SIHMA | Scalabrini Institute For Human Mobility In Africa

How the Migrant Youth are making a mark in Music and Art

Happy Youth Day!

Youth Day in South Africa is on the 16th of June and commemorates the Soweto Uprising and pivot role of the youth. Youth and their contributions are celebrated and commemorated around the world with several Countries declaring a national youth day, along with the United Nations International Youth Day celebration on the 12th of August and the World Youth Day Celebration organised by the Catholic Church, celebrated by millions of people across the globe. In Africa a number of countries celebrate and commemorate youth on their national youth day including Angola (14 April) Cameroon (11 February) Morocco (21 August) South Africa (16 June) Tunisia (21 March) Zambia (12 March) and Zimbabwe (21 February) with the date chosen for youth day often tied to the significant role of youth in fighting and/or demonstrations for justice, peace and liberty.

In honour of youth and reflecting on youth days, SIHMA has chosen to highlight the positive impact in the fields of music and art by and on young migrants. The arts have been a form of expression for many youths, including youth migrants and refugees for many years. A look back into history to the 1990s shows the world-renowned young group (aged 17,20 and 23 when they started out) the Fugees (short for Refugees) producing music deriving inspiration from their upbringing in Haiti and the United States and the way Haitian migrants were treated in the United States. Today, through dance, music, and visual art youth are finding creative ways express themselves, to raise money for the coronavirus pandemic and as a means of release or reflection for current and past difficulties.  


In Liberia, through art Liberian youth are finding innovative ways to help in the coronavirus pandemic. Humpheretta Reid is creating protective masks from African prints, a method that celebrates the local culture while also helping preventing coronavirus (1). 

Art also serves as an expression of identity, as is visible in the work of Serge Alain Nitegeka, who has is awaiting resolution on his citizenship case in Johannesburg. His work has travelled around the world, yet Nitegeka is unable to leave South Africa. Drawing on his childhood experiences of fleeing Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, his work has been a representation of displacement and obstacles. The installations have a geometry to them, the works are an obstacle course that symbolize the migrant’s journey (2).  The exhibition can be viewed through this link:


The Youth Choir in South Africa is gaining recognition on social media with a song about effective prevention for the coronavirus pandemic. The song titled “We’ve got this—Fight against Coronavirus/COVID-19” highlights simple prevention tactics of not washing their hands, not touch the face, not to panic or spread rumors among others (3). 

Music as a method of education has made waves across the globe, Xiomara Fortuna who is a well-known singer in the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean has produced a song solely in Creole to highlight prevention materials and information about COVID-19. The song is produced in conjunction with the IOM to educate and inform the Creole audience in their own language (4).

The longevity of music and the imprint that music can have on a community can be seen in Sicily. There Nigerian migrants are building Afrobeat scene from scratch. Ballaro is a neighborhood that lies in the center of Palermo, Sicily, Italy, where a few decade ago it was controlled by gangs and mafias. Through the arrival of African and Asian migrants, the neighborhood is safe. A portion of these migrants are a group from Nigeria musicians who are connecting to the neighborhood through Afrobeats and in exchange letting the neighborhood connect to their culture (5). 

A small orphanage in Uganda has made headlines during the coronavirus pandemic with short dancing videos to a popular song by rapper Drake. Through the video going viral the Masaka Kids Africana not only gained new Instagram followers but also hundreds of dollars in donations that help keep the orphanage running. The social media page is filled with dancing videos, and even their own “Lets fight Coronavirus” song (6). 

On May 28th 2020, the UNHCR held a virtual concert with artists from 30 countries joining Maestro Shlomo Mintz to aid UNHCRs coronavirus response. The fundraiser was initiated by Shlomo Minitz, a world-renowned violin virtuoso and conductor. All the donations from the concert went directly to UNHCR’s mission to help protect refugees and the communities that welcome refugees in the fight against COVID-19. As 57% of the refugees in Africaare under the age of 18 (7), the efforts of the musicians, the conductor and UNHCR should not go unnoticed this youth day (8). The full concert can be found under this link:

Congolese choreographer Fabrice Don de Dieu travels to refugee camps across the Democratic Republic of Congo to teach refugees who have experienced war and violence how to overcome their trauma, simultaneously build self-confidence through dance. The program titled “Refugees on the Move” is carried out through his dance company, Kongo Drama and is funded by the French NGO African Artists for Development (9). Over 10 000 children and young adults have benefited from the Fabrice’s lessons.



James Chapman               and              Felipa Schmidt

SIHMA                                                   SIHMA 

Project Manager                                    Research and Communication Intern
















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