A Rising Rap Star Advocates For A Welcoming World

As a teenager, Alino dreamed of being a hip hop artist in Congo, where music is the pulse of the country. But like many young people, family demands and expectations that Alino pursue a more stable career put his dreams on hold while he studied petroleum chemistry in a prestigious Congolese university.

Never did Alino think that he'd be a rising rap star, and never did he dream it would be while living in exile in Kampala, Uganda.

"That was my father deciding for me. If I didn't do it we wouldn't be in good books so I had to do it. I wanted to (study) music…but music is not regarded as something noble by many people here. My father said if I wanted to study music I'm out of his house," he recalls.

Overall, his family had a good life together. His father had a stable job at the Central Bank and owned land and several homes. He and his eight siblings studied at nice, Jesuit schools and were planning to pursue university in Europe. His childhood was a happy one, but as a young adult conflict ruined what he calls his "family life".

"I wish I could go back to being eight, nine, ten years old and live it again. We had a good family but war disrupts a lot of things, financially but also in terms of unity. We had to split up many times and this meant we didn't have a very good bond, or at least one that lasted for a long time."

When armed conflict reached his home town of Bukavu the family went in different directions to their safety.

"We walked for so many miles on foot to reach my grandmother's village. We walked like a whole month and they killed people randomly so if you have a big family like ours you'd split up – some would take one way, some would take another way so if they kill some of us at least some will survive."

 I know hip hop music formally was used to pass messages like that so…I want to do that from my perspective too.

Alino's path led him to Kampala, mainly due to the kindness and advice of strangers. Upon arriving, he was homeless for weeks, spending nights on the streets or in police stations until finally he found a friend of a friend who took him in for a while until he was told he had overstayed his welcome. Today he stays with his father's close friend in his family's home in the urban centre.

He has yet to find his own family, but has been able to carve out his own niche in the refugee community, known by many by his stage name 'Kizaza' and also as man who has helped thousands to ease their way into life in Kampala by teaching them English.

"The work I'm doing, I feel so proud of it. I feel a lot of dignity from it…I feel like I'm a contribution to a community. When I was coming out of Congo I didn't have that feeling, I felt like I was going to end up in the dust bin like trash."

His discouragement ended when he heard from a friend that his impeccable English skills, which he learned from watching Nigerian movies in DRC, could help others. Four years ago, he began teaching English at JRS where he still teaches today.

"I am empowering them. After some time, a year or two after teaching them, I go downtown and come across some people running their businesses. They stop me and tell me, 'If today I can stand here and sell this stuff it's because of the English you taught me.' (When they) express that gratitude that is very, very amazing. It's not really making people rich but helping them find balance in society."

Many of his younger students, he says, have entered universities while the older ones run their own businesses, making enough money to send their children to school – a paramount opportunity for refugees who've lost their chance to study and build a better life due to conflict.

This experience of losing everything and rebuilding his life has served as a source of inspiration for the raps he composes and performs throughout the city.

"It's kind of hard trying to breakthrough, but I'm not giving up because I believe and I just want to go. I did hip hop music before I knew I'd be displaced. When I reached here with the situation I went through, with what I saw, it gave me a lot of fuel, it gives me a lot to talk about and I feel like I got a role to play."

He has taken his experience of overcoming conflict and displacement to compose music on deeper topics of child soldiers, sexual violence against women, destruction of villages and refugee life.

"People are sick of the way these issues are being addressed. I know hip hop music formally was used to pass messages like that so…I want to do that from my perspective too."

Right now in my mind there's nothing I cannot do. Life in Uganda taught me that you can start low but things can get better.

Overcoming the stigma that comes with being a refugee, Alino says, is the core mission of his music. He remembers the day when he also believed negative stigmas of refugees and wants to see a day when refugees are not only accepted but allowed to thrive.

For now, Alino is using the opportunity to work and reside in Uganda to the fullest. Looking back, he feels the whole experience has made him a better person and that, eventually, he will become a famed musician and caring father.

"It built me as a man, and it built me for the better. Right now in my mind there's nothing I cannot do. Life in Uganda taught me that you can start low but things can get better. The future is bright, it's got to be bright.  We've been through a lot of miserable things and maybe it's our time to have smile on our faces for once. I believe in the future because I'm working toward building a great one."

The original article was published by Jesuit Refugee Service

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