| Aug 25, 2023
Back to School: What's in a name
Rap is just one of the art forms we use to boost literacy for students who have fallen behind. I recently interviewed Bomani Armah and below is an excerpt from our fabulous conversation.
“My number one job as a rapper is to brag about myself and the community behind me.” -Bomani Armah
My residencies start with the art. I try to blow kids’ minds away with my opening song and just kind of land from another planet. Then I take you whatever direction I want from there. I try not to get off to a slow start. I really try to hit ’em with a haymaker right off the bat.
My opening song with third graders and up is a song called My Name Is.
Check it out: https://youtu.be/HvFCL3aXJEk
It’s basically a Ragga style hip-hop beat where I explain to them where my name comes from and why I chose it. Before the song begins, I explain that my number one job as a rapper is to brag about myself and the community behind me. I love landing like that. I do the same thing with the younger audience with my song called Mic Check.
Check it out: https://youtu.be/syQj5tbnBSc
I like to start with a bang and blow their mind. Then I show them how to get to where I was. A part of the impetus for me being a teaching artist, is making sure the stories in my community are being told in a practical sense.
With my initial song, My Name Is, I give students more background on where I came from. I would do these workshops in Laurel, Maryland, working with third and fourth graders. It would be a room full of beautiful brown skin students with all different accents.
At the beginning of my workshops I would ask everyone their name. They said their names were like John, Mark, and Mary, and Sam. Then one kid would say, my name is Olu Femi. I’d be like, “Oh, Olu, that means God does something. I’m a little familiar with Yuroba and I know Olu means God does something. What’s the other half of it mean?”
They would tell me what it means and I would respond, “oh, that’s really cool. I gave my son a Yoruba name.” Then John would come back around and say, “Oh, well my name is Ademola.” And Mary would be like, “Oh, well, my name is Enkeechi.” Then it would come back around and they would all give me their African name. I realized all they needed was a moment where someone would say, “What is your culture, where you’re really from?”
So my art is accessible in that sense, because it’s completely about recognizing my African-ness and me being here in Maryland.
My opening song is about me saying this is who I am. This is where I come from. And I am proud of that and you should be too. My initial classes invite the young people to share their answers to questions like: Who is your family? What did they name you? What is your history and your heritage?
Students don’t have to relate to the African-ness of my message to relate to the, “oh, well, let me be proud of my heritage and let me let the world know who I am.”
We are getting ready to celebrate this work at our annual event, Elevate Voices - Celebrate Community and we’d love for you to join us! This event focuses on the heart of Story Tapestries’ mission, increasing access to services that matter - the arts, mental health supports, learning tools, and workforce development initiatives.
Click to register for FREE now: https://bit.ly/STElevateCelebrate2023Tickets
Enjoy professional and youth performances, including Veronneau Jazz, and the presentation of Community Voices Awards. You’ll even have a chance to brighten someone’s day by creating your own Love Notes that will go to children and seniors who are struggling and feeling isolated.
Elevate Voices - Celebrate Community
Date: Sunday, October 22, 2023
Time: 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Location: Ratner Museum in Bethesda, MD
Not local but still want to support our Supply Drive? You can:
Bomani working with students
Art & Learning Kits