Program takes beat to the streets
They look as you might expect –
triple-XL t-shirts, baggy jeans, baseball hats pulled low and to
the side. At first glance, they appear the very definition of ‘at-risk’
They certainly don’t look the ‘participation’ type.
Yet, there they stand, side-by-side, a large circle in one of the
recording classrooms at Centennial College. Each person steps forward
to show off a little dance move, which as a group they repeat together.
It’s a warm-up exercise. It’s a group-building exercise.
Today’s the first day of recording and there’s a bit of
nervous energy in the air.
This is Beats 2 Da Streets. They are Beats 2 Da Streets, all 20-odd
Beats is the brainchild of Gwyn Wansbrough, who in conjunction with
Touchstone Youth Shelter, has run the program since its inception.
The program, which started out in Touchstone’s basement three
years ago, provides a place for ‘disadvantaged and at-risk’
youth to learn the art of making music.
They learn how to write songs. They learn how to lay down beats
and melodies and what it takes to record an actual track. But it’s
much more than that.
“A number of people have said to me, Beats 2 Da Streets is
like a family,” Wansbrough said. “That’s saying a
lot. That’s the type of thing we want to encourage. It’s
a social network for people who, otherwise, are pretty isolated.”
Wansbrough is small and blonde and exudes an energy that just feels
genuine. It’s obvious as she greets each kid in the room.
Jamal Bin Walee, 23, (aka Miracle Chyld or ShyTown) has been with
Beats for the last two 15-week sessions. To him, the program is
“Somebody who could have had some troubles (in the past) comes
to this program and they can learn who they (really) are through
their music,” he said.“That can change their perspective
on life. It’s about a lot more than music.”
Wansbrough got the idea for Beats from a trip to Brazil where she
witnessed similar programs working for similarly disadvantaged kids
in that country. Beats 2 Da Streets started out as a drop-in program
for the homeless and disadvantaged kids who came into the shelter.
A year later, as part of Centennial’s Open Access program,
granting community groups access to the college’s facilities
during off-hours, she moved Beats into the school. That’s where
Sean Savage comes in. He’s the head of Centennial’s Continuing
Education Recording Arts program, and donates his time and expertise
to help Beats record the highest-quality music.
The program also challenged him to look at the world a little differently.
In the beginning he used to get worked up about little things, such
as the kids being late.
Then he realized, “some of these kids have more important
things on their mind then being on time,” Savage said. “(Things)
like, where they are going to sleep that night.”
He has big plans for the program. Their third showcase comes up
in December, a DVD to be made and sold and maybe one day something
very much like a record label, where youth can record and produce
and release their own music.
“We want to get the crack or the weed out of their hand and
have them sell the CD (instead),” Savage said.
There’s a love in the room
The Beat kids say the experience is like family. They say it’s
about learning who they you are, about learning responsibility and
taking control of their situation, even if it’s only for that
one night a week.
“This isn’t the last stop on the train. (It’s) more
like a launching pad,” Wansbrough said. “A lot of these
kids are at the critical point where they’re deciding they
want a change, that they want something better.”
Wansbrough isn’t just making music; she’s helping these
kids find themselves in what they create.
The lyrics aren’t the same old gang-banging, drug-slinging,
gun-swinging lyrics that dominate current hip-hop and rap albums
these days, either. And the life experience is about getting out
of the shelter and into an independent living environment. It’s
also about mentoring the kids who come to the program after them.
Mario Murray, 25, (aka TheVoyce) is a great example of what’s
possible. Like Bin Walee he’s a two-session veteran. According
to Savage, he’s got the talent and ability to go far and it
shows. What’s more impressive is the leadership role he’s
taken within the class.
He takes a lot of pride in the fact that the other kids look up
to him as an example, both in life and behind the microphone.
“What (I) try to show the kids is ‘you’re smarter
than your television.” Murray said. “Don’t perpetuate
the same negativity that they perpetuate because it’s not going
to get you anywhere.”
Not anywhere he’s going, that’s for sure.
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