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April 12, 2011,
On March 14th, 2011, Junious Brickhouse, aka House (Urban Artistry), and I (Nomadic Wax) traveled from Washington DC to Cape Town as cultural envoys with the US State Department. The 2011 exchange had grown out of a project initiated by Nomadic Wax and myself during the summer of 2010. This project, The 2010 Cape Town 2 DC arts exchange, brought two of South Africa’s leading hip hop artist activists, DJ Thee Angelo and Emile YX?, to Washington DC for two weeks of collaboration with local artists and activists. As members of Black Noise (one of South Africa’s first hip hop groups and dance crews), arts activists, and educators with the non- profit Heal the Hood, these two artists were able to contribute indispensable knowledge and experience to the program.
Working with artists like former State Department Hip Hop Ambassador Kokayi, B-Boy IronMan, Flex Mathews, and DJ RBI (of Words, Beats, Life, Inc), we created a space to share strategies, workflows, and methodology. Among the many partnerships the exchange created, the strongest relationship was formed with DC dance collective Urban Artistry.
Upon their return to South Africa, Heal the Hood began to work with the US Consulate in Cape Town to plan a return exchange, and to further strengthen the relationships that had been formed between the two arts communities. Heal the Hood?s partnership with the consulate resulted in the organizing of the second installment of the exchange which began in 2010. As representatives of US hip hop culture and our respective art forms, Junious and I were invited to South Africa to further strengthen the relationship with Heal the Hood and the South African arts community, as well as connect and work directly with local youth throughout the country. The mission of the project was to both identify and connect with underserved youth in the townships of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Durban. As both role models and educators, we were to conduct workshops with youth within our respective fields of expertise: ‘house’ dance & film.
Upon touchdown in Cape Town, it soon became apparent how dramatic the need for sustained youth work and arts activism is in Cape Town. This need was further reflected in the other locations we visited during the trip. Cape Town, and South Africa as a whole, is an extremely complex place. In Cape Town specifically, we were immediately welcomed into the realities of life in the so- called ?colored? communities throughout Mitchell?s Plain. This area is considered to have some of the worst gang-related violence in the world, and it is safe to say that young people in these neighborhoods are faced with very hard decisions on a daily basis. It was truly an honor to witness the work of Heal The Hood in these communities. Their approach is extremely effective and their access is unparalleled. Through dance and hip hop culture as a whole, Emile and his crew of young educators—who come from the very same neighborhoods– are able to foster the confidence of these young boys and girls, instilling in them a new sense of identity. They help these youth re-contextualize the idea of being ?African? as something positive– a message that is very much absent in many of the communities we visited. Their model for working with at-risk youth in the often-ignored black Afrikaans communities is very impressive.
For more information on this community, watch this short film.
South African youth love Kwaito, which is the country’s own version of House music. Despite the prevalence of House music, knowledge of the actual dance techniques and the music genre?s history is somewhat lacking. Junious is a pro. I was very impressed with how he was able to jump into any situation and get kids (sometimes groups of 20, sometimes around 100) moving and having fun, while telling them the story of the music, and contextualizing it for them. In communities with few opportunities for traditional career paths, dance can be a way out. What is impressive about Junious and Emile?s work is that it places equal importance on technical skill, as well as building confidence and love for one’s-self. Not everyone will be able to tour the world like Black Noise have, but confidence and self-worth are important in all aspects of life.
As for me, my workshops focused on the basics of filmmaking. They were generally made up of kids who were very curious about film (especially horror films as a matter of fact) and dying to know how special effects worked, as well as the kids who were too shy to participate in the dance workshops. Knowing time constraints and equipment access were going to be an issue, I constructed my film workshops to focus on several key points. First, despite the vast economic disparities in South Africa, filmmaking is not an unattainable career for township youth. Second, through cell phone technology, almost every youth has access to the equipment they would need to start down the path of professional filmmaking. At their core, the workshops were about instilling in the participants the confidence to pursue film as a tangible career path, despite the challenges they might face. I believe that this approach worked quite well. One of the most memorable moments was when a young albino girl in a Township outside of Pretoria who demanded we shoot a short solo performance she had created, complete with characters and voices. Though very shy outside the workshop, when given access to a camera, her whole demeanor changed into that of a superstar. When I explained that she actually had access to cameras all along, through cell phones, she left the workshop both excited and motivated to continue filming herself and others.
On a personal level, I learned a great deal from this experience. I have worked all across Africa, but this was my first project in South Africa. All the young people we worked with were hungry for the skills we were teaching. In fact, many already had the skills, but lacked the confidence to use them. With the level of racial tension, economic disparity, and a local division throughout South Africa, this kind of work with youth is all the more important.
Organizations like Heal the Hood are doing incredible work on a local level, and we met arts activists at different centers throughout the country doing similarly positive work. These kinds of projects need to be supported and expanded. I am in touch with a large number of people who either participated in one of my workshops, or hosted our program. I am working on potential collaborative projects and mentorships for some of the bright young filmmakers we met along the way.
Nomadic Wax, Creative Director# vimeo.com/35839759 Uploaded 427 Plays 3 Likes 0 Comments