Focusing on “urban education”, a newly installed online radio station at 7Hills Skatepark broadcasts across Amman, providing a platform for young people to negotiate a right to this confusing city.
It’s not too uncommon to have trouble thinking in a city where congestion, construction, and conversation seem to only serve the interests of those you expect. Amman is in an identity crisis in which policymakers are recreating an unsuitable space for a diverse population largely seeking refuge in the city.
“Jordan is defiantly pursuing ambitious modernization plans, particularly in Amman, creating the image of a prosperous and hypermodern city”
Jordan is ranked in the top 10 worldwide for hosting refugees; its population has increased twentyfold since 1950, with 70% of the city’s inhabitants under the age of 30.
At the same time, Jordan defiantly pursues ambitious plans for modernization, particularly in Amman, creating the image of a prosperous, hyper-modern city similar to that of Dubai or Doha through the large-scale construction of high-end residences and of leisure spaces.
Yet it is increasingly the young population whose voices are lost in the noise of the new high-rise residence being built.
It is in this context that 7Hills Skatepark was born in 2014. Mohammed Zakaria, the co-founder of 7Hills, remembers that the park was created “out of necessity”, “there were no public spaces for children; the intention was simply to build a skatepark, but like all things found with 7Hills, it grew organically, slowly it grew into a program that catered to the needs of the community. We grow out of necessity, not desire.
From those beginnings with commitments to supporting the Jordanian grassroots, Zakaria explains how “skateboarding isn’t just a sport, it’s a culture and we want to help kids experiment in all areas, whether it’s through clothes, magazines or sound”.
In 2021, 7hills created a broader urban education program under the name Al-Raseef 153 as a space to connect public-private space within social work in which young people in Amman can challenge the right to the city through cultural and artistic production such as screen printing, carpentry and now, radio workshops.
However, as the program grew, a new problem arose: the scarcity of the Arabic language.
“Most kids speak English to look cool and it’s depressing we have such a rich language that the younger generation just don’t engage.”
Aswat al-Raseef was a radio project launched in May 2022 by 7Hills Skatepark, Refuge Worldwide and Zaatari Radio to build a recording studio in al-Raseef’s space alongside a four-week program of hands-on workshops on digital, technical and creative radio production. skills. As with all 7Hills projects, the radio was born out of a response to the shortcomings they knew.
“Language is an indicator of power, so we have to fight against the homogeneity of English. This is why storytelling and creating podcasts about the real issues facing young people in Amman and expanding our storytelling can give us back our authority and culture,” Zakaria exclaims.
The project was underpinned by a celebratory notion that grantees need not look to the West for influence, but to engage in artistic practices that call attention to what is happening. takes place in Jordan.
During the project, participants produced podcasts dealing with various topics such as mental health, pharmaceutical corruption and integration into wider Jordanian society.
These were shaped by the tuition of some of the most prominent artists in Jordan and Palestine who turned to a new wave of contemporary Arab culture.
“The censorship we have from our governments; it limits our visions,” laments Odai Masri, founder and curator of Exit Festival Palestine, Exit Records and one of Aswat al-Raseef’s workshop facilitators. “We live in a conservative society, most people here care about their image, so organizing events, getting places to agree to create safe spaces or even playing certain kinds of music is a fight.”
This outward sense of otherness is insidious, “we have resorted to pop-up events in abandoned shooting ranges or old Turkish baths for our festival because even bars are not ready to host such events, it means that we have to rent all the equipment, create our own bar, it’s super expensive but we manage it.In the context of a hostile city, young people reclaim private space to shape the future sounds of their generation.
It may also allude to the transformative power of radio; the voices of a discouraged but determined youth are taking to the airwaves and occupying a space that encompasses both public and private spheres.
In vain of a rich heritage of pirate radio where autonomous communities organize themselves in solidarity and where marginal narratives are centered, Aswat al-Raseef intends to negotiate the right to the city while celebrating all that is marginalized there.
Maria, a project participant, explains how “over the past 10 years or so, artists have become much more focused on finding and creating inclusive, safe and accessible spaces to foster community and creativity”.
“Aswat al-Raseef intends to negotiate the right to the city while celebrating all that is marginalized there”
Yet, “the hardest part of creating art spaces in Amman is that inclusiveness and public accessibility can be at odds with each other, so many spaces need to remain more private to their own safety and continuity, so communities can become insular.I think Al-Raseef has incredible potential to become the comprehensive, public, all-ages, free art space that Amman needs.
Similarly, Mariam Elnozahy, workshop facilitator and manager of the online radio station and Arab culture platform Ma3azef, explains that “the uniqueness of the sound stories comes from the fact that they transcend language and are not not as loaded with contextual cues as is the case with the visual. stories”.
Perhaps more encouraging, Mariam noted “comment from the workshop students, who were discussing the ways in which Jordanian artists can sometimes get stuck – whether because of a lack of space or a tendency to imitate pre-existing genres and forms. There seems to be a realization that there is a lot of room for growth in the Jordanian music scene, and it was exciting to see young people eager to facilitate that growth!
Aisha Kherallah is a freelance journalist and researcher specializing in media freedom and cultural productions in the MENA region. She holds a Masters in Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics and also works for the Rory Peck Trust.
Tom Critchley is a Research Fellow and Tutor in the Design Department at Goldsmiths University London. He has been developing Zaatari Radio since 2017 and also works for the Concrete Jungle Foundation.
Knots is a research collective founded in 2022, focused on exploring urban design, culture and geography around the world.