“The main priority, before teaching them specific rapping techniques or immersing them in any kind of music, is to get them to realise they have unlimited potential”
How Lemzi’s Rap workshops help include everyone in music at school
Alex Lemom, aka Lemzi, is a Rapper/MC from Leytonstone, London, whose workshops at Burnt Mill Academy in Essex have helped pupils whose musical interests were a little more contemporary than the curriculum sometimes provides for, to write and develop a love of performing.
We spoke to Lemzi about his experience of delivering a different kind of music tuition in schools, through his Wealth Esteem programme. We also looked at his career journey from a University of Manchester Law and Criminology Graduate, to an artist with Spotify club nights and a solo album released earlier in 2018.
How did your relationship with Burnt Mill Academy come about?
I joined Essex Music Service towards the beginning of the year, following a small demand for Rap tutors in the county. Almost as soon as I was signed to Essex Music Service, Burnt Mill Academy expressed an interest.
I started with 2 year 9 students in January – who are now year 10 students, this grew into a group of 12-15 students. It’s been really great development.
Photo by Stephanie Kennedy, Music Mark. Lemzi teaching at Burnt Mill Academy.
What specific challenges did you feel the pupils were experiencing in getting involved with music in class?
Mainly a lack of enthusiasm from pupils that expressed little to no interest in traditional or classical music, and specific ways of communicating with them. There’s a lot more that the music students do in comparison to when I did music in school (around 2004). However, there’s still a chasm in getting pupils exclusively interested in contemporary music to engage.
How did you remove those barriers and get children writing and performing music in front of others?
The students all have the capacity to do great things, and I feel the main priority, before teaching them specific rapping techniques or immersing them in any kind of music, is to get them to realise they have unlimited potential.
Sometimes our sessions are entirely discussion or debate focused. Other times, I get the students to repeat the same few lines or song an obscene amount of times, just to try and get it right. Either way, developing a rapport with them, letting them feel free in their expression (they can take off their blazer and a couple bad words have slipped in) has really been the key so far.
Your goals for Wealth Esteem include creating a syllabus to give structure to the programme and to “help children awaken their determination and creativity”. What will the key parts of the syllabus be?
Mainly around creativity, developing a further understanding and boosting confidence. The music will be the main focus, as hip-hop leads to discussions on modern history, social dynamics, globalisation, art and many more aspects. Hopefully, this will be the impetus to navigate through these ideas.
If pupils struggle with learning music theory, how do you help them to approach writing and performing?
I don’t play any instruments myself or have any qualifications in music theory, some would say to my detriment, so we don’t touch on these aspects in sessions. A lot of people think there’s a “way to rap” which is completely false. There’s a way to make your sound, style and essence sound better, so we work on tailoring each individual’s style. I take them outside their comfort zone with new concepts and ideas – the skills, attributes and techniques that proficient writers use, and discussion or games to build creativity and confidence.
You discovered gigs and underground music at University. How did you move beyond consuming music, to doing it yourself?
I’ve written lyrics since I was around 9 or 10, and since the age of 14 wanted people other than myself to hear my work. Looking back, it’s probably best my music didn’t get anywhere at that stage!
During uni, I met a number of people that either enjoyed the same music as me or were seeking to be involved practically themselves. This meant a group of us would go around doing a few small shows or open mics. I even co-organised a charity event in Manchester with some local artists, so by the time I left Manchester I was ready to find opportunities back home in London. Writing music for a good 10 years that no-one heard was frustrating, so I’m just blessed to have the opportunity to share something now.
What’s your advice to teachers who may be looking for ways to get more children interested in playing or performing music?
Listen to the students and try and make them feel comfortable with making mistakes, as it is inevitable. Challenge their ideas and value their creativity. Put them on the spot where you can and implore them to collaborate, it usually eases the pressure a bit at first. I probably have no jurisdiction to say this to people who’ve been teaching much longer than me though!
Lemzi’s latest video, B.O.T.S. (Blood on the Streets) was released yesterday, 8 November 2018
More about Lemzi and Wealth Esteem:
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