Peace Corps Volunteer Uses Hip Hop To Spread Love

Photo: (Xavier Rathlev)

By Xavier Rathlev, special to MTV Act

On September 22, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the act mandating a national service corps “to promote world peace and friendship.” Fifty years later, more than 200,000 American Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 countries around the globe. I’m one of those volunteers.

Having grown up in a post 9/11 world, I really do believe that if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. This mindset lead me to where I am now: living in Goulmima, Morocco, as a Peace Corps volunteer. Goulmima is small oasis town on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Of Goulmima’s 30,000 residents, three are white, and one is American — me.

The religion is different. The food is different. The clothes are different. The pace of life is different.

But the people are the same. Goulmima people are hospitable in the same way they are in small town America. They want the same things Americans do: education, jobs, and to support their families. And in some cases, they’re inspired by the same music: hip-hop.

I met Louk Omar, Mnilik Irm Mohammed, and Klay (aka Joundi Smail Hafidi) here two years ago. They walked into my English class wearing flat brimmed Yankee caps, Kanye West sunglasses (yup, the ones with the venetian blinds), baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirts. Their cell phones were constantly blasting Jay, Yeezy and Em. They called themselves S7rawa Boys (pronounced “SaHArawa”), and told me they wanted to be hip-hop stars.

I was skeptical at first. I was afraid that these guys had embraced a simplified, possibly distorted picture of American culture. I expected them to spew lyrics about drugs, making money, and getting with girls. I was wrong.

In “Full Stop,” the chorus lists a series of drugs in French (“Cigarettes, nicotine, heroin, ecstasy, cocaine”) and then in English says “Stop smoking and lets do it!” “We rap about putting an end to smoking and drug use, stopping corruption, ending the racism between Berbers and Arabs, and discrimination between rich and poor,” the trio explained.

S7rawa Boys asked me to assist them with their hip-hop dream. They’d written songs, mixed beats, and recorded music before I met them. So I’ve tried to provide them with drive and direction to achieve their vision. I encouraged them. I helped them set deadlines, and record and distribute their first, self-titled album. We worked together to utilize the web to distribute their songs by creating Facebook and Soundcloud pages.

It took some time, but the community has responded. “At first some people in Goulmima responded negatively to our music,” Mnilik explained. “They didn’t understand rap or hip hop. They did not know our music could be positive. But we’ve explained our songs. We have a catchy hook, good beat, and a positive message. People like our music. The key is that they understand the message.” Adds Joundi, “We want to travel the world and have a positive influence on how people treat each other.” I think Yeezy, Jay and Em would approve.

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