Hot hip hop stirs street spirit
‘Can do’ attitude helps grass-roots team set stage for first-ever African continent breakdance competition at this year’s Hip Hop Indaba
THE AFRICAN Hip Hop Indaba is something everyone should experience – and there’s an added incentive this year: it is hosting the first African continent breakdance competition.
The annual event, and, especially, its crown jewel, the Battle of the Year breakdance competition, is something by the hip hop culture and for the people who are part of that gender, race and class-busting culture.
Sponsors for this year’s event include the City of Cape Town, Goethe Institut and Pro Helvetia, Red Bull, Puma, Quality Beverages, Butan Wear, Cypherstyles and Bush Radio, but African Hip Hop Indaba spokesman and co-founder Emile Jansen also gives special credit to a hotel chain’s simple kindness.
“When we do our national schools tour – taking the Heal The Hood workshops to all the people – we have always just slept on people’s floors.
“This time Protea Hotels gave us a room. This was us going all the way around the country, doing two schools a day from Monday to Friday, on the road for two-and-a-half months to reach about 150 000 kids. Those rooms were a lifesaver.”
Here is a self-starting grass-roots organisation with a track record spanning more than a decade, kudos that include voter education, anti-racism workshops and HIV/ Aids awareness, and a thrifty but unstoppable “can do” attitude. Surely fund-raising is merely a question of writing proposals, or picking up the telephone. Jansen smiles wryly. “We wrote a syllabus on how to teach breakdance on the Cape Flats, with kids in classes from Monday to Friday, and working on putting laities (kids) together from different communities.
“The old Venture that I drove artists and crews and everyone around in for years eventually collapsed and we sukkeled (struggled) after that.
“People were quick to say they would hook us up with a van to move the kids between Grassy Park, Lavender Hill, Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.
“Politicians like saying things like, ‘The government has all these vehicles; we can make this work’, but there was not one response to organise transport.
“So we took control; we did the gigs called Cape Flats Uprising… and bought ourselves a van.
“We do what we need to make it a reality.”
The Indaba this year features the first multi-country African continent breakdance competition.
“We take Heal The Hood to every little dorpie that we can find, and one thing we realised is that the interaction between different communities, and between different African countries, is missing and it made a lot of sense to expand across the borders.”
Jansen says the team went to Zimbabwe – “to work on the developmental side” – and to Morocco, which has a team competing in today’s Battle. Nigeria will also field a team.
Various struggles have bedevilled this year’s contest.
“We fought a long, hard battle to get another venue and another date, but we had no choice but to do it during the fast (Ramadaan).
“I’ve already had a few phone calls from kids who want to participate saying, ‘please come and ask my mommy if I can be there’. I’ve done a few of those, going to parents and explaining that the Hip Hop Indaba is a good and a healthy environment, and a good thing.”
While drawing strength from their own success, Heal The Hood is also taking inspiration from their new African contemporaries.
“The scene in Senegal is huge. They’ve been doing it a long time, and there’s a big culture of putting out tapes and CDs, and a ridiculous work ethic. Ours is picking up, but it seems to be dependent on what the industry is doing.
“People are seeing you can’t always rely on a deal or a label; they’re seeing that you’ve got people here, so let’s do a show; let’s do a tour.
“Create your sounds and your rhymes, write your poems and practise your moves and work out a way to get it out there.”
The first African continent breakdance competition is being staged today. B-boys and B-girls will compete across categories including B-Boy Crews, Nu-Skool, Popping, Krump and Under-13s.
Heal The Hood will fly the top crew to the international breakdance championships in Braunschweig, Germany, on October 17.
The event will start with qualifiers at the Good Hope Centre at 3pm. Tickets (R50) are available from Computicket.com, African Music Store (Long Street) and Shelflife (Loop Street, 021 706 0481).
The team will also offer workshops from 1pm today.
For more information, see AfricanHipHopIndaba.co.za.
HEAD-SPIN: The slick moves of B-Boys and B-Girls will be showcased this year.