Your Land, My Land, Our Territory

Photo by: USAID Colombia Land and Rural Development Project

Youth in Colombia use their voice to raise awareness about land restitution and land rights.

Originally appeared on Exposure.

In 2016, Samir Balanta crossed a border in his own country. The 20-year-old community rapper and his crew performed in the town of Buenos Aires. Although the town is not far from his home in Lomitas, it has been off limits for most residents due to the lingering conflict. For decades, these two Northern Cauca towns—divided by a mountain—represented the invisible border where leftist guerrillas and paramilitary groups held their opposing fronts. Balanta and thousands of families were trapped on either side.

A neighborhood group in Buenos Aires had heard about Balanta after his song and the songs of other Cauca youths were featured on an album called “Your Land, My Land, Our Territory.” The rap album is the result of a joint effort between the USAID-funded Land & Rural Development Program and Colombian youth-empowerment NGO Familia Ayara Foundation. The songs are aimed at raising awareness about the ongoing land restitution process, which is benefitting hundreds of thousands of people across Colombia.

“It’s easier for some of us to express what we feel through music. The songs that we write talk about violence and peace, our freedoms, rights, and our land,” says Balanta. “And the people who listen learn more.

Familia Ayara led a series of rap workshops for 75 youth from five conflict-ridden municipalities in Cauca to inspire them to open up and learn about land rights and the land restitution process. After talking about their experiences and the violence they witnessed in their communities, participants were encouraged to write rap songs about displacement and violence, and their hopes for peace and reconciliation in their communities. Familia Ayara then provided beats and recorded participants’ songs and music videos.

“People living in violence and oppression aren’t used to expressing their opinions, but rapping and music allows them to do that, not in the name of politics but in the name of art,” explains Jeyffer Renteria, director of the Familia Ayara Foundation.

In total, these budding musicians created five music videos and sixteen songs on topics such as territory, identity, and land rights violations, with a special emphasis on restitution and territorial rights.

“I never rapped before and had no idea about how to do it. I’ve realize that we Afro-Colombians have our own culture, and our communities need to know that there is a way to recover the lands that were stolen from us during the violence,” says Balanta.

Read the full photo essay on Exposure.