“It is our essential right to speak up.” Interview with Yukka Shanin
Article Written by Kimika Tonuma, Crossing Borders intern.
In this article, we would like to share a story from Yukka Shanin, who is a rapper from Egypt. She is not just a musician, but a raptivist; rapper + activist. She helps RAPOLITICS, a non-profit organization which provides workshops for youth, giving them the opportunity to express themselves through rap.
She participated in Crossing Border’s SpisDating workshop, and we thought her story was worth spreading. This article is focused on her personal motivation, gender inequality in Egypt, and the differences between Egyptian and Danish society.
What do you do in RAPOLITICS?
I teach rap there. We have two parts; Rap coaches and story tellers. In our workshops, rap coaches like me teach students how to make rhymes, structure the lyrics and how to express themselves. The storytellers on the other hand, are artists, or those who have backgrounds as asylum seekers or refugees. They share their own experiences such as who they are, why they came to Denmark and what they have been through, as the refugee topic is very relevant nowadays. We are trying to be an alternative media for kids in Denmark.
Why did you want to be a rapper? Did someone inspire you?
I have always had a passion for hip-hop since I was a child. I also liked writing though it was just only my personal diary and poetry at first. The one who influenced me the most was Biggie, the Notorious B.I.G.; even though he was not the first rapper I heard of. Since Biggie had family problems and I did as well, I felt we had the same case, and started writing lyrics about my family problems. My first track was released in 2010. If Biggie could speak about his personal issues through rap, why couldn’t I? It hurt me to keep my feelings inside without telling anybody. I learned how to write verse and rhyme all by myself and that is how I became a rapper.
Didn’t you ever intend to go to a school to learn rap?
It was not that easy. Even if someone wanted to learn rap at school in Egypt, there was nobody at the music school who took female rappers seriously when a girl says she wants to rap. And people in music companies could use you or take advantage of you. For instance, when I released my first track, I had to spend a lot of money onrecording. Still I wanted to record it so badly! The sound quality was not good as it was with distorted microphone. Now I could say that they used me in a way. However, let me tell you something: this was the first and last time I paid for recording. Since I got famous after my first track, they started coming after me and asked me to record another track in the studio so that they could put my name on it and get famous. It is Karma.
It seems being a rapper in Egypt is especially tough for females. Did you feel that?
Yes, definitely. Rap is a universally male-dominated field. And besides that, Egypt is known for being a male-dominated society. Every woman has difficulties living there, as 99% of women in Egypt have been sexually harassed, if not physically, then verbally. I can assure you of this number. I have, my mother, aunt and my friends have those experiences. Some girls even take it as normal to be harassed and think it is shameful to speak out about it. Sadly, it is embarrassing to say it out loud if somebody touches your body. Why? Media could be one of the factors which affected the moral of society. We have media 24/7 on big screens showing children insulting women and having fun, which everyone watches and laughs at. When other children see it, they take it as reality. You know what happens when they grow up? They are just going to repeat the same thing.
What brought you to Denmark?
When I was doing some rap workshops for girls in a studio in Egypt, the studio had connection with RAPOLITCS and they introduced me. It was like a cultural exchange project. As they showed some interest in me, I was invited to sing at a music festival in Denmark. It was first time ever I traveled abroad! After that, I came back here again in 2014 and did a music tour in collaboration with Danish female MCs and producers. Furthermore, I gave a speech at Copenhagen University on female empowerment.
How is Danish society different from Egypt? Did you face difficulties?
Firstly, I cannot really call myself an activist here in Denmark, as it is normal that the majority of people are aware of female empowerment. For example, nobody lays hands on women on the street in Denmark. It is our essential right to speak up. It is my right not to let you touch my body!
In Egypt on the other hand, you have to start by fighting against the society for this right. Yes, I can be called activist in Egypt. There is basically nothing in common between Danish and Egyptian societies.
I did not face a problem being a rapper in Denmark as much as being a foreigner. I also have the experience of living in a refugee camp. At first, it took me half an hour to ask somebody for a lighter on the street, as each time I approached people, they took a step back. I learned especially how to ask for a lighter in Danish. I tried to say something English but it didn’t work. I put some words on google translate and learned how to pronounce words in Danish.
As you mentioned your family problems, how did your family react, when you said you wanted to be a rapper?
They encouraged me first, because they did not expect that I would go that far. They let me do what I wanted to do, as I was good at it. However, it turned out that my rap is not just for fun. As mentioned, my first track was about my family but I could not tell them. My family is relatively traditional and old school. Since I became a refugee in Denmark in 2014, I haven’t been able to go back to Egypt. I can still contact them online, but they sometime put all of the blame on rap. “Look, Yukka. This is no good and you have to stop.” Is it right or wrong?
What do you want to tell the most through rap?
My theme is truth. Be real about personal stories, society and everything. I rap my opinion very frankly, including on political topics. It is not like revealing the truth, but to tell the facts that are already there. There are many people who do not know it.
I just spread, or sometimes make fun of it. You know, this is how rap is.