Hip-hop and post-it notes

When I was teaching in London, the only time I ever went into school at the weekend was before an Ofsted inspection.  Today I went in on a Sunday with two inspectors of a different kind.  Brothers Selamit and Kefaet are Roma rappers.  They’ve lived in Germany almost all their life, until last year when they were deported back to Kosovo.  They’re trying to build a new life here now, and they want to use their creativity to inspire younger kids from their community and beyond.  They want to organise after-school rap and dance classes for kids from Fushe Kosove and they’ve come to decide whether they could use our teaching space.  They’re applying for a grant for the classes, which means they would be able to pay us something towards our rent, so for all kinds of reasons I want us to be able to work together.

But to be honest I’ve not spent much time around rappers.  I’m nervous when we meet.  Erm, could they tell me some of the lyrics to their songs?

They smile gently, treating me kindly and carefully – a bit like I tried to be with Cima when she had a first go at forming the letter M.  My face in this unfamiliar territory may have had the same panicky look as Cima’s at the whiteboard. Selamit speaks softly and assures me, ‘No, we don’t want kids going home singing about shaking ass and about doing dirty stuff.  There’s lots of kinds of hip hop and we want them to hear the stuff that will motivate them.  We want kids to build their self-confidence, and to know that wherever you are, and whatever you’ve got or you haven’t got, rapping is something you can do.’  Later I hear the story from someone else about how the German government’s weight restriction on luggage for deportees meant that these brothers had their instruments and their sound systems confiscated as they were sent back to Kosovo.  I can’t imagine what that would be like (‘like having your hands cut off’ said a musician friend of mine).

We talk about whether any girls will come to the classes, and that we’d like to make sure there’s a woman in the classes to offer a role model and possible reassurance to girls and their parents.  ‘Well I’m planning to be there,’ I say.  ‘I’d like to learn how to dance to rap’.

These lovely soft-spoken young men are even kind enough not to look dubious.  I can tell they’re great teachers.

So it’s brilliant that after their inspection of our premises they think they can make this work with us.  They’ve been walking round the rooms wondering about putting up mirrors, and while they’ve been busy I’ve been preparing some teaching resources for tomorrow.  When they say they’re ready to go Rob suggests that before they leave we should take a photo of me with them.  I come out from the classroom and they assume the pose – hoodies, and fingers on both hands making the V sign like I’ve seen on album covers.  I smile for the camera.  It’s only when we have a look at the photo later that I see that I was still holding my post-it notes.

It’s further proof that it’s going to take quite a lot of belief and hard work from both me and my teachers if I am to be transformed into a rap dancer. But I’m still hopeful that Cima, the 37 other kids registered with us, and me, Selamit and Kefaet can do this. And I’m learning already that if I want to make a success of this project, I’m going to need to pool all the resources I can.  The photo is a good reminder.  Hip-hop and post-it notes; whatever it takes.

Gjelane’s story is now told in a book published as The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife; an unlikely friendship in Kosovo (Elbow Publishing, 2015) and available on Amazon

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