In Togo, singer Elias Atayi puts music at the service of human rights Global Voices русский Français

Elias Atayi plays the guitar. Photo by Jean Sovon, used with permission.

Elias Atayi is a Togolese musician and singer who makes the promotion of women’s and children’s rights a priority.

The protection and promotion of human rights is one of the issues that motivates the commitment of many Togolese. In some aspects related to human rights, even if the authorities try to improve the situation, challenges remain. Citizens, for their part, are doing the best they can to contribute their stones to the building of a State in which respect for human rights will be effective.

This is the case of Elias Atayi, Eli Amate Atayi in civil status, columnist and co-host of TVT’s Nek’tar program, and artist who is committed to human rights. She is one of the rare artists who, through song, denounces abuse and raises awareness to consider the rights of women and children. He uses his art to bring about positive change as evidenced by this YouTube video:

Global Voices spoke via Whatsapp with Elias Atayi to understand the reasons for his commitment.

Jean Sovon (JS): Where does this love of music come from?

Elias Atayi (EA) Music is innate and I have been practicing it since childhood. When I was growing up, I took music classes with Togo artists like Gospel Renya, Edi Togovi. I often visit bands and choirs. I started to touch several instruments including solo guitar, my faithful companion in everyday life. I joined the Lomé University orchestra where I saw several passing names currently confirmed as Togolese music artists: Foganne with whom I released Mon Rêve (work that paints the world in white) and Victoire Biaku (winner of The Voice of Africa in French).

JS: Through your songs, we feel a commitment to human rights. Why the choice to put his art in the service of human rights?

EAs:In 2018, I joined the Human Rights Documentation and Training Center (CDFDH). Through various trainings and activities in the field, my commitment has broadened. With this structure, I was given the opportunity to compose and record songs that accompany Xonam, a digital application used to defend human rights. It was a great experience and strengthened my commitment. The observation is simple: the message and channel must be tailored to the target. If young people listen to rap music, let’s bring an understanding of human rights through rap music. I am one of those who think that artists have a big role to play in achieving the SDGs Sustainable Development Goals. He is listened to, loved and followed by millions of people, so his messages and requests will have a bigger impact and will cause change among his followers. Because music fits in all homes, and when music is played well, words stay anchored in the spirit without anyone knowing it. This is the goal my commitment strives for: that song lyrics impact their habits and behavior. During the Covid period, while the pandemic was going on, we released two singles (Respect the steps and the Prophecy) to raise awareness about the pandemic and its faults. The message was well received even though these songs weren’t successful, I think it’s a start, especially since our skills are so limited.

JS: Today, how do you read the human rights situation in Togo?

There is still a lot of work, especially in remote communities, millions of people who do not know their rights, harassing women without a voice, children dropping out of school – especially women. It is true that there has been some progress but we are still far from the minimum. The human rights situation in Togo in the 80s has nothing to do with 2000. But we have to put more emphasis on doing more, finding new strategies, new ways to involve young people, women and children. We have to bring joy, bring light to young people in remote areas by organizing initiatives focused on human rights themes, practical training to equip this population… We are ready to go into the field.

JS: Apart from music, in what other ways do you contribute to promoting human rights in Togo?

In 2019, I founded the Equal Rights For All (ERFA) association to promote human rights and civic engagement through art, culture and sport. An uneasy bet given the place art occupies in politics. Yes, it takes art to promote human rights because people who do not know their rights cannot defend themselves. Often people do not know whether the oppressor violates their rights or not. He therefore helps helplessly in situations where he would normally seek justice for the offenses committed and demand respect for his rights. Currently, we have established several strategies which are all innovative and young. We’ve planned dance competitions, soccer tournaments, marathons, movie nights and series that bring together some of the local comedians around our theme. All of these actions are aimed at young people who are our first target.

JS: Are you planning to make an album dedicated to this purpose?

An album with twelve titles called Life’s Colors in which we will find themes like Street children, Civic engagement, Peace, No to violent extremism, Environmental protection, Equality, etc… I also turn to authenticity, Africa and its culture, and therefore its rhythm. This will be a pure human rights album with an African sound.

JS: Any last words for our readers?

We believe in a better world and we believe that art, culture and sport can bring about radical change and huge impact. Calls out to all my fellow artists: it’s time to deliver important messages, without too much vulgarity. With what we see and hear today in the media, I am worried about our young brothers and sisters and our children. At the association level, we have planned a campaign that will soon be launched on the network, followed by strong action, but I would like to raise their awareness through this interview.

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