August 4, 2013
In honour of her appearance at this year’s Irie Music Festival in Toronto we are reposting this article about Masia One that first appeared in our January 2009 issue of Good News Toronto.
She is an empowered rap artist, an advocate of gender equality, and the first female ever to be nominated for Best Rap Video at the Much Music Video Awards. Combining hip hop culture with arts education, Masia One has traveled the world to promote the engagement of young people on social issues like gender equality and child labour.
“I always felt a social responsibility to others; I enjoy helping people,” she says of her work.
The former University of Toronto student moved to Vancouver from Singapore at the age of nine, eventually moving to Toronto in pursuit of a musical career.
“I came from Singapore, where education is so important within the culture; [my] parents gave me all the opportunity in the world,” says Masia. “I graduated with an Architecture degree, and I became a rapper, because [in Canada] I had the opportunity to choose.”
With an aim toward empowering youth and creating opportunity, the rap artist understands that with the knowledge of conflict around the world, a desire for cultural change can be developed. Masia One is dedicated to using dance, music, and visual art to educate young people about social issues.
Defining music as a universal language, she says, “Everywhere I go, the one thing that connects me with young people is the music. When you have absolutely nothing, you learn to express yourself through music and dance, the only means that you understand because it comes naturally.”
Aside from her music career, Masia One works with organizations like the St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club and the 411 Initiative for Change. She recently finished the Canadian “Girl’s Rights are Human’s Rights Too” tour for high school students, which uses arts education to inform students of gender inequality.
“An arts education program takes into account that some people express themselves more creatively,” she explains. “I know singers that couldn’t write an essay to save their lives, but they can write the most beautiful music and poetry.”
“Music and hip hop culture allow me to have a connection with these kids. By doing a school tour I aim to provide a balance — that for every Girlicious there is a Lauryn Hill, so that people will see more of those artists who care about social issues and who voice that they are relevant.”
By educating youth, she hopes to change the notions of kids who are unaware of these issues.
“There are schools that I have gone to where kids will say ‘this is whack’ when they find out we are talking about women’s rights,” she says. “By the end [of the presentation] they are the ones with their hands up asking questions and getting engaged; they really are learning and absorbing.”
Masia One has always emphasized an importance for a broad understanding of the world around us. Youth empowerment is especially important to her, as they are the voices of the future and, ultimately, the conduits of change.
“We could develop leaders who will be more understanding of cultural issues and our place in the world,” she says.
The rapper has an interest in teaching youths how to utilize their creative talents to create opportunity for an independent and positive lifestyle.
“I sampled a bunch [of recordings] from the kids that I worked with [in Jamaica] and I taught them about the music business and recording,” she says. “I opened a bank account for them so when royalties come through they can reinvest money from the track to get more studio time. I’m building a positive cycle working through music.”
Masia One would eventually like to create a mentorship program for kids who are interested in pursuing a career in the arts.
“Creativity and imagination are great things and acceptable things,” she says. “There is opportunity beyond what people believe.”