It started five years ago in Sweden as a protest against homophobia. Now, Rainbow Riots is a global movement, encouraging LGBTIQ freedom through the transformative power of music. Along the way, songwriter and project leader Petter Wallenberg has stared down the barrel of guns but he’s making a real difference in Africa and India. He’s also getting drag queens to read stories to kids. What’s not to love?
DNA: What happened back in 2012 that prompted you to start Rainbow Riots?
Petter Wallenberg: Rainbow Riots started as a protest. The Jamaican singer Sizzla was coming to play in Stockholm. He makes a homophobic style of dancehall often called “murder music” that’s infamous for lyrics about killing gays. I started a protest, lots of people joined and it grew into a national debate. His gig was cancelled and in light of this victory, the movement I had created needed a name, so I came up with Rainbow Riots.
How did you get from that to where you are today?
The whole thing started as a protest against hate speech in music so I got the idea to do the opposite – to use music as an antidote to hate and homophobia. As an artist and songwriter, I wanted to make an album with queer voices from some of the world’s most dangerous places to be gay. So I packed my bags and went out there. [Laughs.] It’s been one hell of a journey. Uganda and Sweden are a long was apart — and more than just geographically.
Yes. When I went to Uganda the first time I was scared. The country is notorious for its violent homophobia. It didn’t exactly feel like a gay dream destination. To illustrate this, the minute you enter the country Grindr automatically sends you a warning to be careful, but one thing all gay people have experienced is homophobia. So I just took the bull by the horns and went to Uganda, without any team or anything backing me.
What did you discover?
When I arrived I found my way into Uganda’s secret underground LGBT community. In the face of danger, they are brave enough to live their lives. Read more via DNA
RAINBOW RIOTS ALBUM
Released June 16, 2017: Rainbow Riots, the album, composed by Petter Wallenberg and featuring queer voices from some of the world’s most dangerous places for LGBTQ people. The first single ‘Equal Rights’ is part of the UN’s ‘Global Goals’ Campaign, released May 17. Rainbow Riots is a new album of music featuring LGBTQ artists from Uganda, Malawi, South Africa and Jamaica – some of the most dangerous countries in the world for LGBTQ people.The album is an eclectic fusion of afrobeat, electro, soul, pop, orchestral, rap, dancehall, gospel and spoken word, composed and produced by Swedish artist and activist, Petter Wallenberg.
Rainbow Riots will be the first time most people will hear a Jamaican dance hall artist who is also a gay rights activist. This groundbreaking album will also introduce the listener to the music of a queer rapper from Malawi, a South African gender queer rap crew and a whole array of LGBTQ artists from Uganda – often called the world’s most homophobic country. As one of the Ugandan artists puts it:
“Our lives are already in danger – it doesn’t help if we keep quiet.”
Some of the artists featured include Mista Majah P (Jamaica), Brayo Bryans (Uganda), Shivan (Uganda), Kowa Tigs (Uganda), Umlilo (South Africa), and Ivy B (Malawi). Others have chosen to remain anonymous, their involvement with the project posing such a threat in their home country.
During the recording of Rainbow Riots, Wallenberg attended Uganda Pride in August 2016, which was subsequently raided by the police. Wallenberg found himself completely immersed in the violent and shocking raid. The incident not only drove the project on, but bearing witness to the atrocities inspired the creation of a charity of the same name: Rainbow Riots is a global charity working for LGBTQ equality and rights. All proceeds from the sales of the album go towards the charity’s work towards ending discrimination against LGBTQ people around the world.