Thursday, March 20, 2014

How Hip Hop Crosses Cultural Boundaries: An Afternoon and Evening with the Bronx Berlin Connection

What an afternoon and evening yesterday with the young people from the Bronx-Berlin Connection and the great program organizers Olad Aden andFabian Farbeon Saucedo! It reminded me of the power of hip hop culture- and the arts, generally- to cross boundaries of language and national origin and unite young people across the globe. The day began with me giving a talk on the role of the Bronx as an incubator of musical creativity- focusing on the role of immigration and migration in making Bronx neighborhoods centers of cultural diversity in the 40's, 50's and 60's, then moving on to the hip hop 60's, 70's and 80's where hip hop arose in Bronx neighborhoods shattered by de-industrialization, disinvestment and arson/ All through my talk I played music by Bronx artists, ranging from Tito Puente and the Chantels to Eddie Palmieri, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambatta,
Then after a pizza lunch, I led them on a walking tour of the neighborhood, explaining which buildings survived the wave of arson that devastated it in the 1970's and which were new. There were many memorable moments on the walking tour, but the one I will always remember was when two African American boys aged 11 took a look at our group of 20 plus people and said "Who are you?" When I explained that the group came from Germany and that many were rappers, they looked at the group- which was mostly white and included some very large white men- and said "Naaaaah!" I said "Show them" at which point, tour leader Joe Bliese went into the middle of the street and started speed rapping in German (he is the Big Put of the Bronx Berlin Connection). The boys broke out into a huge grin, and went on their way!
With all the great things that happened later--, the amazing performances, which I saw in rehearsal as well as live for the German Counsel General and various groups which funded and helped the project, that moment in the streets of the Bronx will always remain with me as a symbol of what hip hop, and art generally, can do to create a deep human connection between people who speak different languages and come from different places.
We need so many more initiatives like the Bronx Berlin Connection, and we need them to be welcomed in our schools, even though there is no easy way to "test" their value.

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