Since its beginnings in the 1970s in New York’s South Bronx, hip hop has remained one of the most influential music genres and cultures, especially for young people. The combination of rapping, MCing and break beats empowers people to tell their stories and express their creativity. Constructing lyrics allows the writer to be as linear or as abstract as they wish in their story telling, which allows room to talk about difficult issues, or to simply have fun with the genre. Over the years, hip hop has gone from an underground movement to one celebrated in mainstream culture. However, the essence of hip hop music retains a connection to the marginalised as an expression of their struggles through lyrical storytelling. One Canberra based group is giving young people the opportunity to make their voices heard through hip hop.
Talk Blak is a hip hop music program for young people aged 17-25 that aims to facilitate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, non-Indigenous and new migrant people to use their experiences and culture, fused with hip hop music, to tell their stories. Established by Belconnen Arts Centre in 2015, the program develops participants’ song writing, stage presence and performance skills. The program aims to mentor participants towards writing and recording their own original songs through promoting self-expression through hip hop music and boosting morale and confidence. Participants’ songs will be contributed to a compilation CD that will be launched at 2017 NAIDOC week.
Talk Blak: Take Two builds on the skills participants learnt in the 2015 program, which culminated in a mixed media installation in February 2016. Belconnen Arts Centre, in partnership with The Ted Noffs Foundation Street University, are running sessions focused on practical skills development where participants can work independently and with each other to produce, promote and present new hip hop work. The program includes focus sessions with industry professionals, as well as opportunities for cultural exchange with local Indigenous elders and other representative organisations to provide inspiration, context and motivation.
The program does not just provide a space for creativity and ideas to be put into practice. It also gives participants tangible outcomes. On completing the program, a professionally-produced CD will be made of the participants’ work. The process will be documented through a body of visual artwork by local street artists responding to participants and their music, as well as a documentary of the overall journey. The documentation and opportunity to be produced give the participants motivation to work through the program, as well as interstate exposure and new networks and connections. These opportunities provide a platform for future career development in the music industry.
Image: Michael Weir on vocals and Matt White on decks
A way forward
While there are tertiary courses offered in the ACT for music recording, production and performance, Talk Blak is a more accessible inroad for participants. The young people involved in the program may experience social isolation, find staying in formal education challenging, and face barriers to accessing health and other services. With participants having limited or no income, tuition and equipment costs are out of reach. Even transportation can be a barrier. Pursuing a career or interest in the music industry without any connections makes identifying and securing opportunities to perform and consolidate their learning difficult. The combination of performance related skills and provision of industry navigation knowledge empower participants to pursue their interests in music.
Along with industry specific knowledge and skills, Talk Blak builds the capacity of participants in other ways. Priya Chandra is one of the Talk Blak facilitators and has been involved since the program’s beginnings. Priya sees the program creating a platform for young people to help increase resilience, leadership skills, peer mentoring, social inclusion, networking abilities, and social skills. By building these skills in young people, Priya says it provides a vehicle for improving educational engagement and reducing anti-social behaviour, which helps encourage disengaged and disadvantaged young people to work towards social cohesion and inclusion.
Bringing a group of young people together with a common interest provides the opportunity to form friendships outside their existing circles. Talk Blak involves individual and group learning tasks that support the new friendships. These connections contribute to building a safe environment to creatively express feelings without fear of judgement. Young people in the program are encouraged to examine their life or community issues in a supported environment that helps them develop techniques of self and creative expression. Connections to culture greatly inspire the participants. One young person in the group plays a modernised Dijeridoo both as a solo instrument and to accompany vocalists, which adds a strong element of tradition and culture.
Talk Blak provides a space for young people to express their love of hip hop and explore their cultural connections. More than just a series of workshops, Talk Blak provides exposure to vocational skills and options to further build on those pathways. This view of providing skills to young people for the long term builds their own self confidence and encourages positive integration back into society for those experiencing isolation. More than just a music genre, hip hop is an inspiring cultural movement that will continue to provide a voice to the marginalised for generations to come.
Image: Talk Blak group
For more information on Talk Blak visit their page on the Belconnen Arts Centre website http://www.belconnenartscentre.com.au/kidsclasses/talk-blak/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.