With ear buds draped around his neck, Matthew Augustin was “just chilling” at the Boys and Girls Club when he heard about the opportunity to create a music video.
“This was a life-changing experience,” said the 15 year old of working with a group of 12 youth to write two songs, create videos and then perform in front of a live audience.
“Without the program, I’d still be sitting down there doing nothing. Music is the only thing I do when I’m mad, or sad or anything. This was a chance to make music and hold myself to a higher standard.”
The group performed at the Pathways to Education Black and Blanc talent show on Feb. 24.
Before rehearsals for the event started, laughter, conversation and an impromptu beat, created by hands rhythmically hitting a folding table, could be heard down the hallway of Ron Kolbus Clubhouse on duMaurier Avenue.
A group of 12 youth, aged 14 and 15, sat around waiting for a special guest and a little instruction days before taking the stage.
The group would rehearse two original songs they created with the help of professional songwriters, music producers and video directors, to ready themselves for the performance.
The songs, called Crown and Coming Up, address contemporary issues, including Black Lives Matter, gun violence, racism and their place in the world as millennials and having the future in their hands.
“The songs are very strong and powerful. They give you some candy and some wisdom,” said rapper and producer Ricardo Nigaglioni, who flew in from New York to help with rehearsals and guided the participants through creating their first song.
“It’s so rare to see a group come together this quickly,” he said.
When Nigaglioni first sat down with the youth, he asked them what it means to be Black in 2016.
“The most rewarding part of this process is just the amazement in their eyes, that this was their opportunity.”
The first song was the result of a 12-day project funded by the US secretary of State, US Embassy Ottawa, when MASC – an organization that connects youth with professional artists and offers them a chance to explore issues and express themselves through art — launched a community arts project in partnership with Pathways to Education Ottawa and the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. It involved bringing Nigaglioni, to Ottawa from the Bronx to work with the youth.
They were also involved in creating a second song and video, supported by a Telus community grant. They worked with spoken word poet and hip-hop artists Jamaal Rogers and Nicholas Giurgevich.
“It didn’t take much to get the verses out of them,” said Giurgevich, one of the artists the group worked with.
The participants in the program couldn’t say enough about the process, their peers and what they learned.
Khalid Omar, 15, who lives on Ritchie Street, said everyone was easy to talk to, creating a friendly environment.
“I always had a passion for rapping,” Omar said, adding when he found out there was the opportunity to create a music video he jumped at the opportunity.
And there was one lyric that spoke to him the most.
“Take a look at what’s around, take a look at the city, the situation ain’t looking pretty.”
“At Richie you see the bad stuff, not like this kind of good stuff that’s happening,” he said referencing the MASC project. He said working on the project helped him understand different people's perspectives and all that’s involved in music production.
Hical Abou Fatma, 15, said the best part of the experience was creating the video. It taught him a lot about teamwork and working together to make things better.
It’s the mention of his neighbourhood, Ritchie, which he likes most about the songs.
“It’s not the best community,” he said, noting that kids sometimes get pressured into doing drugs. He said he’s grateful for other opportunities and better experiences offered through Pathways and the clubhouse.
The group of teens is really close. Many of them describe working together like a family.
“This has been really fun,” said Samatar Awale, 15, who was told he should check out the program by Pathways staff. “They’ve become my friends and they know the struggles we have,” he said.
Micheline Shoebridge, director of community engaged programs with MASC echoed that sentiment, saying that working with the group of students at the west-end Boys and Girls Club was special.
“I’ve never worked with such a talented and enthusiastic group of students,” she said. “They are so supportive of each other and it’s very, very cool.”
That support was necessary for Natajah Morris, 14, who kept her singing to herself before getting involved in the program.
“I was too shy,” Morris said, adding “It’s nice to finally let it out.”
While singing is not her dream, the program has helped her to realize that there’s so many things she can do.
“There’s so many things I want to be, and I can’t keep to myself and can’t be shy,” she said.