From left, Milla Thyme and Marcelle Partouche Gutierrez during the Rap Battle for Social Justice show. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.
The Rap Battles for Social Justice collective is uniting the Montreal community through activism and hip-hop. Founded by Dan Parker in March 2015, the collective became a family of young musicians, artists and activists from around the world who use hip-hop as a tool for self expression and social justice.
Their latest show, “Rap Battle Against Sexual Violence,” took place on Sept. 28 at Reggies Bar in collaboration with hip-hop and soul band Urban Science, a community of Montreal-based female musicians known as LOTUS Collective, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Sustainability Action Fund. The show was a full house as the crowd occupied the dance floor and grooved to the hip-hop jams of the performers.
During Vyshan’s and Preksha Ashk’s spoken word performances, the crowd gathered together and hugged each other to demonstrate support. Before Vyshan’s spoken word, he presented alarming statistics to the crowd: “one out of six men have been sexually assaulted in Canada, which is a high number but nothing compared to the one out of three women who are sexually assaulted” said Vishan Chamaris (aka V-shan). “I am part of the one out of six and this next spoken word piece is going to talk about that.”
During his spoken word, the crowd responded emotionally to his words:
“See how a young man can go through some real shit, and he’s taught from a young age not to feel shit. So when shit happens to him or to his sisters, he does not know how to deal with it. See I’m 21, I’m a fucking man now and I only just realised, It’s okay, we get hurt too,” said Chamaris during his performance.
“It’s an honour and a pleasure to share this stage with Urban Science, LOTUS Collective and members of the community who took the time to share their stories, to heal, to transform, and to become more conscious about issues touching sexual violence,” said Marcelle Partouche Gutierrez, organizer and performer of Rap Battles for Social Justice and founder of LOTUS Collective. “We are taking a firm position against sexual violence,” she said.
“We have to acknowledge that sexual violence is rooted in our history,” said Gutierrez. “Some of us are closer to the trauma or to the pain, but we can all do better together.”
The event also fundraised for the Head & Hands youth centre SENSE project, which enables youth across Quebec to obtain sex education. During the event, Rap Battles for Social Justice raised $413 for the SENSE project.
“They will not only teach you about consent, they will teach you about healthy and safe sexual practices, how to acknowledge sexual pleasure, how to interact in a way that is more positive and helps us evolve as a society,” said Gutierrez.
Young musicians, hip-hop artists and poets then stepped on stage. For some, it was their first time performing. It took courage for them to publicly share their stories and experiences with sexual violence through music and poetry. Here is what some of the artists had to say.
Marcelle Partouche Gutierrez, organizer and performer at Rap Battles for Social Justice and founder of LOTUS Collective
“It brings me a lot of joy to see people express their vulnerable, authentic voices and all of us sharing that together in one space on a couple of songs is really powerful,” she said.
Gutierrez has been an organizer and performer for the Rap Battles for Social Justice for three years. She is also the founder of LOTUS Collective, which aims to increase representation of women in hip-hop.
Gutierrez performed songs and rap verses that offer a positive outlook to those who have lived through sexual violence. “You can really heal and we have the right to feel sexual pleasure after we’ve been harmed and sexually violated or harassed,” said Gutierrez. “Together we can heal, independently we can heal […] Sex can be a beautiful thing and it doesn’t have to be violent,” she said.
“When you live through sexual violence it’s really hard to break the conception that you have of yourself and how other people see you,” she said. “Whenever we live something really hard, we tend to build our whole identity on our suffering—I think that it’s necessary to live it and accept it, but it’s really harmful when you live with that your whole life because you are not what happened to you. You are a person that has so many dimensions and will live so many good things,” said Gutierrez.
Taliba Maud, organizer and performer at Rap Battles for Social Justice
“I am an activist and I also rap,” said Maud. She has been involved with the Rap Battles for Social Justice as an organizer and performer for two years. Maud makes sure that the collective remains democratic. “Since we are a collective, we make decisions together,” she said.
During the show, Maud rapped about the sexual abuse and violence she witnessed at a young age. “My mother experienced a lot of violence, but she made sure to teach me that I have to respect myself. She taught me the importance [of respecting] my body, my spirit and to not feel responsible for the violence of the abuser,” said Maud.
“A lot of victims feel guilty, ashamed, or they feel dirty from the abuser’s actions or the abuser’s words,” said Maud. “What I say in my song is that all this violence, it doesn’t belong to us [the victims]. It belongs to the aggressor,” she said.
Concerning verbal sexual abuse towards women often heard in rap music, Maud shared her perspective: “Hip hop is something that is alive just like language is alive, art is alive, the world is alive—hip hop is what we make of it. If we use our events at the Rap Battles for Social Justice for the service and benefit of the community, then hip hop will have this positive colour,” said Maud.
Ashanti Mutinta, hip hop artist known as Backxwash and performer at Rap Battles for Social Justice
“I am from Zambia and came to Canada when I was 17 years old,” said Mutinta. “I like to rap and express myself through my identity and represent myself as a trans woman.”
Mutinta’s songs expressed how it’s okay to feel vulnerable and to use your emotions to express yourself in the aftermath of sexual violence. “You can empower yourself by using the anger that you have,” she said. “Hip hop is a good space to be in if you want to express yourself. Going back to my gender identity, [hip hop] is the perfect vehicle for expressing my rebellious state of mind.”
Destiny Gregoire, performer at Rap Battles for Social Justice
This was Gregoire’s second time performing for the collective. “It’s been a cool experience, because I get to meet different artists and they become my mentors and a type of family that really supports me,” said Gregoire.
Gregoire said that sexual assault is a subject that needs to be explored. “Doing a show like this is a way for people to finally talk about things that society doesn’t let us talk about,” she said. “My piece comes from a personal experience with my abusive ex boyfriend. When I wrote it, it came so natural to me because I was finally given the opportunity to talk about it and for a long time I was really scared of writing it and performing it. It’s a way to empower myself and it’s a way for healing. In my song, I wanted to tell the audience that it’s okay to speak up.”
There was a sense of unison and emotional bonding within the crowd during this show where #metoo became #wetoo.
Stay tuned for more about the Rap Battles for Social Justice artists in a short documentary that will be featured at The Concordian. Their next event will be in February 2019.
Photo by Sandra Hercegova