While most of the demonstrators have pitched tents and picketed parliament, Mani, pictured, and other discontented youths have turned to the medium they know best to express their anger -- rap musicWhile most of the demonstrators have pitched tents and picketed parliament, Mani, pictured, and other discontented youths have turned to the medium they know best to express their anger -- rap music (AFP Photo/Daniel Mihailescu)
Chisinau (AFP) - Mani is a TV producer by day, but in his "second life" the business management graduate dresses up as a mobster to rap about corruption among Moldova's ruling elite.
Ex-Soviet state Moldova is Europe's poorest nation and has been hit by a string of political crises, with protesters taking to the streets to demand an end to rampant graft among those running the country.
While most of the demonstrators have pitched tents and picketed parliament, Mani and other discontented youths have turned to the medium they know best to express their anger -- rap music.
"I would prefer not to do so many songs about social issues but I think an artist has to react in the face of what is happening in his country," 27-year-old Mani told AFP.
He has been active in the Moldovan rap scene for a decade, trying through his music to highlight the rotten core in his homeland that was startlingly revealed last year in a scandal over $1 billion -- some 15 percent of Moldova's GDP -- which vanished from the banking system.
That scandal was the last straw for many Moldovans, convincing them that they had to take to the streets to battle a ruling class that had lost itself in corruption.
Over the past year the country has seen three different governments but the protests rumble on, demanding new elections to wipe the slate clean.
- 'I got a billion' -
For Mani, whose real name is Marian Lupu, the story of the missing billion dollars has proved a rich source for material.
"My buddies were involved with me, they listened to me, they helped me," raps Mani.
"It's not easy to steal a billion...no, but it's thrillin'," he sings in on of his latest songs, "I got a billion."
Wedged between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is often seen in terms of a tug-of-war between Moscow and the West, especially after it inked an historic EU association agreement in 2014 despite bitter opposition from former master Russia.
But the current protests have seen both nominally pro-Western and pro-Russian forces from the right and left temporarily put aside their differences to challenge a ruling elite they accuse of using pro-European rhetoric to cover up widespread graft.
"I don't think this was the first billion to be stolen. It just really hit home this time," says fellow rapper Kapushon, an IT graduate, his hat tilted in the hip hop style.
"But they have always stolen. Do we know how many billions have been stolen since 1991? We deplore this latest case. That's if it is still the latest and there are no new ones already."
- 'Rock Moldova' -
While the rappers take aim at the corruption and political scandals, other social problems are also in their sights.
Mired in poverty, some 600,000 of Moldova's 3.5 million inhabitants have moved abroad in search of work and this has also struck a chord with the musicians.
"My father left twelve years ago, my mother nine years back. They were teachers and my father was a headmaster," Mani said.
"It's the tragedy of our family and that of our country."
In 2012, the musician Guz had a popular hit with his song "I rock Moldova" in which he encouraged people to try to change the society.
"Politics doesn't mean nothing without the people," Guz told AFP.
"The important thing is to be true to your principles and to stay proud."
The protest movement has been dragging on for around a year in the country, and the rappers' main message chimes with the demonstrators -- to sweep the system clean and start afresh.
"They help young people to see and understand what is happening in the country," said Victoria Morozinschi, an economics student in Moldova's capital Chisinau.
"They are very brave."