Weekly InSight: Can Hip Hop Help Stop Gang Violence in Latin America?

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In our July 6 Facebook Live session, Senior Editor Mike LaSusa and independent journalist Angelika Albaladejo talked about her recent investigation of hip hop violence prevention programs throughout Latin America and the challenges they face in terms of implementation.

The conversation opened with Albaladejo describing the origins and tactics of two local hip hop collectives in Comuna 13, one of the most violent districts in Medellín, Colombia.

These hip hop groups “decided that through unity they can help one another and actually stand in the face of some of the gangs that have taken over their neighborhood,” said Albaladejo.

Both groups have their own way of approaching organized crime in the area.

“Casa Kolacho is mainly a community center where instructors like Kbala are teaching methods of nonviolent conflict resolution to young people and encouraging them to engage in things like recording rap music [and] painting graffiti in the neighborhood,” Albaladejo explained, adding that communities say these activities are a good way to keep youths away from gangs and crime.

The collective also invites tourists for a “tour of the transformation” of Comuna 13 to secure funds for their activities.

AgroArte, the other grassroots organization Albaladejo visited in the district, operates in a literally more down-to-earth and traditional way.

Led by the rapper AKA, the group is based on the idea of “agrarian hip hop,” a style that fuses the rural roots of many community members with gardening projects that engage people from all age groups. This diversity is especially shown in the activity of “La Abuela Rapera,” or the Granny Rapper.

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Albaladejo and LaSusa also discussed how governments throughout the region are recognizing the positive impacts that grassroots initiatives like Casa Kolacho and AgroArte have had on at-risk youths. And while governments have at times provided funds for such groups, they are not always consistent in their stance towards them.

For example, Albaladejo said, the long-term effects of Más Barrio Comunidad Trabajando — a violence prevention program in Guadalajara, Mexico that managed to bring warring gang members together through the arts — were put at risk after the government decided to cease funding to these types of initiatives.

Albaladejo also pointed out that stereotypes associated with hip hop can contribute to resistance to such programs from governments and communities, especially in Central America.

“Hip hop, because of its rebellious roots, is highly popular among young people in these kinds of poor marginalized neighborhoods where these kinds of violent gangs take root,” Albaladejo said.

But while it is true that hip hop is associated with gangs in the Americas, it clearly has the potential to be used to prevent violence and marginalized youths from joining them.

The conversation concluded with LaSusa and Albaladejo agreeing that although programs like AgroArte show promise, further rigorous analysis of their pros and cons will be necessary to determine how to make hip hop a more effective gang and violence prevention tool.

Watch the Facebook Live broadcast for the full conversation:

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