Youssra Oukaf, otherwise known as Soultana
In a regional context, in which inter-generational struggles for gender equality continue, Moroccan rapper Youssra Oukaf – popularly known by her stage-name Soultana – is an uncompromising voice of dissent.
Using her lyrics as platform, she spotlights movements for gender and social justice in Morocco and grassroots feminist organising for change.
Through work and art that causes creative challenge to conservative religious and political currents, Soultana defines rap as a means through which to “talk about issues: poverty, violence, abuse, societal contradictions”.
Through holding the tension between challenging gender-based discrimination while maintaining vocal pride in her identity and roots, she has gained the respect and support of a loyal following in Morocco and beyond.
In response to a media environment in which much coverage of the Middle East and North Africa perpetuates reductionist gender stereotypes, Soultana narrates the struggles of women who are active in movements for equality, emancipation and political change.
Resolutely non-commercial, her consistency in speaking out sees her experiencing times of precariousness, as do other emerging artists who receive little support or funding.
“To be an Arab woman artist is to be consistently strong- to live with pride. To work with limited resources and sometimes limited rights but to continue to love, to struggle, to create,” she reflects.
Though facing sporadic societal and political censure in Morocco, Soultana’s vocalisation of her identity as a nuanced, self-empowered Moroccan woman and lyricist is a source of inspiration to many and her work has served as mentor to younger emerging MCs.
Reflecting on her work and sources of emotional strength, she explains: “I’ve faced through some difficult times, personally and professionally, but like they say, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Everything still gives me hope, though I try to keep my hope in a different world alive. I want to see change in this world – to turn on the television and not watch more wars, bombs, guns.
“Of course I want to see democracy, freedom of speech, access to healthcare, happiness, love, friendship, but all of this can be summarised by saying that I just want to see people to be able to live with dignity.”
The following pictures have been taken by Marcelo Biglia
Training rooms at the youth centre in Meknes in which FMUD (Freestyle Maroc Urban Dance) has a base and which also acts as a gathering point for hip-hop, graffiti and dance artists, some of whom Soultana helps to mentor
Graffiti artists and break-dancers are amongst the young artists who use the centre
Sports facilities at the youth centre in Meknes, in which FMUD train and organise some of their annual events. Its grounds serve as the only local facility in the area for young performers to practice and interact
Soultana, lacking ongoing funding or support, stays in the apartment of friends on the outskirts of Meknes and writes daily as she prepares to record her next album
Meknes outskirts, Morocco
At the medina in Marrakesh
Portrait of King Mohammed VI of Morocco at a framing shop, Marrakesh
Tearoom reflection at Djemaa El Fna Square in Marrakech
As Morocco’s urban youth navigate high levels of unemployment, increased migration to Europe and nascent social movements for socio-economic parity, gender equality and political plurality, Soultana’s lyrics speak to the contradictions and beauty of a collective home-land. At the medina, Marrakesh
At the medina, Marrakesh
Supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund