The power of music cannot be denied. Often referred to as “the language we all speak”, music can help us understand ourselves and others by transcending boundaries of colour, religion and language to bring people together in a way that little else can.
Music has always served to inspire people and has allowed for personal and social expression on a number of levels, be it through poetry, dance or its very creation.
Emile Jansen, known as Emile YX in South Africa’s hip-hop circles, knows full well the power that music possesses and he, along with many of his peers from Cape Town’s notorious Cape Flats has worked to harness the power of music to serve the youth of the country.
As a b-boy, or break dancer, MC, author, skater and teacher, Jansen has devoted a great deal of his energy and time to improve the lives of young people in South Africa. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of his efforts have been in his home town.
“I came from a teaching background and decided to follow my passion for artistic performance with Black Noise,” he says. “But soon I saw that my teacher nature desired of me to help youth in our communities who needed platforms to express themselves and also needed alternatives to the normal distractions that the Cape Flats have to offer.”
“My parents are both teachers. My mom is a school teacher and my dad coaches soccer. They both taught youth on the Cape Flats and their actions helped me to see the need to help out,” he adds.
This intrinsic need to help others led to the formation of Heal the Hood (HTH) in 1998. It began as an informal movement by the youth for the youth in the Cape Flats, and was aimed at providing an alternative cultural experience for young people living in the crime-riddled community.
“The HTH project was born out of my need to take action on the ideas that we were rhyming about and what we were reading from Black Consciousness or Human Consciousness literature,” Jansen says.
By bringing together the different elements of hip-hop, such as dance, rap, poetry and graffiti, the movement has served to draw young people away from the gangsterism and other destructive behaviour they encounter on a daily basis on the streets of their neighbourhoods. In these areas, drugs, alcohol abuse, crime and violence are a way of life.
“Over the years we have supplied alternative opportunities and ways for youth to vent the energies. We now focus on sharing that information with youth.” HTH not only offers the opportunities to vent energy, but also allows people to see the bigger picture, which will help them to liberate themselves and their families, he explains.
HTH has gone from strength to strength and has grown into an organisation that has played a vital role in many children’s lives. Spurred on by the passion and commitment of Jansen and his colleagues, Heal the Hood has helped many youths to make the transition from young and misled children to productive members of adult society.
Today the organisation offers free dance and rap lessons to youth looking to learn these art forms. These youngsters are then able to perform at schools and community halls, as well as at paid corporate events. In this way, Heal the Hood is able to showcase the talent of the children as well as the transformative powers of music and dance.
The corporate events are essentially a means for the youth involved to generate some sort of income for themselves and ease their reliance on the generosity of the public. Doing this allows them to further themselves as artists and individuals.
Apart from these performances, Heal the Hood, an NPO, also facilitates the release of albums and mixtapes featuring young artists coming through the programme. They get the chance to get their material out into the public space and potentially jumpstart careers in the music industry.
“Creating our own books and telling our own stories via documentaries and videos, et cetera, is how we see the future; sharing and changing of perception will come about. It is not just to heal the neighbourhood, but heal the head in order to heal the hood,” Jansen says.
BUILDING ON SUCCESS
Unlike many people building names for themselves in South Africa’s music industry, Jansen did not wait until he had achieved his own success before he decided to give back. Even before he was well known, as a youth himself, he was already doing much for his community through his involvement in youth development.
It is this selflessness that has allowed Heal the Hood to stay in action for as long as it has, and that has helped to bring about a true change at a personal level for the youths involved. “The lack of knowledge of self and love for self is the underlying cause of the many gang, crime, drug, substance abuse, rape, murder, violence, et cetera problems in our communities,” Jansen says.
“We now see that we must share knowledge of self with youth in order for them to use the skills we share to liberate themselves and not to see the challenger as the problem, but to seek within for the solutions.”
“All we created has been to liberate our youth from the situations that they find themselves in. Now we see that their mental liberation is what we need to shift us from followers to leaders here in Africa… It is our duty as South Africans to seek our own solutions. We come from a great heritage and need to build on this sense of pride and self-worth.”