[Jakarta, LttW] Over a month ago, on July 4, United States celebrated its Independence Day. Just a few days ago, India and Pakistan celebrated theirs, and today is Indonesia’s turn to do the same. Celebration, and Independence are the two keywords that we need to look into, especially when the world has been struggling with so many disturbing issues, like terrorism, extremism, global warming, corruption, worsening education, social media phenomena, war, refugee, food shortage, etc. How should we celebrate our independence if we are yet to resolve these matters?
To celebrate is to be proud of what we have tangibly (like natural resources and people), and intangibly, such as values (integrity, work ethos, mutual respect, and solidarity), tradition, unity and so on. To celebrate also means to be grateful for what we have genuinely achieved, not bragging about the self-indulging praises that are full of exaggerations. Celebrating is also about contemplating and admitting not only what we have not achieved, but also what we have done wrongly.
How about independence itself? How should we perceive this word? Independence is about being independent in two main areas, self reliant in supporting ourselves, and having the freedom and/or sovereignty to decide our destiny as a nation. Being self-reliant and sovereign do not mean that we can live independently from the others because eventually we will be in need of the help from others. With this in mind, independence then also means interdependent. So celebration is not a mere partying, is more about getting mature in the making.
So, Happy Independence Day to the nations that have matured over the years, and will continue to mature in the future.
Last year, New York’s then police commissioner Willam Bratton was quick to blame rap music and the culture around it for a fatal backstage shooting at a concert by the rapper T.I. Ignoring wider issues of gun control, Bratton pointed at “the crazy world of the so-called rap artists” that “basically celebrates the violence”.
Hip Hop culture and rap (a method of vocal delivery popularised through hip hop music) have for more than four decades been bundled with a range of negative connotations, leading many like Bratton to equate them only with profanity, misogyny, violence and crime. Prosecutors in the US have labelled rap lyrics a criminal threat,
and numerous studies have been undertaken on the harmful influence of hip hop on kids.
There’s no denying that the lyrical content of hip hop is confronting, and in many instances, it includes the glorification of violence, substance use, and gender discrimination. But while many people struggle to look past the profanity, materialism, and high-risk messages often celebrated within mainstream rap music, hip hop culture at its core, is built on values of social justice, peace, respect, self-worth, community, and having fun. And because of these values, it’s increasingly being used as a therapeutic tool when working with young people.
School counsellors, psychologists, and social workers have helped to normalise the option of integrating hip hop within mental health strategies. Indeed it has become central to the work of one group of psychiatrists at Cambridge University, who under the banner of “hip hop pysch”, use it as a tool in promoting mental health. Some have even called rap “the perfect form for music therapy.”
A presentation from ‘hip hop psych’ on a Tupac song.
Born in New York City, hip hop culture is now a worldwide phenomenon. You’d be hard-pressed to find any country that doesn’t have some kind of hip hop scene. This new reality is driven by two factors. One is the commercialisation of the culture as a commodity, which has made it one of the most influential industries in the world with its own Forbes rich list.
The other is that hip hop remains accessible and grassroots. At its simplest, you can make a beat with your mouth – beatboxing – or on a school desk, and create or recite lyrics about anything without singing. The proliferation of cost-friendly, music-creating software and hardware puts more involved participation in reach, and allows flexibility in creativity and even pathways to entrepreneurship.
The beatboxer Tom Thum demonstrates his prowess.
Marginalised communities the world over resonate with the ethos of resisting exclusion or discrimination and fighting for equity and justice. Others just love the beats and lyrical flow. Beyond beats and rhymes, there’s also something for everyone: B-Girls and B-Boys dance, DJ’s scratch and mix, and graffiti artists draw and write. Combined with emceeing, or rapping, these are the four basic elements of hip hop, with the fifth being Knowledge of Self: the drive for self-awarness and social-consciousness.
Participants in the RMIT Link Bust A Groove Dance Competition. Photo supplied by Michelle Grace Hunder
This accessibility and inclusivity makes hip hop such an effective therapeutic tool for working with young people. It’s a style most feel comfortable with and it provides a way to build rapport between client and therapist. The lyrical content is a vehicle for building self reflection, learning, and growth. Whether analysing existing songs, or creating new content, the vast array of themes found in hip-hop songs enable therapists to access topics that may otherwise be hard to talk about.
The repetitive, predictable nature of hip hop beats is also said to provide a sense of safety, particularly during song writing, and lyrical and musical improvisation. Therapists suggest this provides a sense of dependability for those with little regularity or safety in their everyday lives; something supported by research linking music engagement and self-regulation.
