On a rainy Sunday in October, a group of young people had gathered in a sound recording studio in Coventry to work together on the music and song that would express their identities, their experiences of urban living, and the issues they face navigating their everyday lives in the city. The result of this collaboration is a six minute rap song track with original music and lyrics composed, written and recorded on that day. https://soundcloud.com/ourlivesourculture/on-my-mind
The production of this rap composition is part of the Participatory Action Research intervention of the Cultural Heritage and Identities of Europe’s Future (CHIEF) project, an international research project funded by the European Commission and led by Aston University (Birmingham, UK) that explores young people’s cultural identities, practices and heritage-in-the-making. The Aston CHIEF project team (Dr Ebru Soytemel and Dr Anton Popov) collaborated with young people in Coventry, youth workers and a local non-profit-organisation Media Mania in delivering a Music and Rap writing workshop to provide a platform for young people to empower them in the expression of their culture, identities and needs through the medium of music and poetry. Young people worked with a local rapper, RG The Baron, along with youth worker, Tayyaba Sadiq, to write lyrics, compose the music and record a song of their own.
The participants of the workshop shared all shared interest in music. The workshop also became a platform for cultural interaction and exchange between young people. Thus the bit for the rap was inspired by so-called ‘gypsy jazz’, played by Sebastian (age 14); he and Lubomir (age 12) also wrote the lyrics for the rap song together with rap-artist and poet RG The Baron. The music as well as lyrics of the song has direct references to the cultural backgrounds of the rappers – Slovak Roma (Sebastian and Lubomir) and British Caribbean (RG The Baron). The folk music had been framed with electric guitar played by Joe (age 22) and Ian (age 16), two local punk-rock musicians. The chorus of the rap song had a distinctive jazzy style that was beautifully sung and performed by Destiny (age 16) who had been singing since her early childhood in a local church attended by Coventry’s British Caribbean community.
Joe captured the essence of this creative cultural interaction with the phrase ‘a real fusion’. The testimonials of the workshop participants and studio staff convey the sense of this amassing atmosphere:
I had the opportunity to collaborate with other young people on a musical project and we were able to experiment with fusing different genres and techniques (be it lyric-writing, rapping or ‘guitarring’!) into a single track, and it’s worked really well. The environment was always very supportive and I made some good friends (and musical connections!) thanks to this project. (Joe, 21, workshop participant)
The team at Media Mania had so much fun working with the young people and creating such a unique piece of music. A really talented group of young people that were able to share some of their thoughts, feelings and musical cultures with us. They collaborated so well together, which is not easy when you have so much different creative input. They had so many ideas and they all just seemed to work with each other to create a truly unique final piece. It was a real pleasure being part of the project working with the support staff and the local rapper created just the right dynamics. (Dave Mills, Media Mania Director)
The song itself is a powerful expression of concerns with the limited opportunities and prejudices that young people face today in Britain, when they struggle to move beyond the position that the world outside their community prescribes to them. They might indeed sometime feel as if the future has been taken from them. Hence, the song has a memorable line: ‘I am living for the future, but I caught in the past’. At the same time, the rap composition is full of energy and hope that young people will be seen (and loved) for ‘who they are’.
The Music and Rap Writing workshop is an excellent example of young people from different communities and cultural backgrounds working together to achieve their creative aspiration – to make their voices, concerns and ideas heard by the world that so often labels the urban youth as ‘troubled kids’ leaving them a very restricted space and repertoire to express themselves. The workshop demonstrates that that these young people have so much talent and inspiration to offer to each other, to the city and society that may lead to real inclusivity based on recognition of the intrinsic value of their diverse cultural heritages, interests and knowledge.
The track recorded by young people and the interview with the CHIEF and Media Mania teams has been translated on BBC Warwickshire and Coventry Radio on 16 November 2020 http://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08wsfp1 (starts at 1 hour 12 minutes).