INTRODUCING: INJAPosted On November 18, 2015 in Interview
We head to Leeds on the 27th of November for our final Med School show of the year. On the night, we’ll be joined by Inja – MC, writer, poet and co-founder of ‘Page To Performance’, a project aimed at engaging young people through various forms of poetry and spoken word. To find out more, we went straight to the source and asked the man himself all about it…
MS: Hey Inja! Tell us all about your project ‘Page To Performance’…
I set up Page to Performance myself with a spoken word artist Hollie McNish back in 2009. The whole point of it was initially to get poets, rappers and wordsmiths into schools and youth clubs so they can help give young people ability and space to write and grow a bit more confidence in their thoughts; to get thoughts out their heads and chests and then from their heads to their pen tips to the paper then out of their mouths. For me, writing and performing, if it doesn’t sound too stupid, pretty much saved me and I wanna pass that on. I love seeing the spark in young people’s, or anyone’s eyes, when that feeling gets passed on.
MS: You’ve talked about writing and performing “having saved you”, how so?
When I was a teenager, I moved from Luton to Cambridge – close to each other but so different. From being around all my cousins and loads of Caribbean folk, I was thrown into being the only brown skin kid in the village. It was difficult to say the least. I had issues at school – bullying, racism – from students and teachers and dyslexia. Was a bit of a cocktail! So I looked to music a lot and poets like Maya Angelou and Benjamin Zephaniah. I used to drive round when I was older until I could catch the radio stations that actually played music I was brought up with and loved. Then I listened to loads of BBC Radio 4 because I love words, I just can’t spell them! All of my thoughts started pouring out in scribbled rhymes and rap. Always have.
MS: Can you give us an example of the kind of projects you’ve worked on? Have there been any highlights?
I do loads of stuff through Page to Performance now: not just workshops but commissions, talks, lectures. In schools, youth clubs, prisons, universities.
Last October for Black History Month, I worked with Cambridge University on a project about abolitionism – had to read a 50 page document from a Cambridge University lecturer and research group on the abolition movement in Cambridge (not easy when generally you don’t read!) and then compose a 6 minute choir-backed rap to explain that research simply to young people. I did a freestyle talk at Cambridge University last year too, with the kid’s poet Michael Rosen, which was epic cos he’s a don!
The best international project I’ve done so far has been in Australia touring with the Australian Slam Poetry team over there, including running workshops in-land, especially with kids from disadvantaged and aboriginal backgrounds. I’m going to France to visit the Somme fields with a school group soon – to research the tragedy and help them to write a piece about it to perform in their local remembrance day event. I like a bit of history. I do a lot of projects around that.
MS: What effect do you see when working with young people?
I think that outlet to express yourself is essential and every time I do workshops in schools or talks with young people I kinda see that so many are just desperate to tell their stories, to talk or to express their thoughts like I was.
MS: How does all of this influence your work as an MC?
If anything, doing all this work has stopped me chatting so much rubbish / waffle on the mic. A lot of the work I do is based on historical facts as well as subjects such as war, racism, abolitionism, stereotypes – stuff based on a lot of research by people and so I try – try- to take that into account and not just chat about anything. But then I am a rapper, so I still do that a bit! It basically just makes me more cautious of what I write / rap ‘cos everything people hear, especially young people, could potentially be educational and my lyrics could be a force for nothing, or for bad or good depending on what I rap about.
If I’ve spent the day (one of the projects I’ve done) helping 13 year olds interview and write about the stories of war veterans, I’m less likely to go stand on stage and spit about guns, money and chicks when I could be saying let’s have a good time, enjoy yourself, smile, have a drink. For example.
Ultimately though, I still just love having a laugh on stage and getting people excited about the music – so come see me. Come have fun with me. I’m well smiley! It’s well nice!