An aboriginal spin on hip-hop

An aboriginal spin on hip-hop

May 12, 2010

Rapping, DJing, graffiti arts and breakdancing are all part of hip-hop culture that originated in New York City in the mid-1970s. Now, aboriginal youth in parts of Canada are using hip-hop to connect their traditional culture with their current experience — in some cases, leading to improved academic performance.

And Charity Marsh, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Regina and director of the university's Interactive Media and Performance (IMP) Labs, has the research to prove it. The IMP Labs include 18 workstations where students are taught, among other things, hip-hop turntable scratching, electronic beat-making and music production. In the fall of 2008, Marsh launched a community-outreach program in which 15 aboriginal students in grades 10 and 11 at an inner-city high school spent two mornings a week in the labs writing hip-hop rhyming lyrics, and learning how to record and edit music.

The students also studied graffiti art and breakdancing and, to improve the latter, took fitness classes at a nearby gym one morning a week. Three groups of students have participated in the semester-long program since its inception and have had their work evaluated and graded toward credits in English and art education.

Last fall, Marsh received the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts and Learning Award for the program, but she insists the real winners have been the students. “We have seen some really important outcomes,” she says. “Their attendance goes up, they become more engaged and their grades improve dramatically.”

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