Castings, writing workshops… The “Shtar Academy” releases a new album with prisoners from Fresnes

For more than a year, four inmates from Fresnes prison worked with the Fu-Jo association and professional rappers to produce an album. According to the producer, these cultural activities are “essential for reintegration”.

21 tracks, four amateur rappers, big names in French rap and already hundreds of thousands of views on Youtube… The musical project of the “Shtar Academy” (slang word to define prison) released its second album this Friday. Behind skilfully put together texts: four detainees from Fresnes prison handpicked by Mouloud Mansouri, founder of the Fu-Jo association.

“We started the castings with about fifty volunteers. After a freestyle and a few interviews, we selected ten. Among them, some got out of prison, others were transferred to other establishments. In the end, So we kept four,” Mouloud Mansouri told BFMTV.com.

Writing workshops and meetings

This music producer, spent behind bars for ten years for drug trafficking, chose them for “their motivation and their good behavior in detention”, he explains. For more than a year, they worked together on the melodies, refined their prose and posed their voice in a recording studio installed within the prison, in the space dedicated to teaching.

“We went to see them two to three times a week and we organized writing workshops, meetings with other artists” some of whom are present on the album, such as Fianso, PLK or even S.Pri Noir.

Last spring, they also shot four clips – already online and viewed several hundred thousand times – in the courtyard, corridors and cells of Fresnes prison, told BFMTV.com Cédric Boyer, delegate of the FO union – Penitentiary of the prison of Fresnes. He does not see this initiative very favorably.

“One wonders what is the relevance of this kind of activity in the context of the reintegration of prisoners”, slips the trade unionist.

“Kohlanness has been there…”

Cédric Boyer draws a parallel with the controversy aroused by the “Kohlanness” event organized by associations within the Fresnes prison last July and supported by the director of the establishment. This “Koh Lanta of the cities” had ignited the debates after the broadcast of a video on which three teams – prisoners, supervisors and inhabitants of Fresnes – competed in various events: questionnaire, karting, mime or tug of war above a swimming pool.

Several elected officials, in particular on the right and the far right, had strongly criticized the organization of these “summer activities for prisoners”.

Not enough to destabilize Mouloud Mansouri who specifies that the prison administration has validated all their texts, without censorship. He launches, amused: “If they come to argue, we will know what to answer them and even make them change their minds”. He concedes, however: “We had a fifth clip to shoot, but Kohlanness went through it, and we no longer have the right to enter the prison…”

Despite a few pitfalls, the 40-year-old producer remains convinced of the virtues of his project. He sees in it an enforcement for the prisoners, a way of occupying the mind between walls where time seems to have stopped.

This is an opportunity “to get out of their cell more often, to see people, to talk. They have a better relationship with the outside world, it’s essential for reintegration”.

Telling about life in prison

As for the public who listens to their texts, often centered on incarceration, they become aware of the too often deleterious living conditions in prison, between “cockroaches, rats, disgusting food and the absence of medical care in detention”, he details at Mediapart.

“It’s also a great business card if they then want to continue in music,” says Mouloud Mansouri.

Ryan, one of the four rappers of this second opus, seems to persevere well in this way. Recently released on parole, he performed live on Wednesday evening in the planet rap Skyrock Radio. An accomplishment that consecrates the success of this initiative born eight years earlier within the walls of the Aix-Luynes penitentiary center.

In 2014, Mouloud Mansouri – already very involved in the prison environment – organized a festival there during which prisoners performed on stage. “We had a good group” made up of Badri, Malik and Mirak, remembers the founder of the Fu-Jo association. “I said to myself that we could not stop there so I looked for a record company and we were able to produce the first album”, he continues. Since then, Malik and Mirak have been pursuing music on their side, Badri is still incarcerated.

Amber Lepoivre BFMTV journalist

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Castings, writing workshops… The “Shtar Academy” releases a new album with prisoners from Fresnes


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