Beatboxing for empowerment

Rup Sidhu sees music as tool for empowerment. | Photos by Courtesy of Rup Sidhu

Music is a tool that can give a voice to people who are underrepresented in this world,” says interdisciplinary artist Rup Sidhu, who will be performing twice at Vancouver’s Indian Summer Festival.

This year’s festival theme is ‘Tales of War and Peace’, and artists from all over the world are part of the culturally rich festival program that runs July 6–15.

Social justice

Beatboxing and rapping are his tools, and the world is his stage. Sidhu is a multi-instrumentalist and community facilitator, working on the intersection of social justice and arts.

He is not only touring through Canada with his own solo show, but works at the same time as a community worker at the Access to Media Education Society (AMES) in Vancouver, where he combines all his creative skills to educate people about inclusivity and empowerment.

“I am trained in bringing anti-oppression frameworks into the school system. We use a lot of creativity in these workshops, because it has the ability to break down boundaries through connecting people,” he says.

Sidhu believes dialogue is an important tool in tackling marginalization.

“In order to dismantle systems that marginalize people, we need to recognize the power structures and narratives that make them, and move towards changing them,” says Sidhu.

Sidhu’s interest in empowering marginalized groups traces back to his own youth. As a child born of immigrant parents, he witnessed racism and discrimination.

“I always wanted to make the world a little bit better than I found it. Vancouver still has a lot of work to do when it comes to inclusivity and class differences. We see groups of people that are facing multiple barriers of marginalization, and they are entirely left out of what is happening in Vancouver right now,” says Sidhu, who is Punjabi and was born in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta − an area he describes as “Traditional Blood Territory.”


About fifteen years ago, Sidhu started to organize special hip-hop camps, to introduce kids to rapping and beatboxing, while at the same time giving them leadership skills and confidence. He co-founded a hip-hop community program called Metaphor, a program dedicated to bringing performances and workshops to schools, detention centers and rural communities. Throughout the years, he has led programs at a variety of organizations like the Sarah McLachlan School of Music and Power of Hope.

“In my work, I focus on folks that face different types of marginalization in our society, based on their class, gender, sexuality, race or ability. All these community programs have one thing in common: they strive for liberation,” says Sidhu. “We strive to create an environment in which someone can work towards personal liberation, a place where everyone feels welcome to express themselves about things they care about in the world.”

As a resident of Vancouver, Sidhu is involved in the discussions surrounding the housing crisis and other pressing issues in the community.

“Nowadays, low income groups are being forced to live in places that are underserved. These problems with housing already intersect with race and class, and Vancouver should be watchful to include everyone in the conversation,” he says.

He fears the marginalization of certain groups will get bigger if we do not act immediately.

“The good thing is that a lot of community members are actively working towards inclusion of these groups,” he adds.

Sidhu’s work over the years has been connected with issues surrounding First Nations.

“I am attempting to work in uniformity with my indigenous brothers and sisters in every way I can and take leadership from them as to how I can grow in that aspect. My goal is to be of service,” he says.

He therefore does not see many reasons to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.

“In solidarity with my indigenous brothers and sisters, I don’t want to celebrate a nation state that was in its beginning based on extremely racist and genocidal ideas,” says Sidhu. “One thing we should all do as settlers on this land on the 1st of July, is start a conversation of how we can become a more just society, and that is something that needs to be rooted in our communities.”

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