Finding their voice
What began as a breakdance class at the Isleta Recreation and Fitness Center last November has grown into a full-fledged Hip-Hop Music Program.
The program is open to any and everyone interested in using digital media and the arts to create and support a healthy environment in the community.
According to sports coordinator for the Pueblo of Isleta and breakdance class instructor, Carl “Watermelon 7″ Anderson, the ultimate goal behind creating the class, called Chief Regiment, was to “keep youth and adults healthy in the aspects of diet, social skills and a healthy way of self expression in hopes of focused release of emotions â€• mainly, keep the youth outta troubled ways.”
In the class, Watermelon 7, Ian “DJ TyKne” Talahaftewa and guest instructors from Albuquerque and Los Lunas work with youth, teaching them the history and art of b-boy/b-girling, otherwise known as breakdancing, a style of hip-hop dance that originated in the Bronx in the ’70s.
In the class, the instructors begin by teaching the students about where breakdancing comes from and why it was started.
According to Watermelon, breaking came about as a way for youth in New York City to get away from violent gang activity. Rather than fight one another, gangs would uprock (have street dance competitions).
While this sometimes resulted in fights anyway, “mainly it was positive,” says Watermelon. Eventually crews were formed of dancers who would practice and perform together.
In the dance instruction part of Chief Regiment, instructors begin by going over the basic steps and moves of New York breakdancing, such as toprocking. Toprocking is done standing, usually as a warm up before hitting the ground to do footwork, and the six-step, which can be described as walking in a circle on the floor with one hand touching the ground.
From there, dancers are encouraged to have fun and express themselves in whatever way feels best.
While teaching the dance class, the instructors noticed many of the students had a passion and talent for music, which they were embracing through outlets such as “GuitarHero.”
So, because breaking and DJing go hand in hand, less than a month after the dance class was formed, the instructors decided to introduce a hip-hop music production class on a different day, also at the rec center.
TyKne brought in his laptop, turntables and music equipment and began teaching students how to write songs and create beats, as yet another positive way for kids to express themselves and be heard.
Meanwhile, at the Isleta Pueblo Public Library, Library Director Nathaniel Lujan had recently purchased new Macintosh’s for the library, and said he noticed the kids and adults were “afraid” of the new machines because they were so new and fancy compared to the old PCs.
Lujan said he knew he had to find a way to get people comfortable using them and decided to approach the hip-hop music class and offer them the space and resources to make music at the library, using programs on the new Macs such as “GarageBand” and “Djay.”
“I talked to TyKne, and about a week later he came back with a curriculum,” said Lujan.
Lujan, Watermelon and TyKne, childhood friends who had grown up in the pueblo together, had been talking about finding a way to collaborate and reach the youth in the community for a while, said Watermelon.
And with Lujan needing someone to use the new Macs, it was a perfect opportunity to forge a Hip-Hop Program in conjunction with the library.
“When I was younger, I didn’t have anything like this at all,” said TyKne, who says he had to go to Albuquerque to find a scene in which he felt he could express himself.
The program, which is not exclusive to Isleta residents, helps kids “get comfortable talking to people outside of the reservation,” he says, and helps “open them up a little more” and experience diversity.
Native kids, says Watermelon, have a tendency to be “real reserved,” but in this program they can “use music to stay out of trouble and have a voice,” as well as deal with other issues that may be affecting them in their lives, such as difficult home situations or even racism.
Watermelon says he will vouch that hip-hop saved his life, even if it sounds corny. He said being tri-racial and coming from a broken home on the reservation, he grew up feeling there wasn’t a “culture” for a person like him.
However, those feelings of not fitting in led him to gravitate toward things that were going to help him as opposed to bring him down.
“There wasn’t a lot, but (hip-hop) was free,” he said.
It’s this saving power of music and self expression that he, along with TyKne and Lujan, hope to share with the students, which is why the students are not allowed to have any negative messages in their music.
Watermelon says they want to create “a message we can stand by and put out there.”
The students must also have passing grades and finish all their homework before participating in the class.
“This is an outlet, but I want them to get their education first,” says Lujan.
Because the library currently only has three Macs the students can use to work with, Lujan says he’s had to keep the classes to six students, but is hoping to expand with incoming monies from a 2011 GO Bond.
Renee “Makeup Girl” Jojola, 7, Malaki “C-Krit” Hall, 9, Cody “Code-E” Pino, 12, and Carlton “Amuze” Jojola, 12, make up the music group MCCR, an acronym made from the first letter of each of their names.
Together they were the first group to participate in the hip-hop music production class at the library, which began July 5 and ended with an Aug. 26 concert performance at the library called “Drop the Beat!!!,” which was named for the student demo CD they produced.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like DJ or hip-hop,” said Code-E, who travels to the library from Albuquerque, where he attends seventh-grade at Garfield Middle School.
He says making music helps “other people notice something that’s different in your opinion,” and, “you can express yourself through words in a song.”
The class curriculum consists of DJing, song writing and beat making, as well as recording and producing a demo CD, bringing in guest teachers, and teaching the students how to promote themselves with things such as button pins with their group picture on it.
TyKne also teaches the students to make beats using both electronic and traditional turntables.
Amuze, a sixth-grader at Isleta Elementary School, who says his favorite aspect of the class is song writing, said he likes the class because it’s keeping him out of trouble and away from people who might be a negative influence on him.
“I’m not hanging out with other people, I’m just writing songs,” he said. “It’s a different way to express my feelings.”
When asked how it feels to finish a song, all he could do was smile and say, “glorious.”
When it comes to writing songs and coming up with lyrics, Watermelon and Tykne said they like to begin by making a web of ideas, show the students examples of how a song is structured and then go from there, verse by verse.
For the song “Get Up,” which was the second song the group made, they said it took about five minutes to come up with an idea and 30 minutes to write the hook. From there, it took about a week to create and record the song. At the end of the class, they had finished a total of three songs, “Get Up,” “Robots” and “Why?”
“That ‘Get Up’ song, there’s a lot of powerful stuff in there,” said Lujan, who hopes now that the kids are conscious that people will be hearing their songs they will still be able to produce such good work.
The lyrics in the song “Get Up” begin, “Mom and Dad, I promise that I wont stay down/ I look up, even when I’m facin’ the ground/ listen to the sound, see, this is all me…”
The entire song carries a positive message with other lyrics such as “I write my thoughts for you to see/ spilling my feelings for you and me/ to have an understanding of who I be, the one moving forward…”
C-Krit, who also goes to school at Isleta Elementary School, said his favorite thing about the class is “writing songs about different things, like robots,” while his sister, Makeup Girl, said she likes to sing and her favorite emcee is Curious George.
MCCR is also looking forward to upcoming performances at the Santa Fe State Library and in Kansas City.
The instructors are also working on developing satellites in other areas to set up similar programs, and said Mescalero is looking at starting a similar program and that one already exists in Oakland that they hope to begin working with.
“We open our doors to anybody (not just hip-hop),” said Watermelon, saying they’ve done work with pow-wow and rock music as well,” he said. “I think the main goal of the program is to have an outlet for this type of media we’ve never had before.”
Breakdancing classes are held every Wednesday at the Isleta Recreation Center from 5:40 p.m. to 6:40 p.m., but kids can hang out longer if they’d like.
The hip-hop music production class is on hold until the new year, and more information on both programs can be obtained by contacting the Isleta Pueblo Public Library at 869-8119.
-- Email the author at email@example.com.