DJ and hip-hop teacher KMT is using music and sustainable living to unite young people
Specialising in UK black and urban music, KMT, otherwise known as Ian Solomon Kawall, has been DJing on radio and stages internationally for over 12 years, from Ghana to Glastonbury. Based in London, Ian is also a workshop leader, believing passionately in the power of music to educate and create positivity. Through his work he is using hip-hop culture as a tool to increase social cohesion and raise awareness of social issues, while also promoting sustainable living.
Positive News: How do you use hip-hop to help young people?
KMT: My work is about opening channels of communication and music is great for that. Music is a messenger and is good for raising awareness of social issues such as racism.
I usually do workshops around DJing, lyric-writing and performance skills. Once I engage young people in these elements I can explore other issues with them.
What’s great is that they can use the form of something like hip-hop to forget about their differences and explore what they have in common, it’s a great way to problem solve.
Could you tell us about New Microphone Cyphas?
“There has to be an alternative model for us to work together”
Among many other things, I run a company called New Microphone Cyphas, where we get MCs together in a circle to rhyme together and create music. We do this instead of the more common hip-hop battles, which revolve around aiming verbal insults at opponents.
I don’t want to have battles. For me, gaining strength on the basis of insulting someone else isn’t a positive way of being in a community. There has to be an alternative model for us to work together.
Who are your inspirations?
KRS-One, an American rapper who won a lifetime achievement award in 2008 for all his work and effort towards the Stop the Violence Movement, as well as Ghandi and my mum, May.
My mum died in 2006 after a battle with mental illness and alcoholism and I spent a lot of time caring for her. In 2009 I launched the May Project in memory of her – a community gardening, alternative living project for young people in south London.
How is the May Project going?
At the moment we have a garden full of food and we have young people come in and learn about growing vegetables and sustainable living. The overall aim is to inspire the creation of sustainable communities, which grow their own food, use alternative energy sources and an alternative water supply.
Randy Mayers, a local young person is the heart and soul of the project. We’ve worked hard together on introducing issues like food production and waste reduction to young people, using a permaculture-designed garden in Morden, London. Children and young people come from all over the city to lend a hand in the space.
What do you notice about how the project affects young people?
It introduces young people to the value of nature through allowing them to adjust to outdoor space by getting to know the garden. It’s a gradual process of building up trust – the kids need to get over their fear of nature; some of them don’t even know that grapes have seed in them.
We have examples of what you can do if you don’t have much of a garden. There’s a salad space, potatoes, garlic and broccoli; a wild flower meadow, a pond; a forest area with plum trees, a polytunnel with chillis and aubergines; apple trees… the list goes on.
Why is something like this so important for the next generation?
“Young people are living in an exciting time right now”
I want to emphasise the importance of creating safe environments for vulnerable young people. The real challenge is to secure a space that is a part of the young people’s lifestyles.
Young people are living in an exciting time right now, and they’re on the cusp of having infinite opportunities. Unfortunately, there are a lot of distractions, but I think we can help them find themselves and their place in society.
KMT’s band Afrikan Revolution launch their new EP on Friday 11 November at Brick Box Tooting Market, 21-23 Tooting High Street, SW17 0RH. The night is a fundraiser for The May Project Gardens.
Also performing are Mobo Award winning artist Akala; United Vibrations, who have set up their own Community Land Trust; spoken word artist Floetic Lara, who produces her own range of natural beauty products; and El Crisis, a poet and musician who works within education and health services.