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Son of activist highlights benefit concert Rock the Cause

A Benefit Concert took place April 5 at Browning Amphitheater.

Standing up to authority runs in the family for Khaled Ahmed, and he channels that attitude of opposition to oppression into his hip-hop music, whether he’s performing in Europe, the Middle East ­- or at Ohio State.

“My father was arrested and thrown in jail in Libya in 1973 for being part of a student protest, tortured every day on the regular,” said Ahmed, who performs as rapper Khaled M. and highlighted the Rock the Cause: A Benefit Concert Friday at Browning Amphitheater. “In 1977, before he was scheduled to be executed, he escaped.” 

After escaping from prison, Ahmed’s father came to the U.S., where his children were born.

“I grew up in Lexington, Ky.,” he said. “It was a beautiful upbringing, and we were poor. We didn’t come as students or immigrants … we kind of lived in limbo; my parents had no idea that we’d be in America this long. We were just there until Libya got free.”

That kind of hope was widespread among other Libyans living in the U.S., Ahmed said.

After Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi was ousted in 2011, Ahmed said he was finally able to go to the home that he had never been to before.

“I never actually went to Libya my whole life, until last year,” he said. “(That) was the first time after the revolution. I’m based there now semi-permanently and it’s a beautiful thing.”

The Rock the Cause: A Benefit Concert was organized by The Network, the Amateur Radio Organization for Undergraduate Student Entertainment (AROUSE) and STAND, an anti-genocide coalition of students. The event was part of The Network’s Human Rights Weekend, which included a conference on Saturday and a fundraiser for Syria on Sunday.

There was no ticket price for the concert, but a donation of $5 was suggested.

Proceeds are slated to go to the Buckeye Clinic for the poverty-stricken in Sudan and to war-torn Syria through the United Nations International Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, said Amanda Siroskey, a third-year in communication and the marketing director of The Network.

Three bands performed before Ahmed came on. The first two were Columbus-based and the third was from Akron.

“We’re not really good at writing lyrics, so we don’t sing much,” said Cory Hill, who plays keyboard for Bad Batch of Stones, after the first song ended. His band was the first to play.

The concert grew more lyrical, however, as the evening progressed. After Bad Batch of Stones played its music – described on the band’s Facebook page as “jam rock” – and covered the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” a second local band, Snakes or Swords, played. The third band was The Ranks, which has a more traditional rock sound.

Ahmed began his performance a little before 9 p.m.

“In general, hip-hop, especially during the revolution in Libya … and elsewhere … became a voice for the youth, a voice for the streets. It became my CNN,” he said.

Hip-hop is different from other forms of music in its intense focus on what the performer is saying, Ahmed said. 

“I think hip-hop is the most lyrically influenced form of music,” he said. “You can really put a lot of words into a song, and have a specific, direct message … Hip-hop is about the words.”

Ahmed said during the revolution, music became more than just something to listen to.

“Music became the way that people communicated with each other,” he said. “I feel like it had a big impact … and not just as far as providing information, but also … inspiration for the youth, to let them know that they are allowed to be individuals, that they are allowed to have their talents flourish.”

In the post-revolution uncertainty and turmoil gripping Libya and other countries, Ahmed said his hope is that in the future, music can continue to change Libya and other countries for the better.

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