Mantra is a Melbourne-based hip hop artist who works extensively in schools and the community to empower youth. Photo supplied by Michelle Grace Hunder
Results showed students were not only highly engaged in learning through the program, but exhibited positive self-expression, built significant rapport with facilitators, and strengthened social connection amongst each other.
Hip hop emerged as a reaction to the gang culture and violence of the South Bronx in the 1970s, and daily experiences of poverty, racism, exclusion, crime, violence, and neglect. It necessarily embodies and values resilience, understanding, community and social justice.
Yet, the hip hop project is not yet free from these difficult circumstances. Many communities around the world still battle the effects of discrimination, segregation, and injustice. Hip hop is often a potent voice to these lived experiences. One of its original, primary strengths was that it allowed young, creative Black and Latino youth to create art that reflected the reality of their lives, of the neighbourhoods around them, and of the wider social circumstances in which they found themselves. In the words of US artists N.W.A. they were making the most out their basic human right to “Express Yourself.”
We may be several decades on, but there are plenty of young people that still need to do the same.
Hip hop is neither a panacea nor a cure all. It is not perfect, but its promise is undeniable. It is a culture with complicated social and historical roots. And it should not be appropriated without acknowledging, respecting and addressing these, because it is precisely these origins that make is so important. Its complicated history enables us to critically reflect on our society, and forces us to face issues of race, privilege, class, and cultural appropriation.
Given the urgency of our need for equity, justice, tolerance and critical civic engagement in today’s society, we need to challenge our preconceptions about hip hop culture. It is perhaps one of the most important and generous movements in our world today.
[Jakarta, LTTW]. After thirty days of refraining from physical needs and self-indulging desires from dawn until dusk, senses of gratitude, solidarity, and empathy are heightened, and the soul is repurified. The day of victory arrives as the days of fasting in the month of Ramadan end, and Muslims around the world celebrates their triumph in defeating selfishness, greed, adulteration and unthankfulness.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is a sacred attempt – not simply a ritual technicality fulfillment – to reach and cultivate a living virtue. Just imagine how our lives would be if 1.8 billion Muslims in the world together could reach such level of human goodness; we would be living in heaven on earth indeed. While we could only imagine now, let’s not stop hoping that it would happen some day although we keep seeing the grimace of the world these days.
This year, the sacredness of Ramadan is, regretfully, stained by acts of war and terror. Doing these acts is already a despicable crime; doing it in Ramadan and in the name of Islam is certainly a humiliation to Islam, but then again, Islam is too great to be dwarfed by these twisted individuals.
To our Muslim brothers and sisters, we congratulate you on your victory, may God Almighty bless our deeds, and may we be purified once again.
Hassan Rouhani’s re-election as Iran’s president has rekindled hope for liberals in the country. During his first term, Iran began edging closer to the West, and his positions on both international and domestic affairs indicate further openness to its influence.
Current battleground issues in Iran include not just social and economic policy but also cultural concerns. Specifically, say architects and historians, Iran must take action to protect its modern architectural heritage before it’s too late.
Iran is known for its magnificent Persian design but, in the late 19th and 20th century, its capital Tehran saw renowned Western architects, including prominent modernists such as Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), build some of the city’s iconic structures.
Today, some have been razed and many more are in danger of demolition or collapse. Without protection, these buildings, which bear testament to Iran’s historic openness to the West, will be reduced to dust, beams and concrete blocks.
In Iran, the process was fuelled by increasing oil revenue, which helped finance massive new developments that would turn its capital into a modern metropolis. For these ambitious plans, the government hired Western architects, urban planners and other experts to come work in Tehran.
The American planner Victor Gruen devised the city’s 1968 master plan, conceiving of an expansive Tehran with commercial centres and residential neighbourhoods connected by highways.
This golden age of urban development also saw wealthy parts of Tehran bloom with privately financed construction.
That all changed in 1979. After the Iranian Revolution, Tehran turned inward, closing its gates to the West.
Villa Namazee is probably the most iconic of all the endangered contemporary structures. Designed by Milan-based architect and industrial designer Giovanni Ponti (1891-1979), one of the leading figures of Postwar Italian modernism (and the founder of Domus magazine), the villa has an open plan, a suspended roof and external openings protected by wide overhanging eaves.
Ponti, who built Italy’s first skyscraper, was known for his value of classical order, integrity of building materials, new production techniques and sensitivity to designing around both human need and environmental conditions.
