Ethan Kelemen, 13, is an avid soccer player. He didn’t make it onto the spring team this year, but he took it as an opportunity to work harder and has been diligently practising in his backyard.
The idea that anything is achievable if you put your mind to it is a message he wants to pass along to other young people.
So while participating in a new program, titled The Art of Rap and Music Production, at Abbotsford Middle School (AMS), Ethan takes to the stage to test out his lyrics:
“The tunnel of life is getting pretty thin
And it keeps getting harder and harder to win
The tunnel gets thin and it’s getting pretty tight
But for me there is absolutely no fright
I’ll come back at it bigger, better, faster and stronger
And eventually the tunnel gets way, way longer
Let me bring back a reference from all the way back
Because you guys all know … it’s wiggity wiggity wack”
Instructors Amrit Saggu – whose stage name is Saint Soldier – and singer Rozsa break out into laughter and applause. Then Saggu and Ethan share a high-five before it’s time for the next rapper to hit the stage.
The Art of Rap was held at Abby Middle for six after-school sessions in May and June, with eight participants in Grades 6 to 8 learning such things as the history of the hip-hop culture, rhythm, rhyming mechanisms, vocal projection and the basics of music production.
Most classes were writing sessions, with music playing through the speakers. Students took turns performing and passing on the mic, a process known as a “rap cypher.”
The Art of Rap was offered by Central Abbotsford Community School (CACS), which previously presented it at Eugene Reimer Middle School.
Kelly Kelemen, Ethan’s mom and CACS acting program coordinator, said the program was developed to help promote healthy life choices for kids and to provide them with a way to express themselves musically. She came across hip hop artist Saggu when she did an online search. Saggu lives in Abbotsford, and much of his work focuses on spreading messages of hope and inspiration.
Last year, he released a song and music video titled “A Stray” in response to gang violence occurring in the community.
Saggu said he was thrilled to take part in the school program.
“For me, it’s most important to help the kids find a method of self-expression, and to help build their confidence around it. My effort is to create an environment and a program that I wished I had when I was a kid,” he said.
Saggu brought into the program music producer DJ Hark to teach about music production, recording, mixing and DJing, while singer/songwriter and pianist Rozsa was recruited to assist with the writing process and to work with anyone who wanted to learn to sing.
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Over the course of the program, students were encouraged to share positive messages about things that matter to them.
Saggu said there was a common theme of their work: “Mostly video games. They love rapping about video games.”
He said one student wrote about a personal issue in a friendship, while another wrote about an older family member whom he had concerns about.
“It was great to see some students opening their hearts to their pen and pad,” Saggu said.
The students said they enjoyed the program and would recommend it to others.
Jalen Logan, 11, said he hopes to have a career either as a rapper, DJ or dancer. The Art of Rap helped him pinpoint the messages he wants to share with others.
“What I want to try to put out there is for people to stop the criticism, the racism, gangs, drugs, suicide,” he said.
Ethan said: “I’m with him. I’d also like to say that anything’s achievable if you really put your mind to it and if you really put the time into it.”
Saggu said he hopes to introduce The Art of Rap at the high school level in the future.
The program at AMS was free to participants, thanks to an anonymous donation.
Visit abbycommunity.com for more information.