Indigenous hip-hop as a platform to create change

Kirsty Scott

2 November 2023

This is an article from the CSC Development Theme: Strengthening resilience and response to crises

Hip-hop is simply knowledge. To be hip is to know and hop is a movement. And therefore, we could say we are in a knowledge movement. We are in a caravan.

Jaspher Ewany

Hip hop, also known as rap, is a form of popular music that originated in the 1970s in the Bronx in New York City, USA by African American and Caribbean immigrants. It consists of stylised rhythmic music and rapping (poetic spoken word). In the 1970s, it provided an outlet for African American and Caribbean communities, predominantly youth, to express their disenfranchisement and marginalisation and as such reflected the social, political and economic status of these communities.

For Commonwealth Alumnus Jaspher Ewany (Aka Dealrafael Jsp-E), indigenous hip-hop provides the perfect medium to communicate and raise awareness on pressing global, national, and local issues at the community level.

He uses the term indigenous hip-hop as an important differentiation to more popular and mainstream instances of hip-hop today, where English is the dominant language. The power of indigenous hip-hop is the use of local language to increase the accessibility, relatability and ownership of the messages conveyed.

“Because we say that hip-hop is knowledge, you cannot teach a constituency, an area where you come from, in the dialect that they don’t understand. And therefore, now we advocate for and have been pushing this indigenous hip-hop practitioner agenda. We want you to do it in your own language. That’s when people understand you. You can then use unflinching lyricism to break down community issues and offer solutions in the language that the people of your community understand.

“Because we say that hip-hop is knowledge, you cannot teach a constituency, an area where you come from, in the dialect that they don’t understand. And therefore, now we advocate for and have been pushing this indigenous hip-hop practitioner agenda. We want you to do it in your own language. That’s when people understand you. You can then use unflinching lyricism to break down community issues and offer solutions in the language that the people of your community understand.


“But also, if you do it in your own language, you put in elements of your culture that makes what you’re saying move. While people can relate to it, it is easy that they can adopt it. If they understand it, they relate to it.”

Using indigenous hip-hop to create change

Jaspher is an indigenous hip-hop practitioner, rapper and activist and one of the pioneers of indigenous hip-hop in Uganda. Over the last 10 years, he has applied the transformative power of hip-hop to communicate key messages on a range of topics, including climate change, health care, youth engagement and leadership, and economic empowerment.

He is the founder of the Lango Indigenous Hip-Hop movement, a group that strives to engage youth using hip-hop as a cultural tool to educate, motivate and facilitate youth and community development.

“I want to be clear that hip-hop allows us to do a lot of things in the field of health, agriculture, climate action, politics, in anything. Also, as hip-hoppers, we are leaders. We are leaders who should be using the mic power to influence positively.”

In 2022, Lango Indigenous Hip-Hop Movement partnered with the Kwania Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDs and Lira Referral Hospital in the Northern Region of Uganda, to launch the campaign, Hip-Hop for HIV Awareness and Adherence to ARVs Among People Living with HIV (PLHIV).

Also referred to as, ‘Lego Abongo Mwonyo yat pe Cango Two Jonyo’, meaning ‘Prayers without taking ARVs cannot cure HIV’, the campaign sought to address the worrying number of PLHIV replacing antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs with prayer to treat HIV.

To reach the target communities, Jaspher and his team collaborated with young people and district health officers. Through these two groups, he gathered information on the messages that needed to be communicated through song, most importantly that ARVs and medical treatment should be sought alongside rather than instead of prayer to address health conditions.

A group of young people holding a banner advocating for ARV's for all PLHIV


Visiting communities to share this messaging enabled health care workers to extend the hospital services to local communities by also providing testing and distributing condoms and information about safe sex. Through these interactions, Jaspher and the team gathered testimonials from PLHIV about the impact of taking ARVs in improving their health to help further embed messages at the local level. This enabled them to also understand some of the wider factors preventing PLHIV from accessing treatment.

One barrier was the long distance to health centres and the lack of transport infrastructure for HIV patients to collect ARVs. To address this, the team partnered with an organisation to provide bicycles to 22 community groups who assigned a designated person to travel to the health centres and collect medications to dispense at the community level. This mechanism also introduced better oversight and monitoring of ARV adherence and community support.

To further amplify the messages, Jaspher employed radio as an additional medium to share the song to a wider audience. He also used this as an opportunity to organise rap contests, encouraging others to find creative ways of communicating the important health messages to different groups.

Promoting climate action through indigenous hip-hop

Jaspher launches the climate campaign at an engagement meetingJaspher has also worked on a climate change related campaign using indigenous hip-hop to promote climate action. In 2022, in partnership with Action for Child Social and Economic Transformation (ACSET) Uganda and VART Africa Solutions Limited, Lango Indigenous Hip Hop launched a culture and hip-hop-inspired community campaign on climate change entitled, ‘Trees Are Not Our Commodity’.

