Hip-hop giving hope to Cree youth in Northern Quebec

A hip hop tour is taking Northern Cree communities across Quebec by storm. Organizers hope the tour will encourage young people to stay in school and feel good about themselves.

The N'we Jinan tour is making waves in Whapmagoostui, Quebec

Cree Youth Learn Hip Hop Skills in Whapmagoostui, Northern Quebec.

With video cameras and music recording gear in tow, a music educator and videographer are bringing a travelling studio into 9 Cree communities.

David Hodges is one of the leaders behind the tour. He is 29 years old and a Montreal hip hop singer, producer and also a music educator.

For him, music is a perfect way to connect people.

"They get the opportunity to write and record their first song. Hear their voice for the first time. Collaborate with their friends and essentially shape the cultural identity of today's youth. Not a lot of kids get that opportunity even if they are shy at first. It's definitely a great initiative to break down those doors and barriers,” Hodges said.

This week, the tour stopped in the most northern Cree community, Whapmagoostui.
Brent Masty says music is something that gets him through the bumps and bruises of adolescence.
Organizers set up in the local youth centre for 2 days and any youth interested in music, art or creation were invited to participate.

Brent Masty is 18 years old and from Whapmagoostui. He came to the workshop with his guitar. He describes himself as shy and says music is something that gets him through the bumps and bruises of adolescence.

"I recently had some high anxiety attacks. I stopped doing music for a bit…then I decided to come here to help build up my confidence again. Two days before David came I forced myself to sing really loud …to try and find my full potential. "

As in most Aboriginal communities, the youth population is exploding.

In Eeyou Istchee - a territory comprised of almost 10 northern Cree communities, young people make up more than 50 per cent of the population.

But statistics show that 57 per cent of youth aged 15 - 25 weren't attending school in James Bay (Eeyou Istchee).

That’s where the N'we Jinan tour comes in.

Organizers say youth leaders hope it's giving young people a chance to produce their own music and in some cases, affirm themselves in a really important way.

The tour is being sponsored by the Cree Nation Youth Council. Joshua Iserhoff is the Grand Chief of the Youth Council.

He says this tour is tapping into a different way to get young people to stay in school or go back to school and feel good about themselves.

"I think the N'we Jinan tour is extremely important. I have had many people come to me within Eeyou Istchee especially the younger generation and they felt always left out in terms of the arts. When I do speak to other people who have gone through the workshops and that have been there, they are overjoyed. They are incredibly happy. They felt that they have been validated. They felt that they had been heard."

As the tour makes its way through the territory, each community has been working on its own song. In Whapmagoostui, it's a song about attachment to the land and about Nishiyuu, the Journey that started there last winter and made its way to Ottawa.

This is the first time Brent and Maggie Sandy have done anything like this. Sandy is 18 years years old and also from Whapmagoostui.

"Whenever I'm in the room with those people, I feel like I'm in the right place. Like I'm …I feel like it's my second home….being  with musicians. I never tried making an actual song….this is my first experience making a song. It feels awesome. I'm having really a lot of fun."

David is also putting together a Cree version of his song called N'we Jinan. His production team, Long Life Productions is also putting together a video of that song, using youth from all the Cree communities.

It will also have all the songs from the communities and will be available on iTunes by late May or early June.