Ausnew Home Care | Newcastle's Rely-Ability hip-hop program offers young people therapy and a possible music career

Newcastle's Rely-Ability hip-hop program offers young people therapy and a possible music career

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Mark West reckons rhymes and back beats are key to expressing how he feels.

"Rap has always been a part of my life, but when I got admitted to hospital I started to write to get away from what was going on," the 32-year-old said.

Duration: 13 minutes 18 seconds
Boosting mental health through hip hop(Newcastlecast)

"Things I can't get out of my head, I just have to write it down."

Since 2019, Mr West has been part of the hip-hop program at Rely-Ability — a peer-led, community mental health service in Newcastle.

It was here he realised his passion for music. 

A man wearing a white hoodie fist bumps a man wearing a blue denim jacket
Daniel Hooker has been mentoring Mark West in the hip-hop program since 2019.(ABC Newcastle: Laurise Dickson)

"I met my mentor, Daniel, and we started working on my raps," he said. 

"He taught me how to structure them, about syllable rhyming and punch lines, then I developed the timing of the beats.

"One day I just hit a switch and started writing good, and I've improved a lot since then."

Expressing creativity through music

In 2016, Michael Macokatic decided to combine his passion for music and experience in the welfare sector to create Rely-Ability.

"There was a real need for diversity in local support services," he said.

A man wearing a black shirt smiles at the camera in front of a white wall.
Michael Macokatic created Rely-Ability, a peer-led mental health service in 2016.(Supplied: Michael Macokatic)

"I saw an opportunity to create programs that appeal to younger generations, which are specific to mental health."

Rely-Ability provides creative programs to plan-managed and self-managed participants with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). 

Clients can access one-on-one or group-based programs, led by staff with a lived experience of mental health and a background in creative industries.

Two people sit in front of a computer screen editing a song.
Rely-Ability offers creative programs such as animation, visual arts, and sound production at their Creativity Hub in Newcastle.(ABC Newcastle: Laurise Dickson)

Programs range from animation to visual arts and sound production.

But Mr Macokatic said the hip-hop program had become the most popular service.

"Clients come in who love rap, but they might struggle with pronunciation or confidence, so there's a strong focus on skill development," he said.

"They're also learning the values that build healthy relationships, and that can improve their lives in so many ways."

Through their music programs, clients at Rely-Ability are able to write, record, and produce music through the organisation's registered record label.

"One of our clients now has a contract with Sony Music in Australia," Mr Macokatic said.

"Our clients are producing music that is commercially competitive, and that's really exciting."

Microphone at Mo's Desert Clubhouse
Music students at Rely-Ability produce and release music through the service's registered record label.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

What are the mental health benefits of music?

Katrina McFerran, a professor in music therapy at the University of Melbourne, said the therapeutic benefits of music were widely known.

"The way that music functions is different for every person," she said. 

A woman  wearing a pink jumper smiles.
Professor Katrina McFerran is an international expert on music, music therapy, and adolescents.(Supplied: Katrina McFerran)

"Whether you love classical or hip-hop, music is going to be really useful in any kind of therapy or personal development."

Music therapy is included as an allied health service that participants can access using NDIS funding.

Registered music therapists plan, facilitate, and evaluate a tailored music therapy program to improve a person's health and wellbeing.

Though music therapy is different to participation in community-based music services, Professor McFerran believes arts programs, like those offered at Rely-Ability, play an important role.

"We're talking about having a great time with music and using it as a way of being in the world that allows you to flourish, so there's a lot of overlap," she said.

"Music therapists have done a lot of research to measure how people achieve their health and wellbeing outcomes, but you can't measure someone's creativity or their identity as a musician.

"That's a beautiful experience, which is equally valuable, but just a different way of framing music therapy."

A man stands in front of a microphone rapping. He is wearing a blue denim jacket and white sunglasses
Mark West is about to release an EP of rap songs under the stage name Marky Westy.(ABC Newcastle: Laurise Dickson)

Paving the way for a future in music

Mr West is currently working on his first EP under the stage name Marky Westy, alongside his friend and mentor at Rely-Ability, Daniel Hooker.

Mark West and his hip-hop mentor Daniel Hooker.
Mark West and his hip-hop mentor Daniel Hooker.(ABC Newcastle: Laurise Dickson)

"I'm working on four songs at the moment, just trying to get them right to record," he said. 

"In a couple of months, I'll also release a music video for my new single, Baiting a Tiger."

For Mr West, being involved in the hip-hop program is about more than his development as a performing artist.

"Daniel has taught me about how to deal with my anxieties and I'm a lot more confident now," he said.

"Rapping has also helped me with my communication skills, so I can tell people like how I feel."

A man sits at a bus stop. WEST is graffited
Mark West is currently producing his first EP under his stage name, Marky Westy.(Supplied: Daniel Hooker)
Source: ABC

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