At-risk youth's talent uncovered after seeking solace in the studio


A music studio in Melbourne that engages at-risk youth is about to release a compilation album of the emerging artists.

The Living Learning Australia program challenges at-risk teens to vent their fears and frustrations into the mic and build their musical talent.

Patrice Lumumba spent much of his adolescence feeling like an outcast, and for years his struggle was unspoken.

But 18 months ago in a North Melbourne studio, he found his voice.

"Music has saved my life, I could've been doing some dumb s***, and probably lost my life and did things I would've regretted," he said.

Patrice, who is one of few boys of African descent at his school, says he was bullied and ended up in the wrong crowd, which set him on a course for self-destruction.

But the Living Learning Australia program threw him a lifeline, now he says he's got more than ever to live for.

Autiak Autiak, Patrice Lumumba and Alijah
Autiak Autiak, Patrice Lumumba and Alijah

Holding his 18-month old son Alijah in the crook of his arm, he dances to instrumental music sounding from the mixing desk while his partner Ivanita Caceres smiles at them both.

Now Patrice calls himself "blessed".

"There's times you feel like you're in hell, but it's really a blessing because you need to realise this could make you stronger."

Twenty-one-year-old Autiak Autiak says he once expressed himself with violence, now he does it with verse.

He raps in English, Arabic and Dinka, as a tribute to Sudan, and the friends and family he left behind after seeking asylum in Australia.

Autiak says when he arrived in Australia as a teenager he was presented with a paradise, but he can't help but mourn for the others who remain behind.

"My cousins, all the people I used to know, back there they have nothing and at the back of my head I think if one of them could be here other than me they would've done better."

Autiak Autiak
Autiak Autiak

It was a guilt he says he didn't realise he had until he started writing it down.

"With music you have to be honest with yourself, if you lie, the healing is not going to be done, because music heals you," he says.

Living Learning Australia program director Andrew McSweeney says he can attest.

He's been running the program for over two decades, and he says new artists who undertake the program begin by writing lyrics.

"We challenge them from the start about their content and that really does impact sometimes because they have to stop and think, 'hang on a second, if I can't say what I'm usually saying, what else am I going to say?' And that sends them more inwards."

Andrew McSweeney
Andrew McSweeney

He says the results can be startling.

"There's some serious talent, really they're great artists great rappers."

Between 20-30 at-risk young people come to the Living Music studio every year.

"There's some serious talent, really they're great artists great rappers."

"When they first walk in the door, they look at the ground, they look at their feet, they're not looking at me. When they eventually walk in the door and shake my hand that's the change I see."

This week the studio releases a compilation album featuring Patrice and Autiak and other emerging artists.

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