Abramz, the teacher

Abramz Tekya remembers sneaking into his uncle’s bathroom when he was a boy, picking up a toothbrush, and lip syncing into his mirror.

An act so common among youth in North America was new and risky for him. Tekya was only allowed in his uncle’s bathroom if he was going to clean it. This time, he went to copy the scenes from the rap tapes he saw.

By GARRETT BARRY

Abramz Tekya dances with children from Breakdance Project Uganda. Photograph provided by Nabil Elderkin, Bouncing Cats.

Abramz Tekya dances with children from Breakdance Project Uganda. Photograph provided by Nabil Elderkin.

Abramz Tekya remembers sneaking into his uncle’s bathroom when he was a boy, picking up a toothbrush, and lip syncing into his mirror.

An act so common among youth in North America was new and risky for him. Tekya was only allowed in his uncle’s bathroom if he was going to clean it. This time, he went to copy the scenes from the rap tapes he saw.

For Tekya, now 29, those tapes belonging to his cousins were a portal to a new world. He hadn’t yet learned English, but quickly fell in love with the music.

“I love these songs where people talk over instruments,” he would say to his friends and relatives. He was speaking of unknown but favourite artists: A Tribe Called Quest, Chubb Rock, Big Daddy Kane.  “I didn’t know it was rap music” he recalls.

He would mimic the words from the tapes, while adults watched him with amazement. Tekya credits the music with teaching him English, and giving him an identity that brought him respect – “Abramz the rapper.”

Now, Tekya is helping children forge their own identity through hip hop. He founded Breakdance Project Uganda not only share the music he loves, but also to create what he calls “positive social change.”

When Tekya was born, in 1982, Uganda was half the size it is now and the first case of AIDS had just been reported. In 1989, When Tekya was seven, AIDS had contributed to the death of both his parents.

After his parents died, Tekya and his siblings moved from home to home with relatives and grandparents.

“A lot of things around me changed drastically. I wasn’t really getting the same love that I used to get when they were alive. I went through a lot of mistreatment as a child, from relatives and other people I was trying to get support from,” Tekya remembers from the time.

He was just one of thousands of Ugandan children to lose parents due to AIDS related reasons that year. In 1990, UN estimated there were 250,000 children in Uganda orphaned due to AIDS complications. Today, those estimates are as high as 1.2 million children.

Most AIDS orphans share an experience similar to Tekya’s: they are often taken in by relatives or raised by brothers and sisters. However, with families and support systems quickly becoming overwhelmed, many children are spending more time away from school and more time on the street.

According to Tekya, orphans are highly disregarded. Tekya recalls how his relatives used to treat him: they’d tell him “You’re going to be unsuccessful, you’re never going to amount to anything in life.” In school, he’d be called “Abramz the poor kid” or “Abramz the orphan.”

It was in the midst of all of this, as an eight year old, that Tekya stumbled across his cousin’s rap cassettes and videos. They resonated with him, even if he couldn’t fully understand them.

“I didn’t know English, so most of it didn’t really make sense to me,” Tekya explains.  “I just loved the vibe. When I watched the videos I just liked the style: how they dress, how they move, how they dance. I thought it was so cool”

“I wanted to know what they were talking about.”

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