By Venta Rutkauskas –
ʔuẑilhtŝ’an… Listen. A land and its people tell a story. Fractured by outsiders, a cultural battle pulses like the beat of thunder on a sacred mountain. Voices swell, then blend, speaking truth in time with the drum. Listen. The legacy of colonization bubbles to the forefront of mainstream consciousness. A new generation of voices emerges, using hip hop to elucidate the state of being young and Indigenous in Canada.
Hip hop arose from African American and Latino roots in the charged inner-city boroughs of 1970s NYC. Informed by Black Power politics and cultural pride, the movement included DJ music, rap, breakdance, and graffiti. Soon, the world took notice. Oppressed individuals from all over the globe latched on to the infectious combination of rap music’s lyric and beat, rhythm and rhyme, so ubiquitous and far reaching by the late 1990s. Both insiders and outsiders of the culture debate the image artists are promoting, ideals like gangsta or conscious rap, misogyny or empowerment of women. All the while, hip hop is adapted and absorbed into subcultures, a vehicle that has allowed disenfranchised voices to rise up. Indigenous youth also found a connection to the traditional song and drum elements in hip hop, while breakthroughs in expressive freedom gave rise to lyrical assaults on colonialism and life on the Rez.
Engaged in music since their youth, Beka Solo and Rich Mac have spent the last two years fine-tuning their craft. They have both dedicated themselves to music in their own ways, Beka pursuing a diploma in professional recording arts in Vancouver, while Rich has been involved in hip hop locally and in Fort Nelson, where he was a part of Dene Storm Studios for nearly a decade. The two knew each other in high school in Williams Lake, and reconnected years later in Vancouver while Beka was studying music production. At the time, Rich had stopped doing music, and their ensuing relationship drew Rich back into the scene. They’ve now collaborated on 30 new tracks waiting to be mastered, the best chosen for an upcoming release. Beka produces the music, adding a unique dimension to their sound.
Lyrically, the pair have fused their cultural and spiritual beliefs to raise awareness and Indigenous pride. “Growing up, I figured out what was important,” Beka says. “An awareness that we are more alike than different, the spiritual aspect of life.” On the track, “We Pray, ”Beka and Rich urge the listener, their peers, to awaken to their personal responsibility, meditate for clarity, and dig deep to make their dreams come true. Living from the heart, they both intentionally lean away from associations with partying or thug mentality often prevalent in hip hop. Beka adds, “We’re making a choice to rap about positive subjects.”
The effect can often be therapeutic. Rich is naturally more aggressive in his style, using the rap to process heavier subject matter, speak his truth, and express the intensity of living life Indigenous. Beka recalls her own fascination with learning to construct lyrics, studying songs she liked until finally she was ready to share her own poetry with her family. Soon, teachers and workshop leaders pushed her out of her shell onto the stage. “I forced myself to do it,” she recalls. Once engaged in the performance, she realized, with practice, this could go somewhere.
Grounded in their roots and community, both artists strive to be a voice for their people. Rich clearly remembers a moment in his youth when Six Nations’ Tru Rez Crew appeared on Much Music. It was a moment of recognition, seeing another Indigenous person taking music and expression to the masses. Rich’s brother told him,
“You could do that.” In the early 2000s, identifying another Indigenous person in the media was rare. While Indigenous representation has improved, positive images and strong role models help to encourage youth to express themselves and push the dialogue of reconciliation forward.
As part of Community Arts Council of Williams Lake’s (CACWL) project Soundscapes, Beka and Rich are collaborating with the organization to offer a hip hop workshop for youth in May (BC Youth Week). In October of 2016, CACWL invited Beka and Rich to open for Vancouver’s RupLoops. Their talent and message had CACWL take notice. Soundscapes is a yearlong project that promotes music and all things sonic in the community. Our youth programs also include a six-week music production course with Brandon Hoffman (a.k.a. Blocktreat). Stay tuned to our website for details and more info.
If you listen, you’ll hear that winds of change are speaking. From the very land upon which you are walking, a story unfolds. Beka Solo and Rich Mac share part of their soul’s journey with you. These brave young artists strive to break through barriers, elegantly, with ferocity and pride. Reverend Stan Mackay, residential school survivor, said, “We all have stories to tell and in order to grow in tolerance and understanding we must listen to the stories of others.” Can you hear? …ʔuẑilhtŝ’an.
Venta Rutkauskas is the co-ordinator for the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL). She is an advocate and lover of the arts, and has taught drama and written plays for young children. She is also passionate about the healing arts. Visit www.williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com to learn more about CACWL and local artists.