If there’s one thing Noel Chikoleka remembers about his childhood in Lilongwe, Malawi, it’s that he was raised by strong women.
“I was 9 years old when my father passed away,” Noel says. “But my mother tried to keep our spirits up, organizing family trips to the lake, trips like those we used to take with my father.”
Noel, now a popular hip-hop artist who goes by the name Phyzix, is using his music to address the country’s social issues and the role that youth, now the majority in Malawi, can play in charting the region’s course.
“I’m using my music not to endorse a political party but to stand with the youth,” Noel explains.
“I want to give them a voice, I want them to say, ‘This is what we want.’”
One way Noel is bringing youth voices to bear is with the #Mutipatsa campaign, which invites youth to share the issues they want to be addressed in their community, all through song.
“The challenge invites the youth to compose a hip-hop ballad about the issues weighing on their hearts, the issues they want leaders to address,” Noel says.
Equally important is the waning, but still pervasive, sentiment among youth that they don’t have a role to play in the country’s general elections.
“Many members of the youth think politics is not for young people and that their vote won’t make a difference anyway,” Noel explains.
To counter this, Noel and others are using music to give the youth a voice, at last.
“We need to engage the youth as partners,” Noel insists. “They need to be part of the political process.”
Recently Noel has turned his attention to women’s rights, too, and the role music can play in bringing those stories to light.
“In one case, girls in our community were forced to skip school when menstruating,” Noel explains, “as many did not have access to sanitary pads.”
In response, Noel partnered with World Connect on its Breaking Red Project, which is aimed at teaching women to make their own sanitary pads and, by extension, keeping girls in school. Noel’s contribution, a song entitled “Never Be Alone,” effectively raised awareness about the issue and about women’s issues overall.
“These girls were denied an education just because they are born female,” Noel says.
Noel encourages others working in civic engagement to advocate for those less fortunate than themselves and to follow their passions, as that is key to a successful campaign, in Noel’s view.
“Make sure you are passionate about your work,” Noel says.
“You might be challenged or misunderstood, but if you believe in your work, you won’t give up.”
Interested in Noel’s work? Learn how you can make your voice heard on our #YALIVotes page.