Hip-Hop Vs. War [Article]
“I got sober cause I was thinking I would rather do this than anything . . . my people have come a long way.” – Discreet Da Chosen 1
Vancouver, B.C. – Music has been used as a vocal platform since its very inception, a way to communicate messages of the heart and of the mind. Hip-hop has especially been a viable tool to address political issues, and everyone from Public Enemy to Dead Prez to that kid on the street corner seems to have something to say. Vancouver is a city where many cultures and opinions strive to co-exist, a potential political hotbed of words. The Mobilization Against War and Occupation – MAWO – operate within that framework to speak out against military action they deem unjust.
MAWO”s annual Hip-Hop Versus War Festival has been effectively enlightening the general public for five years now: 2009″s event on the stairs of the Vancouver Art Gallery was no different. After Saturday”s workshops in Surrey, Sunday gave consumers an escape from the shopping hysteria of the many trendy downtown boutiques, exposing them to political issues and struggles in performances by Vancouver”s finest hip-hop artists. Included in the stellar cast were Ndidi Cascade and Discreet Da Chosen 1 – Vancouver natives who have been at the forefront of their movements for many years – and the Cuban group Obsesion who routinely travel the world to share their message. Through the eyes of these class acts, HipHopCanada had the opportunity to explore the incentives and the practicalities behind overtly didactic art.
Obsesion headlined the festival, and with the help of their translator they spoke openly of their views of hip-hop”s place in politics, claiming that “we don”t define hip hop just as a protest, it”s much more than that.” What was perhaps most impressive about Obsesion”s live show, other than the sheer rhythm and energy of their set, was their undeniable connection with the audience despite the Spanish language barrier. Frontman Alexey feels that at a certain point, the microphone really becomes too small to encompass social change, that it”s about getting to know the community and reflecting their issues, and giving workshops to empower people. Leading lady Magia agrees wholeheartedly, and sees a universal necessity to their art: “the messages we send to women or anybody are not just from me they”re from everyone. We all are trying to speak for everyone.” Obsesion”s music is thus not a personal but rather a universal expression, meant to reach all people whether they be man, woman or child.
Ndidi Cascade takes a slightly different stance on the necessities of conscious rap, using her voice as a reflection of her experiences. “Basically, I just feel I have some sort of message that I like to communicate,” she explains, “to interpret the world and make sense of it and write it down.” She”s a women with a powerful presence who”s carved out a niche for herself as a performer and as a pillar of community. For Ndidi, hip-hop stems from poetry which she tries to keep accessible through “good song writing, good melodies, good flow, and not too much swearing.” Her performance on the gallery stairs backed this up, and it was clear she had a message that got across. From her positive lyrics encouraging empowerment to the fact that she brought up a first-time performer who gave an emotional verse, it”s clear that this women can reach people.
Discreet Da Chosen 1 is no less attractive to the hungry masses: he refers to himself as a “Blindian” or a “black Indian,” having embraced both the African and First Nations facets of his ethnicity. He is also a proud member of the Squamish Nation and a direct descendant of Chief Capilano, representing Snake Eyes Entertainment in the East Van rap scene. “I don”t consider I”m moving myself up, or advancing, unless I bring my people with me,” Discreet says emphatically. “I never look down on anyone unless it”s to help them up, you know what I mean? My people have come a long way and there”s been a lot of issues: political issues, spiritual issues . . . I love my people.” For Discreet, political hip-hop is about action, and he takes this responsibility seriously by working with schools and communities to set up workshops and preach the words of clean living. “I”ve been sober for a year now because of that,” he explains, “no booze, no drinking. I got sober because I was thinking that I would rather do this than anything, ya know? If I can do this rest of my life, going into these schools, it”s almost like the kids put on the show for me. I just love it.”
There are many ways to reach people, and MAWO seems to have tapped into one of the most effective: action via entertainment. By marrying hip-hop and real political issues in a way enjoyable for the ears and mind, they prove time and again that hip-hop is a powerful way of bringing important issues to the limelight and providing a voice for those who are not being heard. Through connections of gender, race, or even just plain old humanity, there are ways for people to see the other side and be encouraged to act on injustice.
Written by Jesse Furnell for HipHopCanada
Edited by Amalia Judith
Edited by Amalia Judith