A new direction 

Rapper Ndidi Cascade to school kids in hip-hop at Children’s Art Festival

Ndidi Cascade
  • Ndidi Cascade

What: 23 rd Annual Whistler Children’s Art Festival

Where: Franz’s Trail (Creekside)

When: July 23-24 10 a.m.-3 p.m. daily

Once an underground urban movement, hip-hop is now in every shiny nook and cranny of mainstream society.

So it’s definitely a sign of the times to see Cassandra Onyejikwe in the lineup of the Whistler Children’s Art Festival, which takes place this weekend at Franz’s Trail in Creekside.

Onyejikwe is also known as VanCity hip-hop artist Ndidi Cascade. This weekend, those kids that want to learn to throw down the way she does will get the chance at her spoken-word/rap workshop.

Cascade, 28, has been performing as a hip-hop emcee since 1996 and has shared the stage with a wealth of performers, including Femi Kuti, Abstract Rude, Michael Franti, Kelis, K-os, Prevail of Swollen Members, Kardinal Offishall, & Michie Mee.

She began doing hip-hop workshops for kids in 2003, using the medium to raise awareness of issues such as self-esteem, racism and sexism.

Her musical style harkens from a time when hip-hop was more connected to its roots, which consist of DJ-ing, emceeing, breakdancing, graffiti and social awareness. As hip-hop culture began to take on an increasingly materialistic/misogynistic bent, Cascade says she realized the value in providing impressionable young fans of the genre with a bit of background that has shaped her as a performer.

"I learned the skills and then I used them to communicate a positive message," says Cascade, whose stage name loosely translated means "it takes patience to climb up a mountain."

"I break it down, I explain about the history of hip-hop and what hip-hop truly is in my perspective... Because kids love hip-hop. They see it on TV. But they sometimes don’t understand where it comes from and how it can be useful in communicating a message about yourself and your community."

Once kids get past their preconceived notions of hip-hop Cascade says their rhymes come alive.

"It’s always so cool how some of these hardcore kids like listening to my message," she says. "Once I break it down to them, how you don’t need those things to be cool, they’re totally into it. These same kids will start writing about their lives and their communities and it’s really quite amazing what they come up with."

Cascade embraces diversity. It’s a natural inclination, considering her multi-ethnic background, which includes Nigerian, Italian and Irish heritages. But she also encourages sonic diversity, encouraging kids to incorporate their existing musical talents, such as playing the flute, into their hip-hop compositions.

As for the graffiti element of her workshops, she refuses to back down to organizations that see the urban art form as purely another form of vandalism.

"You can’t stop kids from doing graffiti, they’re going to learn it, so you might as well give them direction," she says. "The first thing I teach them is respect the other person’s property. That’s under the five elements of hip-hop – respecting another person’s property and not tagging things without permission or drawing on things without permission. But the type of graffiti I teach is on paper."

Performing is a big part of the workshop and according to Cascade the learning experience goes both ways.

"I’ve learned so much from teaching," she says. "Before a performance I tell the kids just to have fun on stage and just do their best.

"And now when I’m on stage and I’m nervous I remember what I told them and I apply it to what I do. ’Cause I’m still learning too."

Along with her hip-hop/spoken word workshop, Ndidi Cascade is also a roving performer with singer Deanna at the 23 rd Annual Whistler Children’s Art Festival, which takes place this Saturday, July 23 and Sunday, July 24, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. both days. The festival has a new focus on entertainment this year with a main stage hosting a variety of performers including kids rock group The Blues Berries, circus performer Matt Levy, magician Steven Best, musician Chris Hamilton and local kids from the Jana Marie Dupuis Music Studio and the Soul Funktion Dance Studio.

A complete schedule of events is available online at www.whistlerartscouncil.com. Registration for workshops will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 23 near the Creekside gondola.

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