Emmanuel Jal, born in South Sudan, was only 8 years old when he was recruited to fight as a soldier in the Sudanese Civil War along with 12,000 other children. Miraculously, Jal was one of the few to escape, eventually finding his way to Kenya and enrolling in school.
Today, he is a rapper, actor and social activist, who spins verses about his personal biography and his ongoing crusade for peace around the world. "I used to have a lot of nightmares," Jal expressed in an interview with NPR. "Life was difficult then. But music became the place [where] I was able to see heaven. So through music I was able to dance, I was able to become a child again."
Jal is one of the subjects pictured in "Forthright ― Stronger than a Weapon," a photography series by German photographer Sascha Kraus. The project pictures 43 hip-hop artists from Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States, all of whom use their craft to advocate for world peace and universal human rights. Far from just an exercise in frivolous entertainment, rap music is framed through Kraus' lens as a bold and uncompromising tool for social change.
"I am fascinated by what the artists do with their music," Kraus said in an interview with Freelens. "With my project 'Forthright,' I would like to give them a platform and show what influence this movement has on a global scale." Kraus pictures his subjects both performing and at rest, in black-and-white and in color, the depictions suggesting that a human being, when immersed in her element, can become something more.
Another featured rapper, Sister Fa, champions women's rights in her lyrics, specifically speaking out against the practice of female genital cutting, which she experienced as a child in Senegal. Today, she uses music to ensure that girls no longer have to endure the pain that was inflicted upon her as a youth. "I am just trying to speak for the many women who cannot raise their voices," she said in an interview with The Guardian. "I feel that when I talk, one person listens; but when I sing, thousands of people can hear my song."
Also pictured is Deeb, an Egyptian musician who performed in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the revolution. "Rise up, O Egyptian / No revolution can be terminated in a night and day," he sings in the song "Promised." "Bear with yourself a bit / Have endurance and tolerance / Don't fear on the cycle of production / There should be a revolution against oneself / Tomorrow is better than the past."
Over 250 photographs make up "Forthright," which are all compiled into a book disguised as an album booklet, complete with a selection of in-depth interviews and sample lyrics. Through the powerful publication, Kraus makes his purpose objectively clear: in today's political climate, we don't need more guns, more bombs, more war. We need words, we need music, we need the power of those individuals willing to risk their lives to speak their minds.
As written in the book itself: "Music is the language of our heart, so, we choose music as our weapon."
Rap artist Diana Avela from Bogota, Columbia. She is raising her voice against inequality and injustice while fighting for women's rights through her music. –FORTHRIGHT BY SASCHA KRAUS
Khan Rotem as Sagel 59 performing in Tel Aviv, Israel. He was the first rap artist in Israel and performs all around the world. In his work, he calls for peace and equal rights to overcome armed conflicts. –FORTHRIGHT BY SASCHA KRAUS
Amkoullel is a Malian rap artist who studied law but decided to devote his energy to music. He sings about oppression and corruption, fighting for human rights and respect. (In his song "S.O.S." he declared that Mali is in a state of emergency. Shortly afterward, the military coup began in Mali.) –FORTHRIGHT BY SASCHA KRAUS
Emmanuel Jal and Darryl McDaniels aka D.M.C. at a radio broadcast in Juba, South Sudan. Together they celebrated International Peace Day in South Sudan. D.M.C. inspires and empowers younger hip-hop artists, giving them trust and courage in music and culture. –FORTHRIGHT BY SASCHA KRAUS
Lam Tungwar, born in South Sudan, was a child soldier for several years. He found a way to incorporate his struggles into music, ultimately telling the world to end war. (He travels a lot to raise awareness of the difficulties in his home country.) –FORTHRIGHT BY SASCHA KRAUS
Rapper El General from Tunisia released his song "Rais Lebled" on the internet and it soon became a revolutionary anthem. It spread via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. He says he is a voice for young people who seek to criticize political systems. –FORTHRIGHT BY SASCHA KRAUS
Zeya Thaw is from Burma. He was an underground rapper and is now an elected member of Parliament, representing NLD, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi. Through his music he says he wants to express the people's desires. –FORTHRIGHT BY SASCHA KRAUS