Words Not Weapons
“ The biggest traumas and pains that I’ve felt in my life have all been helped and appeased somewhat by writing about them in songs,” says acclaimed Melbourne hip hop artist Mantra (aka Rob Tremlett) of the therapeutic and life-transforming power of words. “As soon as it’s verbalised and it’s out there and someone else is offering an opinion on it, it feels like it’s less of a burden on you because you’ve got it out of you in some way. It’s almost like a result for what you’re feeling – it can manifest itself in a really bad way if you don’t talk about it or if you don’t let it out in some positive way, because that’s when violence starts.”
“We tried to look at songwriting from a broad angle by not just focusing on rap lyrics necessarily, but looking at writing complete songs and telling stories, which is one of the important things about the workshop,” says Mantra.
At these workshops, Mantra would introduce the program and his own role in the industry (Mantra is in the finishing stages of his second album and plans to release it in the coming months) before encouraging the students to write their own songs.
“The standard of the few schools that I visited was consistently quite eyebrow-raising,” Mantra enthuses. “These kids just attacked it with so much enthusiasm, but also made really considered choices with lyrics, phrasing and storytelling. There was a lot of maturity and creativity in their work.”
Did Mantra witness many potential songwriters and artists? “Definitely – I mean we saw kids that were already quite involved in rhyme-writing and other kids who were already playing instruments and maybe even producing music,” Mantra asserts, “so there were a lot of kids who already had quite a passionate interest in music making and a fair few of them showed great potential for making it happen in the future. But even some of the kids that were trying it out for the first time showed this innate understanding of how lyric writing works and the rap format as well.”
The main goal of the Words Not Weapons songwriting workshop was to interpret the various ideas, experiences and issues surrounding violence and conflict resolution into song. “We focused more on ‘if we’re going to write a song about this topic, how are we going to make it interesting? How are we going to make it meaningful and how are we going to make it stand out from other songs that are on the same topic?’ It surprised me how familiar a lot of the students were with the issues of conflict and violence and things like bullying,” Mantra expresses.
“I mean, obviously we know that those things are around and that they’re prevalent but it did surprise me how familiar these students felt with those things, which is by no means a good thing. A lot of the students were quite forthright in sharing opinions and views on some really painful experiences whether they were in the songs or just in conversation while we were there.”
As crime statistics have shown an increase in assaults by underage offenders, the urgency of educating young people about positive conflict resolution has never been more apparent. “I think that everything that can be done should be done, so I’m always going to leap at the opportunity of being involved in a program like this, because I feel very strongly about the effects of violence on young people and people in general,” Mantra affirms.
“I’ve had personal experiences where I’ve lost friends to violence and no one should ever have to go through that, especially young people who are just starting to learn how to navigate through the world that they live in.
“They don’t need all this extra conflict and trauma to go on top of it, so I think programs like this can be a great help in letting young people express how they feel about the issues and also think about them in a new and fresh way. It’s one of many things that should be done to counteract this growing culture of violence and the acceptance of violence on our streets.”
School teacher Mr. Michael Currie was impressed by the effective manner in which the songwriting workshop conducted by Mantra and Dobe at Victoria University Secondary College (Deer Park Campus) engaged and motivated students. “At first, I was unsure about how the students would engage with the songwriting workshop,” Mr. Currie concedes. “Although I knew about the credentials of Dobe and Mantra, the students can sometimes be a little harder to win over.
“However, I did know that our students have a passion for music, especially hip hop, and are very aware of the powerful messages it can convey. After Mantra’s performance, the students were very much engaged and keen to start composing and performing lyrics of their own. Some students already had lyrics of their own depicting the struggles they’ve experienced in their lives. One student even rapped his lyrics off the top of his head for Dobe and Mantra. This same student asked me after the workshop if I could pass on his demo to the “record label guy”.
“It is normally quite challenging to get students to openly discuss these sorts of issues,” says Mr. Currie. “So what was most positive and encouraging was seeing so many of the students opening up and talking about the conflict they see in their everyday lives and ways they can overcome it. The students got a lot of enjoyment out of creating something authentic that had real value. They also got a big confidence boost when Mantra and Dobe told them that they were one of the most talented groups they had come across.
“Education, especially through literacy, gives the students the power to express themselves, their issues and their lives,” Mr. Currie affirms. “Engaging the students in lyric writing – something they can relate to and are interested in – is the perfect medium for these students to explore issues that can be challenging to discuss in the usual classroom setting. It is through this exploration that the students often find solutions to the issues that they face, and it is this journey that gets passed on through the lyrics of their songs.”
Head to livenofear.com.au for more info about the WORDS NOT WEAPONS campaign and follow the progress of the students’ lyrics and songs.
What the students enjoyed most about the songwriting workshop...
“The rap that the guy performed, it was really interesting and got us motivated to do our own.”
“I enjoyed writing a rap and the help and advice we got about lyric writing.”
Inspirations for their lyrics...
“Our lyrics were based on our streets and the struggles of our life.”
“The troubles that are happening behind closed doors.”
The important lessons...
“Learning how to structure and write lyrics”
“Discussing the issues that happen behind closed doors and how other people are overcoming them.”
Lyrics from Victoria University Secondary College (Deer Park Campus)
Little kids, things that happen in the streets
Behind closed doors, these kids they never meet
The parent’s expectation
What they don’t get is the temptation, the violence, the drugs,
These things they will regret.
These kids they got no future
They gonna end up behind bars
If only these kids were given the
Chance to go far and above, fly like a dove
People think it takes two to make a life
One husband and his wife
You see single parents struggling to do good
All these lil’ kids growing up in the hood
And the ghetto
Violence ain’t good
This is what you see in the hood,
Struggling just to get food
Streets getting in these heads
These kids, they should be home eating bread
Can’t walk down the street
Without seeing a deal gone wrong
The message I’m trying to spit, I’ll spit it
Through this song
I don’t wanna start a family
In a world that’s going wrong
Witness my song
Hear the lyrics with the beat
Never feel defeat, Have you moving
My phones always beeping
To the sounds of the street
Homies always calling my name
Naming the game
Like this is gonna get me fame
Really, it’s more like shame
Name the place, the time, stay on my grind
Keep my head clean, I’ll be doing just fine
Relax, learn to step back
And walk away
This is the life that’s happening
I don’t wanna end up this way
Haters see you hustling
Next thing you know you’re busted
Locked up, put on ice for the rest of
These are the things you don’t see
With your eyes
This is the struggle we talking
About, the struggle of life
Living without fear is like living a dream
Just like a scene right off the movie screen
Happy and young, living life without complication
Do what you do and dance, live it, stuff the haters
Just do your own, hold your back, keep it up
Never give it up, ’cause life is about the chances we take
Where you gonna be if you listen to the people that hate
And diss, what you will miss, is your chance to make it big
So do yourself a favour
Forget all the haters
Work out your own flavour
Remember why you’re here
Keep in mind your dreams are near
Just live life without fear