National Geographic
Menu

This Rap Song Turned Something Tragic Into Something Artistic

Make Horns! By Apoc
Make Horns! By Apoc album art

National Geographic grantee Riley Arthur is documenting the Erased of Slovenia- 200,000 non-ethnic Slovenian residents who were not automatically granted citizenship after the country split from Yugoslavia in 1991.  A decade later, the community is still fighting for documentation. These stories are about the Erased and the places they live. 

—-

Expedition Journal: Izbrisani

Recording interviews and stories of the Erased has been the most rewarding and emotional part of this project. Many welcome the opportunity to tell their stories and to have them heard. The impulse to comfort is matched by the reality that I can’t tell them that it will be okay. I can’t say anything that will make it better. I can’t undo any injustice. I hear Zoran Milošević’s story of how he lived stateless in exile from his family in Slovenia, separated from his children for twenty years. I hear Saban Jasarov tell of how he and his wife were threatened at gunpoint when deported into Croatia, causing his wife to miscarry in the middle of the forest.

There is obvious pain and post traumatic stress in these stories. Some interviewees chain smoke through the interview, others shake, cry, yell, or joke their way through it. This is without a doubt the biggest human rights violation in the history of Slovenia. I feel a certain responsibility to the Erased community to help tell the stories they bare to an international audience who will hear them.

Expedition Team Members Alma Anakiev and Patrick Felsenthal in the field in Rimini, Italy.
Expedition Team Members Alma Anakiev and Patrick Felsenthal in the field in Rimini, Italy.

I was not fully prepared for the emotional roller-coaster this research has taken me on. Some of the rules of reporting require a distance, a neutral stance.

I have been invited into people’s homes, played with their children, drank their coffee, eaten meals they prepared for me, and had the privilege to hear what they have to say. It’s difficult if not impossible to be indifferent to their pain and continued legal woes. After many of the interviews the train or bus ride back with my expedition team are silent. We can’t find anything to say. Other times we can’t end the conversations about the stories we were told. Some interviews stick with us, words and quotes rattle around in our heads for days as we try to understand.

‘What Aco Told Me,’ is a song written by my research assistant, Patrick Felsenthal, also known as Apoc, which combines quotes taken directly from the interviews and themes adapted from our research. This song was inspired by the true stories of those we studied. On the surface the song is about the Erasure. The deeper themes draw upon systemic scapegoating and the need to create an enemy in order to create a country.

Aco, the subject of the song, is Aleksander Todorović , a prominent Erased activist. Aco Todorović is a leader among the Erased, so it was fitting that it is his name used in the song, though the quotes originate from multiple people. Many of the quotes were taken from interviews with Dimitar Anakiev, a well-known poet, filmmaker and Erased activist.

Aleksander Todorović, Blaž Kovač, and Zoran Milošević at an activist meeting on the 21st anniversary of the Erasure. Photo: Riley A Arthur
Aleksander Todorović, Blaž Kovač, and Zoran Milošević at an activist meeting on the 21st anniversary of the Erasure. Photo: Riley A Arthur

The song was written and recorded during our fieldwork in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Apoc provides the lead vocals and I sing backup vocals at the end of the song. This is the first rap song written in English about the Erased. I have typed out the lyrics below, and hope you enjoy and share this song, which was written as a way to make something artistic out of something tragic.

Lyrics: Apoc
Beat: Earmint and Apoc
Mixed and mastered by: Keith Kreuser
Vocals: Apoc, Galen Englund, Riley Arthur

What Aco Told Me

Yeah!  Oh yeah!

Chorus:

Well every hero needs a villain, ya’ see
Yeah, that’s what Aco told me!
‘N every ‘Us’ needs a ‘Them’ in order to be ‘We’
Yeah, that’s what Aco told me!
Had to do a lotta’ dirt just so you could look clean
Yeah, that’s what Aco told me!
N’ they can put them horns on you or on me
Yeah, that’s what Aco told me!

Well at first Aco thought he must be the only one
Couldn’t fathom what had happened, didn’t know what he’d done
Then he found there were thousands whose lives were undone
Erased by the state based on where they were from
Taken from wives or husbands and daughters and sons
Lost their homes and their rights and were publicly shunned
With no friends to defend them, their prospects were none
Ethnic cleansin’ with pens ‘n a slight of the tongue.

Chorus

It’s a lie, it ain’t innate
They creatin’ hate ‘n baitin’ race
Just to make a state, they betray their neighbors’ fate and gaze away
When the papers say ‘we can’t let them traitors stay
Inside our new new nation state,’ they obey ‘n blame away
Hey!  It’s the same old game again
Huh – It’s the same old frame they in
Whether Jew, Muslim or Palestinian
Or dirty Southerner, in other words, you’re different

Chorus

Aco said –
I don’t have a nationality and I don’t want one
Aco said –
Every state needs enemies
Aco said –
That they’ll spread a lot of fallacies before it’s done
Aco said –
Just look what they did to me

NEXTSlovenia’s Roaring Answer to the Economic Crisis