Che Kothari (Manifesto) [Interview]
Toronto, ON – To coincide with the first day of the 4th Annual Manifesto Festival, we bring you an interview with Manifesto’s Executive Director, Che Kothari.
HipHopCanada: How did you come up with the concept for this festival?
Che Kothari: It has been a long time coming. When I was 18 years old in my home town of Guelph, I threw a free one day outdoor hip-hop festival called Bohemian Ethic in our St. Georges Square birthed out of the inspiration I was feeling by the talent my city had. When I moved to Toronto I was exposed to even more talent and I did everything I could to immerse myself in the culture that was surrounding me using my tool of a camera to document and get to know a lot of people in the scene. That led to building with the Style In Progress crew and leading their documentation for their festival in 2006. While working on documentation, I also had the opportunity to work with the core team at SIP and get an inside look on how things were running. I wanted to carry their work forward as I recognized that more platforms like this were needed with the amount of talent and important voices we have and I really wanted to take things to the next level for this city and the artists that were inspiring me. I started bringing this idea to a bunch of the people I was working with at Hightop Studio (a creative agency I run with my business partner Ryan Paterson) and my crew at Earwaks.com (Prakash Surapaneni, Jesse Ohtake, Adrienne Lorico, Adam Meghji, Giles Monette, Mark Valino + more). People were down right off the jump…we are the make it happen crew, so everyone saw the vision and was down to build from the ground up. We were blessed to be able to continue on from the amazing work that has been done already and we pay respect to all the architects that came before us and that continue to build along side us. We knew that the positive attributes of hip-hop needed a boost as well as the conception that hip-hop was all about violence, misogyny, and bling was influencing young people the wrong way and we wanted to relocalize hip-hop culture and expose truths of why this art form emerged. The next step was to bring together a group of people to start to explore this idea and get feedback. Inspired by gatherings I heard about that Afrika Bambaataa held to launch Zulu Nations, I called a meeting at city hall, the spot where our city councillors and Mayor meet, and invited all the people I mentioned above as well as other organizers and artists that we felt were doing positive work in the city. Once again, everyone in that room was down. Recognizing that we didn’t know everyone that should be in the room, we asked all the people at that meeting (about 20 people) to invite someone that they thought should be there. The meetings grew to 40. Then to 75. Then to 150. Then 250. The last big Town Hall meeting we had at city hall in partnership with the L.I.F.E. Movement & GYC, bringing KRS One to talk about the Stop The Violence movement brought out 650 people from all walks of life to council chambers to discuss how to uplift our various communities through the power of hip-hop.
HipHopCanada: Who are the key players in your team?
Che Kothari: None of what we do would be possible without the immense contributions of countless community members. Our goal is to act as a conduit for what the communities we serve want to see happen, so really EVERYONE IS INVOLVED! One of our key messages is BE A PART OF IT! In my opinion the cultural sector is one of the biggest promoters of volunteerism. Having said that, there is without a doubt a core team of people who work year round to make all the work we do happen. Still too many to list so please check the key players on the team on page 4 of this: http://themanifesto.ca/manifesto-festival-magazine-vol-4/.
HipHopCanada: Tell us a little about what we can expect this year (1 sentence in your own words):
Che Kothari: 7 days, 9 events, 120+ artists, One City… THIS IS GOING TO BE SOME LEGENDARY SHIT!
HipHopCanada: Who are you most excited to check out?
Che Kothari: Are you serious? I had a hand in curating almost all acts, so I am excited to see EVERYONE, especially some of the young talent on the bill… Mustafa Ahmed who is performing at our film fest is 13 years old and is an ill poet from Regent Park. I am truly proud of some of our national and international friends coming to Toronto and looking forward to playing host to them: Nomadic Massive from Montreal, Dubelyoo from Atlanta, Brother Ernie Paniccioli, Jean Grae, Mr. Mecca, all from NY, Jay Electronica from NO, Protoje & Jah9 from Kingston Jamaica & Voodoo Souljah’s from Bogota Colombia. But honestly…the one I am bursting about is a very special booking I had the privilege of making…J.PERIOD & BLACK THOUGHT from the Legendary Roots Crew doing one of J’s infamous mixtapes… have you seen this? http://themanifesto.ca/brooklyn-hip-hop-festival-j-period-live-mixtape/
TORONTO GET READY. DUNDAS SQUARE. HEART OF THE CITY. FREE SHOW!
HipHopCanada: How much sleep do you get the week of the festival?
Che Kothari: Sleep? What’s that?
HipHopCanada: Where do you see Manifesto in 5 years?
Che Kothari: Going to go point form on this one, if you really want to know let’s setup a meeting…
- A staple festival in Toronto that is international recognized but with its soul and integrity on a grassroots level intact.
- The organization reaching a level of full sustainability so that it is guaranteed to continue for future generations to take on.
- Sister organizations running in parallel to ours in Toronto in Kingston Jamaica (already exists right now), Barbados, Colombia, Brazil, Japan + a couple more in the works.
- A fully integrated website and independent media outlet releasing the best content through ManifestoTV and Manifesto Magazine (don’t worry Jesse, we will still be partnering with HHC as we and you grow!)
- Deep rooted partnerships with major hip-hop festivals across Canada – Hopscotch Festival in Halifax, Under Pressure in Montreal, LiveStyle in Calgary, House of Paint in Ottawa and more.
- Content being created by all sister orgs with their own site, but pooled into a global content site manifesto.org – think a youth culture version of BBC.
- Artist exchanges happening to and from the various community projects in the respective countries.
- An expansion of our current 4000 sq. foot space that currently acts as an administrative and programming hub for community arts initiatives into a 20 000 sq. foot space that includes a social enterprise element with a healthy food restaurant, culture shop, a healthy space area with massage, acupuncture, etc., workshop areas for all forms of art and an administrative hub.
- A curriculum that has been shaped and written by leading artists working with young people to really understand their desires, that outline all the elements and business aspects + more and that is instituted in school systems across Canada.
- Hosting global culture conferences with emerging and established artists, industry experts and policy officials which lead to all sorts of new initiatives and that really effects systemic change and pushes culture to the forefront of attention and decision making.
- Finally – we are in year 4 of Manifesto Festival of Community & Culture. In 5 years I would like to have Manifesto of School of Community & Culture. The way it would work is that each area of the festival from program design, performance or showcase to administration to documentation would all accept 10 participants for a 6-month program. They would work with the directors of each of the various areas and in the performance area we would have top-level artists act as artists in residence for the program. Each area would be taught workshops and then get hands on experience working on and creating the festival. The performance stream would then have the chance to showcase what they have been working on during the program at the festival and the team working with the directors would all execute the festival. I’m simplifying this, but I hope you catch the vibrations.
Theres more, but yeah… if you like what you hear and think we can work together, let’s link up.
HipHopCanada: What are 3 things you can’t live without during the festival?
Che Kothari: Blackberry. Laptop. My assistant Nayani… Oh yeah and MY CAMERA! A lot of people forget I am a photographer and that’s where most of this started for me. So important to document this his/herstory that is happening around our very eyes…so I encourage everyone to be shooting what inspires you.
HipHopCanada: What is your MANIFESTO?
Che Kothari: My personal Manifesto is: LOVE by EVERY Means Necessary! For Manifesto’s Manifesto, even though it is ever evolving, check page 12 of this for where its at right now http://themanifesto.ca/manifesto-festival-magazine-vol-4/.
Interview conducted by Julia Che for HipHopCanada