Alternative Media Expo feat. Michael Patrick Welch
3:30 p.m. Sat., April 17
CAC, 900 Camp St., 528-3805; www.cacno.org
Forget Matisyahu or the Beastie Boys. Credit for the year's most heartfelt hip-hop song about Judaism goes to a group of New Orleans public schoolchildren.
On "We Rockin' Jewish," recorded in a 2006 music class by singer/songwriter, journalist and teacher Michael Patrick Welch, a chorus of Young Audiences (YA) summer campers rhymes about the experience of being displaced at Touro Synagogue the year after Hurricane Katrina. "Do it, do it, do it, do it," the cascading hook repeats over a ticking bounce beat. "You know we rockin' Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish."
The verses that precede it run down everything the children were missing at their adopted home: "We need a playground/in the synagogue"; "we need a swimming pool/in the synagogue." Then, humorously: "We need some seafood/in the synagogue."
It's the first plea, however, that stands out from the rest: "We need some black people/in the synagogue." Welch says the second- and third-graders had noticed among the hundreds of portraits hanging on the walls, no one looked like them.
"All the other teachers didn't know what to think about [the song]," he says. "Finally the synagogue found out about it, and they loved it. So that kind of ended that."
"We Rockin' Jewish" is one of 13 tracks on YA! Young Audiences Raps!, a compendium of the best recordings from Welch's music classes during the past five years. The album's limited-edition CD release — funded by YA, the arts-in-education nonprofit for whom Welch works — is set for April 29 at Mimi's in the Marigny, followed by a digital release on Park the Van Records in the fall. This weekend, Welch previews the project at the Alternative Media Expo and demonstrates his recording process.
The program, a traveling, two-pronged after-school curriculum of music criticism and composition exercises, is "a writing class disguised as a music class," says Welch, whose colorful nom de plume — White Bitch — is a keepsake from his first attempt at teaching here in 2001. "When I have them write album reviews, they still almost go into revolt, because you're having them write too much: 'A second draft? I already wrote it down!' I started bringing my drum machine, and I would break up the writing sessions."
The reviews have appeared in OffBeat and in Gambit, but the four-track recordings started out as souvenirs for the participants only. That changed last year, when YA bought Welch a laptop to capture digital recordings. "People love it," he says. "It really is way more underground-popular than my band."
One fan, food writer and Tulane alumnus Helen Hollyman, commissioned a theme song from Welch for her blog You Look Hungry (www.youlookhungry.wordpress.com). The composition, a banger called "U Look Hungry," earned its authors — seventh-graders at Livaudais Middle School — $30 apiece. It closes with a dexterous syncopated flow by one of Welch's favorite MCs, Ronald Nightshed Jr. ("Can I get me some bona fide chicken/'Cause you know that's my fingers I'm gon' be lickin'.")
"Man, he goes off," Welch says. "If there's somebody really good, I put them at the end of the song and take the beat away for the last little bit of it, so all you're focusing on is how fast the kid is. He's really awesome.
"That's another thing I like to prove with the class: Your average 8-year-old is as good as anything that's on the radio."