Our delayed NL India team members arrived safely yesterday to Patna—excited as can be to begin the program.
After the incident with our driver, which I will describe later (or not), we had new drivers waiting this morning to take us to St. Karen’s School.
We arrived and I introduced the two remaining members Sheikia “Purple” Norris and Ansley “Jukeboxx” Jones. Purple spoke to the students about MCing, and hip hop as storytelling within their environments. She worked with some students to get them to freestyle based on things in their realities, and treated them with some of her own rhymes.
Meanwhile, Jukeboxx– perhaps the most anticipated member as the Indian students were dance fanatics, spoke to the students about expressing themselves through motion and connecting with their feelings through dance. She then called all the students on stage, and ran a hip hop dance, breakdance and bollywood cypher.
After the excitement, we divided up into the workshop groups. This proved a little tricky, because the overwhelming majority wanted to be part of the dance workshop. It made sense, given that dance is already something tangible to them, while MCing, DJing and Beatmaking are far more foreign and abstract concepts. But we were able to get the appropriate group numbers by compromising with the students that we would hold a brief hip hop dance workshop for all the students prior to breaking up into the rest of the workshops.
Regardless, we were able to divide into full groups. Approximately 7 students and 4 teachers actively participated in the emcee workshop. A brief description of an emcee’s role and responsibility was presented and each student selected a name based on their characteristics, aspirations/interest or point of view. Students were paired up to collaborate on an original poem or short story. Each pair presented. Most participants overcame the reluctancy to try and delivered very engaging work on day one!
In DJ 2Tone’s first workshop with the DJ students (approx 12) at St. Karen’s they identified the basic components of a DJ controller and how the machine works. From there the students learned how to search, select and load up music using the Serato DJ program in conjunction with the DJ controller. They also took turns loading up music on the computers by themselves and playing it. During the next workshop they will begin discussing timing and practice dropping in songs on beat.
In Ko’s Beatmaker workshop, the students (approx 11), the students began experimenting with beat making software and drum kits. They broke down beats from music from different countries and styles. They also began their hands at creating more complex beats.
The most popular group was dance. We had almost 30 students join that class. Jukeboxx worked with the dancers on how to warm up correctly, then dove into different steps and stunts, and tied different dance styles in hip hop dance to more classical forms, while drawing out from the students the connection between classic Indian dance and its modern forms. They learned the names and historical background of hip hop dance. The students learned toprock, drops and foot work/floor rock. They learned choreography for our show next friday and had a wonderful cipher. They even learned about being safe dancers and dancing without harm to the body, especially since breaking can be a very harsh form on the body–but it is only as harsh as you allow.
After a break, we sent out the teachers (the student feel more comfortable and freer to open up) and began working more in-depth on the PSAs. DJ 2Tone introduced the broad overarching topics (Environment; Gender Equality/Gender Violence; Civic Engagement). The six members of the NL Team paired off to lead a respective workshop (DJ 2Tone & Ko- Environment; Jukeboxx & Purple- Gender; Anshul (Videographer) and me- Civic Engagement). We allowed the students to select their own group, and it divided up rather evenly.
During the Environment PSA session, 2Tone and Ko engaged in a more in-depth discussion with the students about various categories of pollution that affect their community and India as a whole. From there they brainstormed for ideas about what the PSAs may look and sound like. In addition, they had the students take time to think about ways in which the environmental PSAs will effectively speak out about the issue and suggest solutions to the problem.
The Gender PSA was filled with emotion. Jukeboxx and Purple spoke about power relations and the power dynamic in gender dynamics. They outlined levels of uncomfortability from staring up through outright harassment, and also addressed issues of victim blame.
In the Civic Engagement PSA, we spoke of ownership in society. We discussed how people connect to their home, their school, their city, their country and onward. We delved a lot into verbal and nonverbal messages, socialization and how messages are absorbed consciously and subconsciously through direct and indirect messages.
The Next Level Academy continues to grow and progress. Their is a palpable excitement among the students for all the workshops, and we can see the gears turning.
Later in the day, we went to Radio Mirchi- our radio partner in Patna. We had an incredible 1.5 hour taped interview chat with one of the jockeys. It got far deeper than we could have dreamed, but it a very special fashion. The jockey asked Jukeboxx about how dance is a form of expression, and she very eloquently answered about its role of communicating joy through motion. Meanwhile, Purple spoke of hip hop’s role in giving voice to the dispossed and freestyled over a Hindi tabla beat.
When I was asked about why hip hop was being brought to a backwards region of India, where there could be backlash against different cultures, I replied that we didn’t consider any region to be “backwards” just a bit more traditional than other places and we were pleased to see a side of India than most Indians from cosmo cities visit. I also said that India had been absorbing different cultures, tastes and ideas for centuries and found a way to incorporate it– and that America had done something similar, just in a shorter time span. I also explained that this was a two-way exchange and that our artists were learning as much as teaching, and we wanted to share to create something together.
Another amazing day in the books.