Djappa Man is a self-made street artist in Tunisia, who architected Zomra, a Tunisian Hip Hop collective that produces Arabic beats, now widely known in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). Founded in 2011, the same year marked by the birth of democracy in Tunisia, the street artist’s music promotes peace in MENA.
The Jasmine Revolution
Tunisian Democracy was led by the Jasmine Revolution, a series of peaceful civil protests that unfolded after a Dec. 17, 2010 incident, when a 26 year old fruit-vendor named Mohammad Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest. He died shortly after. Bouazizi’s self-immolation was a response to his unjust treatment by the 23-year regime of Tunisian President Ben Ali, a time marked by stagnancy and authoritarianism. On Jan. 14, 2011, Ben Ali was ousted from the government, sparking a peaceful transition into democracy. Moving forward, Tunisia established a new constitution and electorate, and was recognized globally for its peaceful efforts in achieving democracy amidst regional turmoil.
Djappa Man and Zomra
In the wake of a political revolution, the nation experienced the onset of what would be one of the most esteemed artistic movements in modern-day Tunisia, the formation of Zomra. Djappa Man, who is accredited by Huffington Post as Zomra’s founder, has been the common denominator between multiple Tunisian Hip Hop artists associated with the label. Djappa Man’s music, in particular, represents the unwavering pursuit of peace and prosperity in a nation challenged with economic depression and social discord. His music is a symbol of artistic expression, and promotes peace in MENA.
Djappa Man spoke to The Borgen Project about his music. “[My music] is about how I live and how I feel and what I see.” Djappa Man said. “There is some modern philosophy, and some of my own touch. I just try to give new style.”
Images of the struggles in Tunisian life manifest in his music videos and lyrics. Widely viewed on YouTube, his videos depict various Tunisian locales, from dilapidated neighborhoods, street life and graffiti, to Tunisian countryside, nightlife, and archeological sites.
Djappa Man’s music is not political, nor does he condone conflict. “I’m a street artist, and I’m doing hip hop. I give pure emotion, and street poetry,” Djappa Man said. His philosophical view on society surpasses national borders. “God didn’t say that this is Tunisia and this is Roma. Humans make borders like [they]want. Humans decided that this is Tunisia, and this is called that.”
Almost 100 percent of Tunisians who enroll in primary education graduate, however, due to a strained economy, only 19.8 percent of its population are employed. Yet, Djappa Man works, attends a University where he majors in art, and has various startup projects with his friends on the side, such as his clothing brand. He borrows his friend’s mother’s sewing machine, where they design their own clothes, and sell them on social media. With limited tools, this is a time-consuming process, yet it’s the high cost of materials to make clothing which make business difficult.
Recently, prices in Tunisia rose again. On Jan. 13, 2018, protests broke out against increase of tax and prices on cars, fuel, phone calls, internet and some consumer goods. Almost 800 protesters were arrested for vandalism, and in some cases, violence, sparked by taxes imposed by the government to cut a budget deficit. “I lost feeling in this country. Bad vibes around.” Djappa Man said. “Economy problems, violence and terrorism…But I’m still fighting. I should be positive, [I] got no choice.” The government responded to the January 2018 protests with compromise by increasing aid for poor families and needy people by $70.3 million.
The White Light Inside
Djappa Man’s creative ambition to stay positive during hard times is a beacon of light for Tunisians. “I have, and we have always, that white light bright inside,” Djappa Man stated on religious freedom. “I care about all religions…all of them are true.” Djappa Man is Muslim, and frequently talks about God in his music. His lyrics often refer to the “white light inside.”
Djappa Man’s music adds to Tunisian hip hop through Zomra, and promotes peace in MENA through lyrics that contemplate peace as a choice, especially in times of turmoil. This idea is especially noted in the song Peace and War.
His musical creations with Zomra has lifted up many Tunisians, giving people an entry into the music industry. “We do everything self-made. Friends do beats and they mix and we do our clips most of time.” His media production coupled with his clothing company has created a platform for himself and his friends to gain a foothold in the music and entertainment industry. “I had my friend go on a commercial, and they are more famous than me now.”
The United States Agency of International Development (USAID) aids the Tunisian government in achieving its 2016-2020 strategic plan. The plan provides that if Tunisia maintains macroeconomic balance and implements meaningful economic reforms, then the private sector will employ more people. This, in turn, will lead to a boost of inclusion and confidence in economic future.
Meanwhile, Zomra is boosting inclusion and confidence in the future of young Tunisian men and women by giving them an outlet of expression. The music label not only promotes peace in MENA, but it’s setting the stage for creativity, peace, and individuality amongst diverse groups. Democracy and Zomra came at the same time in Tunisia, and they complement each other in a unique way, embracing freedom of expression.
– Alex Galante
Photo: Djappa Man