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“Artistic freedom can shake any system.”

An interview with Khaled Harara, rap artist and musician

Today, April 15, we celebrate World Art Day – an international celebration of the fine arts, which was declared by the International Association of Art (IAA/AIAP), a partner of UNESCO, to promote awareness of creative activity worldwide. Today is also the launch of Freemuse’s The State of Artistic Freedom 2020 report. In connection with this, we had the opportunity to have an in-depth interview with rap artist, musician KHALED HARARA who is currently doing a project manager internship at ShareMusic & Performing Arts.

What does artistic freedom mean to you?

Considering freedom itself, from my experiences coming from a conflict area, you are not a human if you cannot express your opinion against the regime or other state powers – you are a slave under the system. And artistic freedom can shake any system. It can work as an amplified message to reach people. In conflict areas, the first thing those in power do, is to close theatres, studios and other cultural venues. You can see it all through history. The leaders know the strength of art and culture, that’s why they make sure to control it.

Artistic freedom is a very powerful tool, but also a measurement to decide whether a community is democratic or not. If you end up in jail because you have written a song that criticizes the regime, traditions, or beliefs, you do not live in a free community. It’s a powerful and important measurement tool for any community. Within organisations such as Freemuse or ICORN, the organisation that helped me to Sweden, you meet many musicians, writers and other artists that have been in jail and much worse because they have criticized regimes or traditions. Many female artists, for example in Afghanistan, take great risks when creating critical art against old traditions.

Why did you want to do your internship at ShareMusic?

For two main reasons. First of all, the value that ShareMusic is fighting for: an equal society. To me, being disabled is not only about a physical or cognitive disability. When you’re forbidden to do things in a country, you’re disabled by the system. Societal change is needed in both cases to improve the situation. It concerns freedom of expression on an international level, which is one of the most important elements to me. It’s about creating possibilities for people to express themselves. I would love to see some of ShareMusic’s work happening in the Middle East.

The second reason is that this is a whole new field to me, how to engage disabled people in artistic work. I’m learning so much about that kind of creative work. When I was talking to Richard Forsberg, project manager at ShareMusic, about the workshops with the Mobile Music Kit, he told me that he doesn’t see the disabilities, he sees the art in people. The work comes from the heart in ShareMusic, and heart is something that is very important to me.

Is there any connection between your work with empowering artists in conflict areas and ShareMusic’s inclusive work with disabled persons?

Not in the details, but in the concept. In my work, I try to give people strength and tools to express themselves in conflict areas – essentially, that’s the same thing as ShareMusic do, they just focus on a specific group in society. Also, concerning ShareMusic’s international work, it resembles in the way that it’s essential for ShareMusic to have the right partners. It’s the same with my work in one way or another. In a project in Ghaza, I had to find people in the government of the city, inside the system, to collaborate with.

I think work like ShareMusic’s could make a big difference in some conflict areas. But it’s not the specific artistic workshops that would have an impact, it’s the eye-opening experience of inclusive work, the sharing of knowledge that is the essential part.

What is your (artistic/professional) vision?

That is a complicated question! But I want to give advocates in conflict areas opportunities and a microphone. Music, art and a microphone saved me. They need it there, and they also need a really big sound system so they can be loud! I want to give them tools to communicate, then it’s their own responsibility to fight for their freedom of speech et cetera. My work is aimed at conflict areas, right now with focus on Jordan because of the huge refugee camp there. In a refugee camp, you have almost nothing and you only eat, drink and sleep – the basic needs. You are surviving. But what about the mental side? The emotions, the heart? You need to focus on what I call “culture aid” to empower people, they really need it there. Maybe the instant work won’t change the world, but I believe in the butterfly effect; the work that is being made today may affect children that become tomorrow’s leaders. That is my belief.

Arts and culture are supposed to be accessible for everyone, but in conflict areas, it’s a luxury. But especially poor children need it. I want to find sustainable ways of sending equipment to create arts and music to conflict areas, a sustainable way of providing culture. There are several organisations in the world working with that, but few of them target conflict areas. Sending around something like ShareMusic’s Mobile Music Kit, that could do a lot. Small things can make a big difference in the long run.

Listen to Khaled Harara and Makten & Härligheten on Spotify.

“Artistic freedom can shake any system.”