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Mixing It Up

Centre Line Studio makes music in Uniacke Square

by Natascia L

Ma'kay, 6, enjoys singing in the studio recording room but also has interests in producing.
Ma'kay, 6, enjoys singing in the studio recording room but also has interests in producing.

Centre Line Studio has become a fixture for youth in Uniacke Square. Sixteen youth flock to the recording studio four evenings a week for the chance to belt out their favorite songs in the company of new friends and devoted volunteers.

“I like the people that come here and I like singing,” says Renea, 11, between spouting lines of a rap by Nicki Minaj.

This summer, the studio illuminated Renea’s musical aspirations in a partnership with the Halifax North Memorial Public Library that paired her and fellow participants with local music personalities, including singer Shauntay Grant, and spoken word artist and filmmaker Reed Jones.

“It was a great opportunity for young people to meet those people that they aspire to be like in terms of industry people and to be able to gain some sort of insight. It's not immediately obvious probably to them what benefit they'll gain from being able to connect with people who are potentially mentors and role models," says Centre Line Studio program co-ordinator Sobaz Benjamin.

Neptune Theatre presented a similar opportunity for community engagement and mentorship. On Nov. 1, several Centre Line Studio youth performed a rap version of Romeo and Juliet after receiving free acting lessons with the company.

Most, like Alexis, 12, had never set foot on a stage. She has since applied her newfound confidence to the development of a hip hop girl group with fellow studio member Aliyah, 11. Together, they write songs and record them to original beats. These girls are a testament to Benjamin’s hopes that participation in such musical ventures will raise youths’ expectations of themselves and of each other. He insists the studio is not just about music but an open dialogue between facilitators and youth:

"We have gained the trust of the young people here and that is by being here, being supportive and making sure everybody understands what the expectations are. We've been consistent in that and as a consequence I think the young people feel safe here."

The musical safe haven was created in April 2010 by a partnership between the Communities and Uniacke Square Engaging (C.A.U.S.E.) organization and Halifax Regional Police in response to demands for a space for youth activities. The Halifax Housing Authority provided the space and the Halifax North Memorial Public Library funded the project.

Since its inception, the studio has found its greatest support from the community. Friends and family have flocked to the youth’s performances. They have also made generous donations in the form of CDs and studio equipment.

This support will be put to use in Centre Line Studio’s future projects. Volunteer and local spoken word artist El Jones is focused on expanding the youth’s artistic tastes by introducing cooking classes and visual art projects. She is also planning a spoken word project involving musical accompaniment for February.

She hopes the current studio members will stay on for several years to develop their lyric writing skills and perhaps form a discussion group that addresses community issues.

Meanwhile, volunteers Madison Murray and Alviro Wiggins are already tackling such themes. They have applied grant money to reserving the Sunday studio time for 16- to 23-year-old performers, giving them a time to develop their musical skills.

"I think a lot of seeds are being planted and with all seeds you've got to nurture them, you've got to cultivate them and you'll reap a good harvest, and I think that's the process the business that we're in," says Benjamin.


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