Friday, April 2, 2010

The Beat of Boyle Street!

Blog #4) The Beat of Boyle Street!

Lashua, B. (2006). “Just Another Native?” Soundscapes, Chorasters, and Borderlands in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies, 6(3), 391-410.


This article was written to outline the dynamics and theoretical constructs that underlie The Beat of Boyle Street, an in-school recreation-based project that teaches inner-city, at-risk youth to make music using computers and audio production software; the article discusses soundscapes created by youth participating in this project. The author, Brett Lashua, used The Beat of Boyle Street as a site for his doctoral research. Most of the participants are Aboriginal “at-risk” youth, ranging in age from 14-20. The soundscape examples in the paper show how young people a) use and negotiate popular culture, b) politically use and contest city spaces, and c) act as “border crossers”. As the author puts it, “these points call attention to the power of popular cultural practices as leisure and provide insights for working with young people in recreational contexts”.

The article describes three different soundscapes that students involved in The Beat of Boyle Street have created. The article seeks to understand the “poetics and politics of soundscapes”, essentially what the soundscapes say about young people’s experiences as representational texts, and how the soundscapes are made as lived practices within particular power relationships (politics). The author examines these questions using a cultural studies approach. Through music, The Beat of Boyle Street opens up a politicized space for representation and recognizes the value and importance of difference. Author Brett Lashua offers a theoretical framework for his paper, including in it social/cultural dynamics explored by Fiske and his notion of popular culture, Frith who noted that there was no such thing as the passive consumption of music (1983), de Cetteau who claimed that consumption is a symbolically creative, artistic activity (1984), Rojek who refers to the tactics that consumers use as “the capacity to play with the codes of consumption and subvert them” (2000), and Dimitriadis who looks at semiotic approaches to studying popular culture (2001). The practices and values of The Beat of Boyle Street have many of these theories embedded within the projects. The Beat of Boyle Street starts by using the investment that young people have already made in popular music, dance, and dress, and allows youth the space to create music in an atmosphere that values and support the gifts and talents that they bring to the project (Lashua, 2006). The project, which is still a vibrant, active part of the community in Edmonton, involved two groups of five students for each of the four terms that compose a school year (10 weeks per term). Each group met during four 80 minute periods per week.

Another dimension to the theoretical framework around which this project is based involved the notion of “Popcultural Chorasters”, derived from Plato’s term “Chora”, which he defied as the space between being and becoming. This term was used to represent the space that gives birth to the lived experiences of human beings, as it is open to many possibilities (Wearing & Wearing, 1996). One of the soundscapes that Lashua described is used as an example of the notion of the choraster, in that the woman who created the soundscape brought meaning to the space by using her own position in her own culture.

Soundscape #1: This soundscape was created by a young man named Shannon who created a freestyle rap about the various subway stations he was passing by. He addressed racism and expresses himself through this medium. An excerpt from his rap:

Scrub with a bus pass, scrub with a bus pass, yo, scrub with a bus pass,

Yo that’s me, that’s me, yo that’s me, six foot three treaty Cree in the goatee,

Known around with my flow from the 780.

Scrub with a bus that’s me, bring it back like that .

Getting mental with the pencil, heard all around Central, evidental ,

’cause I got mad skill , heard from Boyle Street, and I Human, and Churchill

when I thrill, spill, over the off the top,

Going to your cranium, like I be speaking Ukrainian, but how can that be when I’m

Aboriginal - Canadian?

Soundscape #2: “Christine” created soundscape #2 which began as a field experiment about who would say hello in response to her. She and Brett walked through malls and through streets, talking about how we look at and perceive others. She wrote a soundscape poem reflecting how she felt about being judged based on her appearance. She claimed that people probably thought she was “Just another Native”. Through her poem, she established her positionality within the space she was operating, the city space. Christine used her poem to outline her questions and opinions about identity as well as meaning construction. She viewed people in a certain way and created meaning for herself by positioning herself in a particular way, as well as acknowledging how she felt people viewed her. There is a significant tension with regards to identity in that she is constructing it largely on the basis of other people’s perceptions however; “doing” of the soundscapes” through her poem and “doing of her appearance” through her clothing (Lashua, 2006) allowed her to negotiate issues of difference. Here is as excerpt from her soundscape poem:

People look stressed, busy, and tired . . .

They’re in their own thoughts . . .

Walking up the stairs . . .

Childhood memories . . .

Different nationalities . . .

But no one’s saying “hello” back . . .

Childhood memories . . .

They probably just think:

‘Another Native’ from the way I’m dressed.

Soundscape #3: This soundscape was created by Bryan who was caught between a history of familial problems including crime and alcoholism, and a desire to learn and grow out of and away from these extrinsic conflicts. He asked Brett many intriguing questions about why he needed to go to school and whether the soundscape he was creating qualified as music. His soundscape highlighted many issues around ideological issues of race, masculinity, alcohol and drugs, and education. There are also examples of indications of the ways that racist ideology works when conflict arises, specifically in regards to how Bryan thinks people view him, and how he counters it. Here is an excerpt from Bryan’s spoken-word poem:

Woke in the morning, about 8 o’ clock,

Had a cigarette, then caught the bus

It was cold and raining

Two stupid little guys were looking at me and seemed like they wanted to start some

shit because I’m a _____, and they got on my nerves . . .

I had to keep my mouth shut ’ cause I was on the bus and didn’t want to get booted

off . . .

They probably thought I was some sort of bad Indian

Or some shit . . .

Analysis and Application:

Lashua sees the process of young people sampling and remixing music as a metaphor for how they construct and are constructed (in terms of identity) by the culture around them. Their soundscapes work within a scope of politics of representation; there are politically complex effects of representation within their worlds and within broader social worlds. Ultimately, hip-hop, the basis for many of the soundscapes created may become a powerful expression of being Native, and a hopeful celebration of culture, youth, and survival. This project can offer ways for the youth to move from terms like “bad Indian” or “just another Native” to terms like Aboriginal storyteller, choraster, and producer.

The insights provided by Lashua through his extensive work with the many young people involved in the project has provided a unique lens through which to examine political issues surrounding youth including identity and racism. I have found it particularly critical to my understanding of allowing autonomy within the learning process. So often, we assign content and ask for answers, a process which is restrictive and lacking in creativity. What I learned (amoung many things) from this article was the power of opportunity and the power of observation. There is a plethora of material available throughout the city in its “natural” form. The opportunity for self-expression and exploration of ideologies and constructs at work emerges from providing youth with the chance to autonomously engage in what is going on all around them, as exemplified in this study.

Lashua closes his article by pointing out that “soundscapes are stories partially told, yet they must additionally be heard”, so I am attaching the link to The Beat of Boyle Street website. I hope you get a chance to enjoy some of the work these young and talented people have put out.


Bennett, A. (2000). Popular music and youth culture: Music, identity, and place. London:


de Certeau, M. (1984). The practices of everyday life. London: Routledge.

Dimitriadis, G. (2001b). “In the clique”: Popular culture, constructions of place, and the

everyday lives of urban youth. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 32(1), 29-51.

Fiske, J. (1989). Understanding popular culture. London: Routledge.

Frith, S. (1983). Sound effects: Youth, leisure, and the politics of rock. London: Constable.

Rojek, C. (2000). Leisure and culture. London: MacMillan.

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