Rohi Liam. Photo: SOS Archives.
Finland – 22 March 2018

Young Afghanistani makes his voice heard through rap

For Rohi Liam*, 17, rapping is more than just a type of music. For him it is a way to share his experiences as a refugee from Afghanistan – and to encourage others to raise their own voices about societal problems.

Today, Rohi lives in an SOS Children’s Villages semi-independent home in Tapiola, Finland with four other boys, who he describes as “like brothers”. “They are all very brilliant. We motivate each other and we can handle negative feelings more easily together.”

The biggest difference between his life in Finland and his previous life is safety, he says. “Afghanistan is not safe, unlike Finland. You never knew if you would return back home after leaving the house.” Although he felt scared when he first arrived in Finland, once he came to SOS Children’s Villages, this changed. “I had the feeling that I’m in a family, and I’m welcome. Even though I didn’t understand Finnish, the educators there were able to make me feel safe and give me everything I needed,” he says.

Rohi is currently catching up on the studies he missed by attending an adult community college, where his favourite subjects are maths, English and Finnish. In the future, he hopes to work in electro-mechanics or to complete a diploma in business and administration. However, his passion is using rap to share the challenges he has faced in life.

He began rapping around eighteen months ago, shortly after arriving in Finland. “Ever since I was little, whenever I saw mistreatment of any kind, I always wanted to protest against it, and I wanted equality. I feel that I cannot do anything about it. That is the reason why I write songs about it and want people to listen to them,” he explains.  

Through rapping Rohi can amplify his own experiences as a refugee and his opinions on issues in society. By raising his voice, he hopes he can encourage others to share their views and experiences too. “I feel that through rapping, I can make my thoughts and voice heard. I hope that people will listen to my songs and also find the courage to tell their own stories.”

In addition, Rohi also supports other aspiring young rappers by giving advice on lyrics and beats, so that they too can use rap to find their own voices. “I’ve helped a few youngsters with their own songs. Mostly by giving tips on their lyrics, and I’ve come up with some hip hop beats too. For making music, you need to have the ear for it,” he explains.

Already, Rohi has performed at a number of festivals in Finland. As he raps in Dari, his first language, he explains in Finnish what each rap song is about. “People have told me that they get goose bumps. They also think that the topics of my songs are important. It also raises discussions that you couldn’t even rap about in Afghanistan. You were not allowed to talk about such matters and it might have got you killed.”

For Rohi, rap music is an important way to continue to raise awareness of issues in society. He plans to continue sharing his thoughts and experiences – and encouraging others to do the same. He says: “I would like to continue rapping on societal matters. I feel that many rappers only make songs about their own lives and problems. I would like to highlight the problems faced by all of us.”

*Name has been changed.