New musical aims to use hip hop to take on gentrification

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New musical aims to use hip hop to take on gentrification

North-end Halifax has always been home for Martez Wiggins, who grew up in Uniacke Square.

But these days, home is starting to look different.

Across the street construction on apartment and retail space is happening and his community is turning into a more upscale downtown hub. Costly condos and expensive stores are making him feel like he's being pushed out of his community.

"In 10, 20 years will my community still be here?" said Wiggins, 25.

'There needs to be a dialogue'

Those concerns are at the heart of a musical about gentrification in the North End being organized by Dramatic Changes, a local organization that helps tell stories of social justice issues through the arts.

Co-founder Ross Unger said gentrification in the north end is a topic that has a "passionate reaction."

"There needs to be a dialogue with politicians, developers and local businesses and that's why we're making this musical," he said.

"We want to show these people that there's real people living here who have feelings and are affected by the changes that are happening."

The community's story from the past until now will be told using hip hop.

"Hip hop is the music that represents the people that live here," said Unger.

"It's the music of the people; the youth are making it, they're all listening to it and by making it a hip hop musical they're able to express their stories in their own voice."

Incorporating community feedback

Unger has lived in the north end for two years, but has even noticed changes that are not sitting well with long-time residents. The play will be written based on the feedback Dramatic Changes receives from community members.

"I imagine some of the messages might include how everything is changing, how rent is going up, how local businesses are popping up that are not targeted to people who have lived here forever," he said.

Dramatic Changes will host an open discussion about gentrification at the George Dixon Centre on Saturday from 2-4 p.m. The discussion will help determine the structure of the play and auditions will follow at a later date.

Creating connections

Wiggins plans to be there.

He's hoping the production will grab people's attention and that new businesses and developers make an effort in turn to connect with the community.

"The north-end community is so open and diverse and accepting with everybody."