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February 28, 2002 Getting with the culture — hiphop scholarship



Symposium co-organizers

Symposium co-organizers Katherine Blenkinsop, alias Katalyst, and Diegal Léger — both “proud students for the advancement of hiphop culture.”

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Eyad Hamam

For four days last week, Concordia hosted a symposium about hiphop culture, its role in society and the possibility of including “hiphop education” in school and university systems in Canada.

Hiphop is an art form that includes deejaying, or “cutting and scratching,” emceeing and rapping, breakdancing and graffiti art. These popular art forms originated in the South Bronx section of New York City around the mid-1970s, though they are often associated with older traditions, including aboriginal drums and dancing.

In the view of some observers, hiphop helped curtail gang violence by giving gang members an alternative method of competing and expressing their aggression.

“The changes in the hiphop scene reflect the changes in a segment of society, and you have to have some method to archive and keep track of the changes,” said Diegal Léger, an independent graduate student at the John Molson School of Business and one of the symposium’s organizers.

Léger acted as moderator during four roundtable discussions that brought together students and artists active in hiphop. The subjects included the history of hiphop and its connection to oral tradition and drums, hiphop as a tool for social change, women’s roles in hiphop culture; and the workings of the hiphop industry.

Dispeling misconceptions

K8 (pronounced Kate) Asterlund, who graduated from Concordia with a degree in English literature and contemporary dance, believes hiphop is an educational tool in and of itself. However, there are many misconceptions about hiphop.

Contrary to popular belief, she said, “hiphop” doesn’t only refer to the music: graffiti, bboying/bgirling (forerunners of break dancing) and turntablism are all part of hiphop culture.

“There should be more education about what hiphop culture is all about, and there should be more involvement from people within hiphop culture.” She said this means schools as well as universities.

For Sonya Braich, a Concordia student in her final year of film studies, hiphop should be part of the educational system. “It’s about broadening the educational system to include the various cultural backgrounds we come from, and that includes hiphop, native, aboriginal, and all the many cultures in Canadian society,” she said.

“I know some teachers that actually took the initiative to talk to their students and find out about their culture and know where they’re coming from. That’s the learning environment that our children — and each of us — should be raised in.”

As well as roundtable discussions, students from various disciplines gave talks. On Friday, Annam Lê (a.k.a. DJ Mana), a communications/psychology student at Concordia, gave a talk on turntable methodology.

Louis Dufieux, a second-year student enrolled in the graduate diploma in translation, talked about how hiphop can cross language boundaries. He emphasized the difficulty of accurately translating some terms and phrases, especially when they involve concepts that stem from a specific cultural and historical climate.

Reaching the Hiphop Generation was part of a four-day symposium called Careers with a Conscience, organized by the Graduate Students Association. Other presentations included papers on the Canadian Human Rights Foundation, a community theatre company, shared parenting, the World Social Forum held recently in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and workshops on costumes and poetry.