Thursday, April 23, 2009

WorldWide We Rule: The 4th Annual Trinity Hip Hop Festival.

Hip Hop currently is undergoing its mid-life crisis. Looking in the mirror at itself wondering, “what have I accomplished”? Instead of reveling in its found wisdom and maturity, it resorts to living a fantasized youth of frivolousness, and trying to re-live days that were the same as it never was. Among one of the things here in the states it has overlooked are the younger brothers and sisters it has helped to raise worldwide. Senegal, Zimbabwe, England, France, Germany, Haiti, Brazil, Czech Republic, South Africa, Japan, and Israel/Palestine; these and many more countries have embraced the art and culture of hip hop as a way to make the younger generation’s voices heard, respected, and unique.

Despite the global phenomenon that hip hop has become, the reality is that much like the fabric of our society that exports much of our culture but does little to import and respectfully embrace others; many consumers, artists, and keepers of the culture here have little to say about artist from across the way (unless of course they are paying for them to fly out, bag their women, and be idolized…but that’s another story…..). Very sad considering how powerful we know hip hop is as a medium to discuss issues of race, class, community, and just about any subject pertaining to modern society.

Enter Trinity College, and their International Hip Hop festival an event that they have created out of the necessity to give a little more light to these artists whom spit that fire, just in a wholly different tongue. This year (my second in attendance out of the four that it has so far under its belt…it would’ve been three had I not a family trip the year before…) I was honored to be asked to participate as co-host of the event, along with The Princess of Controversy, one of a small handful of American Artists to grace the stage and take part. Trinity College students, headed by Magee Mcllvaine and Ben Herson of Nomadic Wax, originally founded this festival. One of the original students, Zee Santiago is now one of the main organizers along with Katie McGuigan, both Trinity students (shouts to Elizabeth, Jazzy and everyone else on the team!). This tradition is now in its fourth year, and was truly an experience.

Princess of Controversy and myself

Over the course of three days, the festival that is free and open to the public, not only hosts and showcases talent from around the world, but conducts seminars, workshops, panel discussions, and movie screenings of relevant hip hop documentaries. The goal of the festival is to raise awareness, not just of the hot music that you’re missing out on from Haiti and Cuba, but also to bring attention to the serious issues that these artist and communities face in their native countries. The festival is a nexus of Artist/Activist/Scholars bridging gaps to new communities, and fortifying bonds based on the love of the music. You can come and simply rock out, and at the same time you can also go a little deeper and get a glimpse at what is going on in almost every part of the world through these keepers of culture.

The first day and evening was mostly spent preparing for the rest of the weekend. However, an amazing documentary, FangAfrika was screened. Taken from

Fangafrika is a stylized look at the festival in Ouaga, in Burkina Faso, where Africa's best and brightest rappers gather using hip hop to tackle the serious issues facing
Africans everywhere.

Throughout the documentary the artists made it clear that hip-hop was a driving force amongst youth to be heard, and to dialogue on issues they were dealing with from sexism to the political treatment of the third world by the first. The best way for the festival to begin was grounding it in a recurring (but not the only) theme, hip hop art and music as a means of social mobility, and social change through facilitating cultural exchange and information..

There was another theme that kept coming up. Hip Hop is down to party.

The night was alive as Mr. Reo, an artist representing Brooklyn, by way of Haiti kicked things off. Commandant Fatso and outspoken representing Zimbabwe were next. After them came the African Underground All-stars, which consisted of myself, David Sharma and Ben Herson on drums, DJ Boo, Bay Muusa and Self Suffice. Bay Muusa is actually one of the main artist from Nomadic Wax and represents Senegal. The irony of this lineup (there are several rotating emcees, beyond Muusa and the band) was that it was more the “African American” Underground All-stars. The Game Rebellion who headlined the first night followed us. The special part of the evening however, came in the cipher at the end. The Rednex Poetry Squad representatives, Decora and Cuttz came on the strength and love of the event, and got on stage to rock with the other artist of the night. Much like two years prior, when I myself simply was at the event as a supporter of the culture, and was pulled on stage, they added more to the authenticity of the event being about hip hop as a community…..a global community.

Day two began with a series of workshops facilitated by Beat Burger Band (yes..THAT Beat Burger, Say Word fam, Jaro, Nasty, Kuzhell made the trip along with Lokey, and John) and myself showing the crowds the finer points of beat boxing and freestyling.

This gave way to a panel discussion on the stereotypes within Hip Hop. On the panel were Dr. Gail Waldu, Dr. Emily Musil, and Professor Nick Conway, all faculty at Trinity. The discussions began to put together a framework of the realities that specifically young black and brown people dealt with in the face of a mainstream culture which looked to limit them, via various biases and negative portrayals of their communities and themselves. After this discussion a screening of Planet B-Boy followed by an actual B-Boy competition. Planet B-Boy followed six crews from all over the world in their quest to win the World B-Boy Championships. The beauty of the film was showing how worlds and communities were again, uniting and expressing their culture through the universal language that is hip hop culture.

The Final night of this festival was far and away its best. Poetic Pilgrimmage, Mohammed Yahya,Zee Santiago, and Blitz the Ambassador blessed the stage, along with special guests M.C. Daniel, Aja Black and Samir (like I was all about community, AJa and Samir actually flew out from Denver, simply to support the event.) The night belonged to one man though....K'Naan. If you dont know, you will soon enough, the Somalian born emcee has slowly been rising and recently released his second album, Troubador. It is rare at a Hip Hop event that you see people, hands in the air, waving them with cell phones and lighters, reciting basically a slow ballad hook. K'Naan is a musician with power and purpose, and literally brought people to tears admist the uptempo rhythms and slick lyrics.

Ultimately, this Festival; to date the only one of its kind in the United States has become a flashpoint of global consciousness and an introduction into the literal "World" of Hip Hop music. Honestly, in my own personal travels, it was fitting that after coming home from Brazil, that I would end up as the host to the home of International Hip Hop music here in the states....

WorldWide WE rule...

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