Hip-Hop Builds Afghanistan: Part I

Afghanistan Flag

I first met Shamsia Razaqi, vice president and chief operations officer of Omeid  International, last year when I interviewed her for an Immortal Technique feature I wrote for the Village Voice a couple months after releasing his last album, The 3rd World. (The title track is bonkers: yay, DJ Green Lantern). We share the same philosophy of internationalism when it comes to hip-hop, which, for better, can be used as a coalescing force for people spanning several generations .(Many of our forefathers and mothers are now pushing 50+). With the help of Immortal Technique, Omeid—it means “hope” in Farsi/Dari—the Bay Area nonprofit has raised enough money to set up Phase I of the Amin Institute, an orphanage, clinic, and school in Kabul, Afghanistan. And that’s where I caught up with her.

what are you doing in Afghanistan right now?

Right now I am in Afghanistan setting up the first phase of the Amin Institute, our planned orphanage, clinic and school in Kabul.

temporary location, phase 1

temporary location, phase 1

how did the concept of using hip-hop culture as a tool for global activism initially occur to you?

I had this idea for quite some time. In my first years of college, I realized how powerful hip-hop could be in moving people as I myself was moved when I listened. I knew that there was a way to bridge the gap between culture, politics, activism and hip-hop, I just didn’t know how. It was only when I heard Immortal Technique that I found the missing link.

many international nongovernmental organizations are failing to connect to the communities they are trying to reach. is hip-hop proving to be a coalescing force for you so far?

It’s definitely working. I think you can safely generalize that most fans of hip-hop have a certain level of awareness about the world around them. So when you bring them a righteous message like ours in the form of hip-hop, they respond mind, body and soul. We have had an overwhelming response from the hip-hop community, especially followers of Immortal Technique, he spoke and they listened: we have had hundreds, maybe thousands of new donors and volunteers.

“Zindagi” by Eloxin

how did this relationship with Immortal Technique develop?

I met Immortal Technique at Rock the Bells (R.T.B.) in 2006, when we had just started working on Omeid International (O.I.). Ever since I first heard his music I had told myself that I wanted to work with him somehow, someway. That day at R.T.B. it hit me, and I was determined to speak to him. Luckily, he always makes himself available to his fans, and was signing autographs at a table so I approached him and asked him to help us and being a man of great conviction, he was moved by our cause and promised to help us. From that point on we kept in regular contact and worked together on developing this project in a way that would best benefit the children of Afghanistan while reaching out and educating young hip-hop fans across the globe.

Afro-Peruvian hip-hop artist

Afro-Peruvian hip-hop artist

artists, like politicians, make promises that are rarely kept. has Immortal Technique and other hip-hop artists you’ve worked with been consistent in their engagement?

Immortal Technique is consistent, honorable and virtuous. He follows his words through to a T. I was really shocked that he would listen to my plea, much less put his life, career and money on the line to see our project reach fruition. Since his involvement with us several others have contacted us saying they are down for our cause, but talk is cheap and they have yet to step up to the plate. I will tell you this; he is one in a million.


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