Saturday, December 15, 2012

South By South Bronx Hip Hop Festival: Celebrating History, Showcasing Creativity, Lifting Spirits

I have rarely felt more emotionally drained than when I drove up to the Bronx at noon to attend the South By South Bronx Music Festival. The mass killings in Connecticut had me profoundly depressed, and I was also concerned whether I had it in me to do the kind of historical introduction people expected me to do for DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell. ********But something happened to me in the four hours I spent at the festival. I was in the presence of so much talent, so much passion, so much community spirit and so much love that I left the event hopeful for the future. It began with the hugs I got when I entered the theater from the organizers of the festival, and friends I knew in the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, but it was the events on stage that lifted me out of my funk. It was not that anyone pretended that we hadn't just experienced an a terrible tragedy- performer after performer paid tribute to the children, the teachers, and the families and affirmed their identification with what they had been through ********It was that the performances and the talks were of such incandescent quality that you couldn't help but be uplifted, especially because they came from people of such varied ages and cultural backgrounds and possessing such diverse skills. ********Whether it was up and coming MC's like YC the Cynic demonstrating dazzling lyricism, longtime political activists like Rod Starz of Rebel Diaz crying out against injustice; La Bruja drawing upon the spirits to inspire people to take on Climate Change and the sexual exploitation of young women; Grandmaster Caz, who must be close to fifty, bringing down the house with unmatched lyricism and stage presence; Cindy Campbell describing the first hip hop parties at 1520 Sedgwick as family affairs drawing the whole community, not just youth; Africa Bambatta waxing poetic about the musical, political and spiritual foundations of his music and his political activism; B Boys and B Girls defying gravity and enshrining rhythm; Legendary DJ Grand Wizard Theodore demonstrating the art of scratching to house DJ's Danny "Beat Manm" Martinez, DJ Charlie Hustle, and DJ Illinoiz; Ramerly Graham's mother giving an impassioned appeal to everyone in the audience to unite against police executions of young people in our communities; it was simply breathtaking to see people for who art, and music, and the pursuit of justice were common goals *******It was also inspiring to hear Hip Hop's pioneers- the people who helped create a culture that has spread throughout the world-- embrace a new generation of activist artists who were bringing art and politics back to the Bronx in the same spirit they did in the 1970's *********And the audience, mostly Bronx folks, was with them every step of the way. Jumping up and down, waving their arms, and on more than a few occasions, giving artists standing ovations. ********I left the event with my sadness juxtaposed to energy, determination, and an infusion of hope. Many battles to fight, may bridges to cross, but great people, and great music to do those things with

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