Saudi Comedians Rap About Migrant Rights
An O.T. Genasis parody song examines Saudi attitudes towards foreign workers.
You’ll recognize the beat, if not the words, to this Saudi rap video, because it’s actually a parody of the wildly popular O.T. Genasis song, “CoCo,” which is a touching ode to cocaine. But where O.T. sings, “I’m in love with my coco,” these Saudi comedians-cum-rappers sing, “I’m not afraid of my sponsor.” They’re dressed up as Pakistani and Indian migrant workers and rapping about the struggles of being a foreign worker in Saudi Arabia (in a somewhat innappropriate Indo-Pakistani accent).
The song, called “Kafeel” or “sponsor,” refers to the Saudi sponsorship (“kafala”) system that requires foreign workers to have the sponsorship of an employer in order to remain in the country. It was produced by an online network called Telfaz11 and written by a Saudi comedian named Ibraheem Alkirallah. The lyrics of the song force listeners to examine Saudi attitudes and behavior towards foreign workers, who are subject to racism, verbal abuse, and often even physical violence.
“Who makes the intersections? Who made the sewage system? Who carries the trash? Who works at the convenience store? All Saudis forget who drives the taxis,” the Saudi comedians rap.
There are nine million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, comprising about a third of the total population and almost half the workforce. The country wouldn’t function without them, because they perform much of the work that Saudis are too moneyed for—they work in construction, the service industry, and provide much of the domestic labor.
Working under the kafala system, workers are vulnerable to exploitation by their bosses, who routinely seize their passports and mobile phones upon arrival so they can’t “run away” back to their home countries—often India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and the Philippines. These workers face the threat of deportation every day. The truth is, migrant workers don’t have the power or the privilege to criticize their employers—be it face-to-face or in a rap song—although their employers are pretty deserving of criticism.