Life outside the matrix

It’s a hot Saturday afternoon and I’m at Bush Radio — a Cape-based community radio station — with a few youngsters, just chewing the fat. On a day like this, you’d expect these kids to be chilling somewhere with friends, making the most of the approaching summer days — not this lot. They’re analysing each others’ works in progress as part of a research project on language, culture and identity.

Brothers Ed and Theo Camngca, Wanda Mxosana, Marlon Burgess and Coslyn Schippers are some of the cats who comprise a collective called Alkemy (Alternative Curriculum for Mentoring Youth), which is spearheaded by former Prophets of the City MC and producer Shaheen Ariefdien and the Broadcast Training Institute’s Nazli Abrahams.

There is immense growth in radio education these days. Schippers teaches as part of a course called the Children Radio Education Workshop (Crew). Indeed, many Alkemy participants are mentors to the Crew kids as part of a skills transfer mission.

Burgess and Mxosana, both planning university careers next year, facilitate workshops for the Bush Radio initiative, Bush Tots. Theo and Ed Camngca, who are also students, facilitate the Storyboard initiative, which puts a contemporary spin on traditional stories.

Alkemy took off after Ariefdien and Abrahams continued work they started on a Bush Radio HIV/Aids awareness programme, “HIV HOP”, in 2000. A key part of this programme included sending a delegation of participants — including musician Mr Devious and members of Godessa — to Amsterdam to become involved in hip-hop theatre productions.

Ariefdien and Abrahams prepared their delegation by taking them through workshops on topics such as governance, labour issues, crime, colonialism and apartheid.

The original programme developed into a semester-long module that — as its name suggests — offers an alternative to the kind of education children receive at school.

Hip-hop “heads” have come to Alkemy via Bush Radio’s Headwarmers, a Friday night hip-hop show that features a call-in open mic session. Now some of the call-in MCs joined Alkemy. Mxosana was one of these MCs.

Ariefdien recalls that he suggested to Mxosana, “Why don’t you come to Bush? We have some workshops you might be interested in. You should see some of the shit that this kid writes. We kinda worked a way of taking information, like resource information and then flipping and arranging it into songs.”

Alkemy now has participants reading anything from Paolo Frere and Noam Chomsky to Joseph Conrad and Sylvia Plath. The programme also benefits from guest lectures by visiting media specialists, researchers and academics.

Ariefdien feels that hip-hop is a useful tool for educating youth “right now” and that it does not matter whether they’re into hip-hop a few years down the line — what matters is the critical skills transfer taking place in the workshops.

Schippers echoes Ariefdien: “I don’t think it’s ever been about hip-hop for me. I like hip-hop, but [Alkemy] came as a way for me to get some writing skills and then I started enjoying the theory section so much more, being opened up to a whole lot of new ideas. I don’t even like hip-hop much, now.”

Ed Camngca agree. “I probably would be working somewhere at a dead end job. [I would have been] on the corner this moment doing nothing, sitting at the smokkelhuis [shebeen], smoking and what-not. It has somehow taken me out of the matrix,” he chuckles heartily.

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