The campaign sought to raise awareness of the impact of deforestation in Northern Uganda. Tree cover is fast depleting as trees are being felled to use as charcoal for cooking and in the commercial and manufacturing sectors. The campaign engaged a range of stakeholders, including local citizens, cultural leaders, private sector actors, youth, and government representatives to introduce renewable energy alternatives and highlight the impact of environmentally unfriendly practices. The campaign was focused on communicating key messages about climate change using hip hop.

Jaspher also works for ACSET Uganda and has continued to make a significant contribution to winning funding for renewable energy projects. One project (Promotion of Renewable energy use in Uganda), funded by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), provided solar technology training for youth to become Solar Extension Agents. The training helped provide practical and employability skills to 50 young people, whilst ensuring they can maintain and fix the solar products installed, improving the long-term sustainability and investment of the project.

Following the successful implementation of the first project, Jaspher contributed to winning another project (Systems Strengthening to Enhance Solar Energy Use and Services in Uganda) that has a further 40 young people being trained as Solar Extension Agents and developing the capacity of two rural vocational training institutes to deliver short courses on solar technology.

Indigenous hip-hop at COP

In 2021, Jaspher represented the Lango Indigenous Hip-Hop movement at the COP26 held in Glasgow, UK, and became the first Hip Hop organisation to start the conversation about the connection between hip-hop, climate action and culture. Jaspher was part of the COP26 panel discussion on, ‘The Missing Link: International Perspectives on Culture and Climate’.

Jaspher also participated in the Sharm El Sheikh COP27 roundtable discussions, representing the youth and local voices in climate action. At COP27, during his speech, he shared the powerful message that:

“Our youth power and indigenous voices are missing in the climate action agenda to power the climate efforts forward. For sure, if you are not on the table, then you are not on the menu. Now that the youth have been considered to be on the table at the COP27, countries should create slots for youth and indigenous people to contribute ideas and develop locally adapted solutions to tackle climate change and its adverse effects”.

For Jaspher, this marked an important opportunity to highlight the important role indigenous people and knowledge plays in addressing climate change and in preserving and passing down important knowledge.

Jaspher is pleased to share that because of these campaigns and the wider work of Lango Indigenous Hip-Hop in promoting hip-hop as a communication platform and in supporting new indigenous hip-hop practitioners to step up to the mic, he is now stepping back to promoting access to Hip hop education through remix conferences and boot camps for hip hop practitioners.

“Climate change affects everybody in the world. As the hip-hop community, we are also affected. We can use the mic power to break all the science of climate change, tell the truth about it in our local languages and let people understand that climate change is here to stay and we have to do something about it.”

Developing research for food security

Jaspher is now completing a PhD in Biology at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland. His research explores bio-pest control using small worms (scientifically termed entomopathogenic nematodes) that kill insects that can cause damage to crops. These small worms live in symbiosis with a bacteria that it releases after penetrating the insect. Once released, the bacteria continue to digest the insect internal system which the worms then ingest as food and encourages their reproduction. Not all the bacteria released is ingested by the worms and Jaspher’s research seeks to understand the impact of the remaining bacteria on other organisms in the soil and plant growth and development.

His research is timely, as crop losses due to pests is increasing as climate change related increases in global temperatures are creating more favourable conditions for pests to proliferate and new species emerge. At the same time, there is a call to reduce the use of chemical pesticides due to their impact on the natural environment and move to more sustainable and natural pest control strategies.

Jaspher’s research is directly linked to his Master’s study in Agriculture for Sustainable Development which he completed at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) at the University of Greenwich through a Commonwealth Shared Scholarship. His Master’s study looked at using bio controls and microbial pesticides as alternative environmentally safe control agents to support sustainable agriculture and food security.

Using rap to work with different stakeholders

Jaspher excelled at NRI, building global contacts through his supervisors which has supported his current doctoral research. He was also the best graduating student and awarded best dissertation of the year for his studies which he reflects on with pride.

His current research will contribute to ongoing research on biosafety and sustainable agriculture using entomopathogenic nematodes and support the development of regulations about bio controls in food production.

Indigenous hip-hop remains an important part of Jaspher’s identity and how he communicates. Between his academic research and ability to use rap to raise awareness and capture people’s attention, he feels he is in a strong position to work with different stakeholders and achieve change.

“I believe that policies and politics influence a lot of things. But there is still time that we can get into new areas, keep on publishing, talking to politicians, those who are in that position, to communicate climate action. And there is still time to do this. Can things change? Yes, things can change.”

Jaspher Ewany is a 2017 Commonwealth Shared Scholar from Uganda. He completed an MSc in Agriculture for Sustainable Development at the University of Greenwich.