Hip-Hop Close To Home

by SaskMusic

August 7, 2009 in Miscellaneous

The electronic music and hip-hop scene in Saskatchewan is burgeoning thanks in part to recent developments at the University of Regina through a workshop/seminar series called Flatland Scratch, and the launch of the Interactive Media and Performance (IMP) labs. The developer behind these works is Fine Arts faculty member, Popular Music Scholar and Ethnomusicologist, Dr. Charity Marsh. Dr. Marsh’s implementations at the university have opened doors for showcasing local talent (emcees, DJs, filmmakers, etc), and have created a space for skill development and networking within the community. Further, these developments reinforce Dr. Marsh’s research in DJ cultures, specifically in the area of Canadian (Indigenous) hip-hop, focusing on what is being created here in Saskatchewan.

The inaugural Flatland Scratch series (in 2005) began with an emphasis on electronic music and the role of the DJ. The second series, which began in January of this year, focused on hip-hop culture and the production and performance practices of the genre. It also consisted of a roundtable discussion (April) with Saskatchewan hip-hop artists including Eekwol, Mils, Def 3, DJ Quartz and InfoRed. This event recognized DJ cultures happening in our own backyard and how local artists contribute to hip-hop culture within the community, and was held in conjunction with the launch of the IMP labs - a multi-media DJ interactive studio workshop and performance space, a beat-making and electronic music production studio, an ethnomusicology lab, and research offices. The establishment of these labs marks the UofR as one of the few institutions in North America to house such technologies. Dr. Marsh’s personal mandate is to make the labs accessible, not only to university students, but also to the surrounding communities through free public workshops, instructed by local artists. These workshops have also brought about collaborations with grassroots organizations and inner city schools.

With the IMP labs running, the third series of Flatland Scratch began in September. It incorporates workshops and performances related to elements of hip-hop culture (graffiti, break, rap, DJ, and beat-making), current manifestations of global electronic cultures, technologies associated with music production and performance, and the significance of music as a storytelling practice.

In October, the series presented a (rough-cut) screening of Saskatoon filmmaker Aleyna May’s “The Massive: A Canadian Hip-Hop Documentary”. The film featured a wide spectrum of Indigenous artists from Western Canada, while holding the ideology that the power of hip-hop, in all its elements, is an international language that has the power to connect, heal, and empower. May’s involvement with hip-hop is deeply rooted. She grew up in Saskatchewan with some struggles of her own, finding solace through the music, and decided to further her creative drive and interest by attending Vancouver’s Pacific Audio and Video Institution (PAVI), specializing in Audio Production. As a side project, she began the creation of her hip-hop documentary, and after graduating, moved back to Saskatchewan to finish the project with assistance from Saskatoon’s PAVED Arts, and to share her passion for New Media and hip-hop with her community. As a Production Coordinator with PAVED Arts, a community-based organization that exists to advance knowledge and practices through photography, audio, video, electronic and digital arts, she facilitates workshops and mentors young artists.

Dr. Marsh suggests, “Documentary filmmakers like Aleyna May, (through) work in the community as well as her documentaries, engage with the importance of creativity for Aboriginal and inner city youth...For May, hip-hop is a creative force through which young Indigenous people can come together, support each other, and know the world around them.”
Following the film’s screening, a panel discussion was held on the importance of hip-hop arts projects offered in communities and schools around the province. This discussion reinforced Dr. Marsh’s research surrounding Indigenous youth’s connections with hip-hop culture. Dr. Marsh states, “Today, music represented as ‘traditional’ (drumming circles, round-dance, the pow wow circuit, etc.) continues to play a primary role in the preservation of identity, culture, and resistance for Indigenous Peoples. And yet, many Indigenous youth living in Saskatchewan are turning towards the arts practices of hip-hop culture as a way to express the complexities of present-day lived experiences.”

Dr. Marsh feels it is an honour and privilege to foster the hip-hop scene in our province. She also recognizes the importance of working alongside and gaining knowledge from the artists, as it has allowed her to further her research and build important relationships. What these young artists are rhyming about, whether amateur or professional, contributes to a discussion about what it means to be a young Indigenous person in Saskatchewan; relationships, colonialism, internal strife. These are subjects not being taken up in public discourses, and hip-hop provides a venue for their messages.

By Jennifer Eisler for SaskMusic. Originally published Autumn/Winter 2008.

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