In 1957, he was commissioned by the wealthy Namazee family to design a residence in the affluent Niavaran district to the north of Tehran’s foothills, in collaboration with Fausto Melotti (1901-1986) and Paolo De Poli (1905-1996). The house has sliding doors and internal windows that offer full cross-views, and it demonstrates the same inventive joie de vivre style as Ponti’s projects in Caracas, Venezuela (the Villa Planchart and the Villa Arreaza).
When the government removes historic structures such as the Villa Namazee from its national heritage list, it demonstrates a worrisome privileging of certain moments in its past over others that also have cultural value.
The destruction of such structures erases all signs of contemporary Tehran’s modernist heritage. Mid-century residences and office buildings are not only physical links to a time when Iran opened its doors to the West, they are also memories of the aristocrats of the past regime, and of radical poets and writers and intellectuals, whose ways of life are much less visible in Iran today.
For many British children, the music they grow up listening to with friends, family, parents and relatives is often not reflected in school music lessons. So while their teacher is trying to get them to listen to Mozart, Bach or Beethoven, back home in their bedrooms the radio is often tuned into a very different station.
Improving access to classical music for children from deprived backgrounds has been a priority for music education and rightly so. Because there is no good reason why the daughter of a brick layer or the son of a shop assistant shouldn’t be enthralled by Mozart.
But it is likely that for a lot of these students, rather than Chopin or Vivaldi, they will be much more familiar with a musical education in hardcore electronic dance music (EDM).
For these young people, this is “our music”, and overlooking this in school music lessons misses an opportunity to help these pupils engage with something they are already naturally interested in.
For a lot of these kids, they’ve grown up with this music – their aunties, brothers and friends are into it, too. And their parents were probably ravers in the heyday of “acid house” or the subsequent years when “happy hardcore” and other forms of harsh, repetitive EDM provided the soundtrack for the lives of countless young people.
School music lessons, however, very rarely even acknowledge the existence of such music within British culture. In many schools, coverage of dance music might stretch from the Galliard or the Pavan to Disco via the Viennese Waltz, but no further in most cases.
Modern music making
Serious engagement with rave and post-rave EDM in the classroom is rare in the extreme. Even your classic mainstream dance music seems to be way off the agenda in most schools.
This much was clear to me when I provided training on using DJ decks in music teaching for a group of Teach First trainee teachers back in 2013.
Teach First sees young graduates recruited into tough, under-performing, inner-city schools for their first teaching placements. And yet despite the strong prevalence of youth culture and niche music scenes in many of these cities – grime in London or bassline in Sheffield – none of these young teachers had seen such equipment used in the schools where they were on placements.
This was with one exception: one trainee admitted that his school had DJ decks but, disappointingly, he explained that they were never removed from the cupboard where they were gathering dust as “nobody knows what to do with them”.
Face the music
I, too, had little or no experience of using DJ decks when I became a secondary school music teacher in 2003. MC rapping was alien to me and I had never been much of an enthusiast of EDM.
But because of the inner-city character of the North East of England school I was working in, I soon realised that a large minority of the learners were passionate about a form of happy hardcore EDM known as “makina”. This is a sub genre of hardcore techno – which originates in Spain. It is similar to UK hardcore, and it includes elements of bouncy techno and hardtrance.
The bulk of the pupils that were into this type of music at my school were considered to be some of the most disaffected and “at risk” learners. But I actually learned much of what I now know about DJing and MCing from these young people.
I also made a little effort to learn from expert local DJs and MCs about this form of music-making and the attendant skills so that I could give it coverage in my lessons.
I have seen first hand the transformative effect the use of DJing and MCing in the classroom can have upon learners. And yet the creative use of DJ decks coupled with MC rapping – an international musical tradition for around 40 years – is barely recognised as a musical discipline even in many of the inner-city schools.
Conversations with the large US provider of music education Little Kids Rock have indicated that a similar situation pertains across the US.
Lost in music
While this kind of music gets some coverage in pupil referral units and youth clubs, and some schools employ visiting specialists for extra-curricular learning, it is extremely rare to find it employed in mainstream classrooms for everyday lessons with the regular music teacher. But given the availability of more affordable technology such as “DJ controllers” and CD decks, this situation may hopefully begin to improve.
Making our classrooms relevant to students is vitally important, because if
school feels culturally alien and alienating – as indeed it does for a significant minority of typically inner-city youth – then as educators we are leaving behind a whole group of keen and passionate music lovers.
Engaging pupils with music they know and love is one way to make school feel more familiar and more welcoming. And it could even help to change a few stereotypes about what “types of people” listen to “what types of music” in the process.