Saturday, 29 July 2017

Living Hip Hop: Ashtronomik talks about his hip hop youth work in Glasgow

In his new series for BBC The Social, Jonathan Rimmer speaks to artists using hip hop in positive ways to empower their local communities. First up is Ashkan Farzan aka Ashtronomik, a rapper and producer who works with teenagers in the south of Glasgow...

Can you introduce yourself? 

My name is Ash aka Ashtronomik. I do rap music. I'm a producer, I'm a writer. I've been recently putting some videos together as well. Other than that, I'm a project worker with YCSA, where I've had the opportunity to work with young people. It's been great for me to help some guys get into hip hop in different ways.

You obviously moved from Iran many years ago. When did you first get into rapping? 

I came from Iran when I was 10 years old, but have lived in Glasgow since then. When I heard my first rap song I couldn't even speak English yet! It was like, 'Whoa, this is crazy.' But I actually got into rapping through breakdancing. I used to breakdance myself when I lived in Sighthill back in the days. I fell in love with it. I used to do it in my living room. But it became difficult because I went through surgery at one point. I was also really into my music, though, so I decided to focus on the music. Dancing was good for me but I couldn't progress as much as I could with the music.

When I first met you were involved with Volition, a community project was set up by Loki several years ago. How did you first get into that? 

I saw a post online by Darren [Loki] McGarvey. He was organising a meeting so a bunch of guys could get together and try and get a movement going. That became Volition. We were
guys doing hip hop and we just needed a place where we could do our stuff and talk to others and relate to each other. I quickly became friends with everybody there and learned a whole lot of stuff.

So when did you take more of a teaching role in this area?

I did have the opportunity to take part in open workshops at Volition. Through that, I did my first co-facilitating rap workshop with my man Tesko. He was a breakdancer at the time - in
fact, he still is. Then, I just started doing workshops by myself and teaching with different community organisations in different youth centres and so on around the city.

Can you tell me a little more about your role now?

I run a workshop with YCSA called Represent. It’s short for Represent Media because the young people here manage their own YouTube channel. Working with the young guys here in Pollokshields - and we also have some over from Govanhill - we give a voice to the most marginalised. You know, guys from Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic and all sorts of ethnicities. That’s kind of what I’m doing here in YCSA at the moment.

What sort of stuff do you do in the workshops?

Ashtronomik's upcoming Fragments EP. 
It kind of started as just rap, where I was just kind of getting them to learn the beats and how to rhyme better. But eventually the guys enjoyed it and they told their friends to come over and we built a little team. It’s turned into more of a production, making beats as well as rapping, as well as getting videos done. It’s a whole set of activities to try and give them a genuine artist’s experience.

Why do you think workshops like these are so important for these young people?

I think it’s very important. First of all, speaking about myself, it’s changed my life because I’ve learned so much, met so many great people. I was one of these young guys. From what I’ve witnessed - I’ve worked with a bunch of guys - their confidence levels have just totally changed massively. Their language has improved a lot and it’s raised their aspirations. You have guys and girls that maybe socially isolated and by putting their energy into something artistic they’re able to have a new level of understanding about themselves. They want to different things and it’ll affect their careers in a good way too. It’s a start for them, a way for them to be empowered and do something.

Why do you think hip hop in particular is such a positive force?

I think hip hop from how I’ve experienced it, it instantly breaks down all barriers between different races and classes and whatever, and it just brings everybody together. You just feel the music and the culture and the elements to it. It’s life changing for a lot of people. And it’s fun obviously!