Using Hip-Hop as a tool for community transformation

There are conversations happening all over the world about how communities can be empowered to co-create a better future. I want to share something of what I have learned from inspirational community building activity in Uganda, which starts with individuals finding that creative spark, and grows into something much more meaningful. Community Leader Silas Balabyekkubo explains this so well;

In the context of Indigenous Hip Hop practice, a Builder is defined as an individual whose visions, aspirations, and ideas, are passionately driven to lead, innovate, and engineer creative solutions, which contribute to self- liberation and service for humanity. This is what we call the awakening of our youth to become architects for community design.’ Silas Balabyekkubo

I met Silas, Founder of the Hip-Hop movement The Bavubuka (youth) Foundation in December 2015. I was a returning volunteer in the country, and only present as a member of the audience, at a community Hip-Hop night. This was my first encounter with the transformative power of a Cypher (a space where young people use their gifts, such as freestyle rapping, to tell story, educate and celebrate) and also to witness ‘real’ socially conscious Hip-Hop. I was immediately drawn to its authenticity, its power to engage community, and its capacity to celebrate individual gifts and voice as a collective. 12 months onwards, and I was a participant and facilitator at the Bavubuka Foundation’s yearly gathering, the Back to the Source Builders Retreat.



This retreat is an event that host’s space for leaders from East Africa and across the globe, to connect minds and hearts through an appreciation of each other’s stories, struggles and triumphs. After making the journey to the Source of the River Nile, participants leave the retreat with a deeper understanding of self, service, and the relationship between the two, thus developing a clearer understanding of their purpose and their responsibility within their communities locally and globally – it is a profound experience.

The people who attend are mostly of young Africans aged 16-30, who describe themselves as Indigenous Hip Hop practitioners. As emcee’s, graffiti artists, b-boys and girls, photographers, fashion designers and storytellers, they say they are motivated to inspire and transform their communities to be liberated, socially awake and empowered Africans. It is a very different story than the one we are told in the West about people in Africa.

My observation has been that these young Builders find a way of breaking through barriers and blossoming, in an environment characterised by low aspirations, minimal educational attainment, poor social infrastructure and corrupt political systems, that usually leads to a disconnect between people and generations. Historically there has been an absence of appreciation and investment in arts and music, and particularly Hip-Hop, which meant that young people had to seek strength from within and support from each other.

My role as a leader in this context is therefore challenging; it’s a conscious effort to balance holding space for the natural expression of young people, with making things happen myself.   This effort underpins my role as Global Conversation Catalyst in the foundation, where I broker the magic of the young people with those that may be able to offer support and experience that quality in return. Its important to be mindful of the mistakes of past, as well as the actions of some current leaders in disempowering people through their actions, even the NGO and charity sector can have negative effects as they perpetuate poor self determination and dependent behaviour.

The aim is to foster environments that support growth, skill development and potential to flourish as an authentic individual. This means opening up spaces and platforms for connection and collaboration, where young people envision and build their own future. For me as a young women working in Uganda, I aspire to learn from what I have seen, and also share my own Builder qualities – I have come a long way myself from the naïve well-meaning women who arrived in Uganda two years ago looking to make a difference as part of the status quo.

My aspiration now is to play my own part in replacing the narrative that Africa is a poor continent in need of charity, with a story that comes from the hearts of young Ugandans themselves. I have seen through their eyes that Africa has another story to tell, of a rich culture, a talented youth, and a new generation of warriors who are stepping forward to reclaim their right to bring the future they envision into reality.


For more information about the Back to the Source retreat, please head to our Facebook page

Please watch the incredible energy experienced in our Indigenous Hip Hop cyphers