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Animated Edition - Winter 2007
Hip Hop Academy
Kwesi Johnson Artistic Director of Kompany Malakhi outlines the development The Akademy, the first Hip Hop Academy in Bristol and his aspirations for its future
October 22 saw the beginning of one of my dreams becoming reality, by starting the UK's first Hip Hop academy. When I say Hip Hop I mean the culture, made up of many elements, but the pillars are Rap, Breakin' (Breakdancing) Graffiti Art and Turntablism (DJ'ing). It is a place where you can learn and share some of the key elements of Hip Hop culture all under one roof. We are also offer workshops in music production, Lockin, Poppin, Street Dance and Hip Hop theatre. It's an idea I've had for about five years, but the resources to actually do it haven't been there. However in 2004 I was invited to apply to the Arts Council England for RFO (Regular Funded Organisation) status. The application was successful and my dance theatre company, Kompany Malakhi moved into a new phase, and a new city. We relocated from London to Bristol. The Akademy is one of the projects that was part of the proposal.

The foundation of The Akademy is firmly grounded in the original philosophy of Hip Hop: peace, unity, love and having fun, supported by knowledge and wisdom. This may seem strange to people that believe what the media and most of the music industry says Hip Hop (or more specifically Rap music) is all about. The Akademy reclaims Hip Hop as a positive and creative source, dispelling the myths and working against the negative stereotypes the media have created. We have a wicked team of people teaching, the likes of Stepchild on MC, who has just signed a six album deal with Island Records, Joey D on Breakin (from PRS Crew) Trz on production (part of Souljah Clique and more), DJ Para on Turntablism, Paris on graffiti and myself on Street Dance, Poppin, Lockin, Hip Hop Theatre and the artistic direction of the course.

There are already classes in the different elements of Hip Hop culture running across Bristol, which is great, so we know that there is a market for what we are doing, but we want to attract a very committed group of people, we are running 'stay in' classes as opposed to 'drop in' or should I say 'drop out' classes, we want people to really be inspired. We also understand that not everyone who is into Hip Hop culture, or who wants to learn about it is between 13 and 16, which is why we encourage people to come that are outside those ages. The beauty about Hip Hop is that it isn't just for the young people you can be aged between 13 and 40 and beyond, and still be into Hip Hop, or it into you.

An important part of the timetable is Hip Hop History. We watch films and documentaries about Hip Hop and discuss points raised in the films. I think it's essential that if you are going to learn about the art-forms of a culture you have to know about its history. We live in a 'fast-food' culture that wants everything now with no effort. Anyone who has tried to learn a new discipline knows one needs dedication, so we are making that part of the learning process - what you put in you get out.

At the moment we run one evening a week, as it is the pilot phase of the project we are testing waters for what works best for Bristol. Long-term, once we refine the model we will want to branch out to other cities. Next year we will have Saturday sessions where we will bring established international artists to give Master-classes to professional dancers, attracting artists from around the country. At the same time there will be workshops for less experienced people. This will lead perfectly into a B Boy/Girl (Breakdancer) conference we are working on with Punch records scheduled for next June in Birmingham and Bristol. There will be two days of workshops and lectures with artists from the US and mainland Europe. We are also running a summer school at the end of July that will be open to people across the country.

Rap is not Hip Hop. Hip Hop has been given bad press for years, with hardcore and gangster Rap making the charts consistently it's easy to see how people that are not up to speed with what Hip Hop is will absorb the views and opinions of the media. A lot of teachers, youth workers and arts organisations quite often provide 'Hip Hop workshops' for groups that are hard to reach or being excluded. Part of me agrees with this, as we don't all learn in the same way, it's great to give everyone something they can engage and succeed in. On the other hand Hip Hop shouldn't be seen just as a vehicle for people that are a problem to society.

The future plans for The Akademy include getting it accredited, so younger people could gain a qualification to help them get into further and higher education, I want to have international exchanges with other academies and their teachers, and I hope to recruit people who shine into the touring company to perform with us internationally. I am also eager to have related businesses come to give talks to illustrate how the skills the participants learning are transferable to the other sectors. We are also seeking further funding and sponsorship to expand on these plans. Please get in touch if you want to get involved and support this unique project.


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Animated: Winter 2007