaged by an on-going civil war. Like thousands of young Somalis, K’naan fled the country with his family as a teen and headed for the US, later relocating to Canada.


Photo by Luiza CC

Witnessing the horrors of the conflict first hand, K’naan knew the power of weaponry. But in a strange country so far away from home, he discovered a weapon more powerful than any semi-automatic machine gun - the weapon of speech. Intrigued by the art of rapping (and the spoken word) and with a desire to speak out against the plight of his people, K’naan used speech to convey his messages.

His first performance was a daring piece before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1999 criticising the UN’s involvement, or lack of, in war-torn Somalia. The UN isn’t used to being told off by a kid, but they listened and even invited him back! In the audience that day was Senegalese singer, Youssou N’Dour, who was so impressed by K’naan that he offered him the chance to contribute to his upcoming album AND to join his world tour! All this from getting up and having the courage to speak your mind. From there, K’naan went on to develop as an artist and established himself as a force to be reckoned with his widely praised debut album ‘The dusty foot philosopher’ in 2005.

But K’naan never forgot where he came from. Like his first performance K’naan wanted his music to have meaning; as he puts it, he creates “urgent music with a message”. Music has long been used as a means of raising awareness due to its universal appeal. And in the technological age we live in, music can be used to reach more and more people. K’naan uses the power of music to draw the attention of people from all walks of life and enlighten them about the atrocities happening in his motherland. His lyrics are vivid and his audience sees, as much as they hear, what he’s talking about.

K’naan has captivated audiences from all over the world, from Geneva to New York, and continues to spread his message and raise awareness. He doesn’t let anyone suppress his views. He speaks out for what he believes in and through his music gets others to listen.


Once you have decided on the cause or the issue that most concerns you, raising awareness doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

  • It can be as simple as talking about local and global issues with your friends and family.
  • You could join or start a club in your school/community such as an Amnesty International group, which looks at a range of issues from conflict to human right abuses.
  • For the more daring, activist concerts and free gigs are always big hits. You could look at getting your local youth council to host it and could feature local musicians and young talent.
  • To reach a wider audience, get more ideas and/or share your successes with other young people, submit articles, videos and pod-casts to the Just Focus website.



Borrow the DVD Favela Rising from the Global Focus Aotearoa library

Photo on previous page by Coc@ CC

This article was originally published in the Global Focus pages of Tearaway Magazine.

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