7th Annual Hip Hop for Peace Festival - 2011

Put your Peace signs up Vancouver! The 7th Annual Vancouver International Hip Hop 4 Peace Festival just finished rocking the streets of the Vancouver city centre and the surrounding suburbs this September. Organized by Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO), this festival covered three events over two days in downtown Vancouver, Burnaby and East Vancouver. The all ages events brought together hip hop and peace lovers of all ages, students, workers, immigrants and Indigenous people under the banner of ‘HIP HOP 4 PEACE!’ Over 1800 people came out during the festival to take in the performances by the freshest local and international talent of MCs, DJS and breakdancers. Obsesion, the pioneers of Cuban hip hop, returned for the third time to headline this year’s festival and bring their rhythmic messages of peace and social justice to Vancouver crowds direct from Havana, Cuba.

Day 1 of the festival saw the downtown Vancouver Art Gallery as the backdrop for ‘Peace in the Streets,’ an all-day block party of hip hop performances. Sunshine was beading on our heads as Janine Solanki, MAWO’s spokesperson, and festival co-MC, introduced the day. She began the day by explaining what the festival was all about and what to expect over the weekend. She pointed out the information tables, packed with literature about MAWO’s campaigns and other peace and social justice issues, and made sure people checked out the graffiti installations that were spread out on the gallery grounds. She also made sure people checked out the visuals in the Malcolm X tent, featuring his photos and quotes, as well as interactive displays of life under war and occupation in different parts of the world. It also featured photos and information about the effects of the US blockade on Cuba.

After Janine hyped up the crowd with the festival’s signature chant, “WE LOVE HIP HOP! NO TO WAR!”, she introduced the first act. Babie Paul laid the beats from the turntables from the very beginning. Joose Justice brought the crowd in closer for his festival-opening performance, bringing fellow MC, Yoge, to show his talent. Up next, Ill Tone got the crowd thinking and moving with his antiwar songs. Oki, from the KI First Nation, brought greetings and shared some of her own songs. Ali Dahesh, Iranian-born MC, gave a special performance dedicated to the people of Palestine, bringing up Bd Kasseb, bouncing their English and Farsi lyricism off the downtown buildings.  Long-time supporters and hip hop MCs, Fully Faded, rocked the mic next with the lyrics of SOS and the Mighty Void Abyss with DJ C-Lo providing the beats. JB the 1st Lady had the whole crowd’s attention when she opened up her set with a traditional Indigenous song, and kept people moving with her positive and uplifting music. Discreet da Chosen 1 was then able to introduce some of his new material to the crowd. Ndidi Cascade and Deanna, a strong female duo, kept the crowd up and inspired with the positive messages in their lyrics. Alison Bodine, co-chair and executive committee member of MAWO, took over as festival MC and reminded festival-goers why this festival is so important today with all the wars and occupations that are going on all around the world. She then brought up Sunnite Marx, Joose Justice and Heatwave up to the stage, who kept the energy of the crowd up.

The Vancouver Art Gallery steps swelled with people as Obsesion, the headlining act from Cuba, hit the stage. The trio of El Tipo Este,  Magia and DJ Jigue had the crowd moving and grooving to their Cuban flavour of revolutionary hip hop.

There was still a lot more hip hop and people to hear from before the day was through. Indelible, the hip hop crew made up of brothers J Thorn and Illucid, lit up the stage with their heavy beats and word rhyming back and forth. Fatty Down also brought out his authentic raps and melodies to an excited crowd. It was then the Groundbreakers’ turn and Babie Paul took a break from his role as festival DJ to join Attikus and GBox on the mic, while Ted D laid the beats and scratched records. Che Pablucci, then brought out his Argentinian hip hop to the gallery steps. Speeches Beyond, Joe Blow and Nuisance collaborated for a high energy performance. As the daylight dimmed and downtown streetlights turned on, up and comers Alexander Reyes and Reno each took the stage to share some of their own songs, bringing everyone to the end of the first of the Hip Hop 4 Peace Festival.

Day 2 rode on the energy and buzz created from the previous day’s outdoor show. The Bonsor Recreation Centre was the setting for “The School of Hip Hop,” an interactive day of workshops with artists and organizers of this year’s festival.

Janine continued her role as festival MC by introducing the first workshop, “Hip Hop as a Tool for Peace.” In this workshop, all the members of Obsesion were able to speak about the development of hip hop in Cuba under the particular conditions of the US blockade and hardship. They explained how the Cuban Agency of Rap, a government sponsored institution, came in to being, and the creation of the International Hip Hop Symposium. This year’s theme of the symposium was “Hip Hop for Peace,” and they elaborated on how this message is an international one that MAWO had begun. Joose Justice then gave a presentation on his recent trip with MAWO organizers to the International Hip Hop Symposium in Havana, Cuba, where he was able to perform and meet artists from around Cuba and Latin America. He recounted the important connection that Vancouver has with Cuba and the need to continue strengthening the ties. Shakeel Lochan, organizer with MAWO, then gave a presentation on how hip hop is being used as an outlet by oppressed people around the world to voice their anger, frustrations, and hope for a better world. He emphasized that this cultural aspect of people in struggle for a better world is something very important to help bring these voices and ideas to new people.

The participants got their notepads ready as the second workshop was about to begin. Joose Justice led everyone in a tutorial on the fundamentals of rhyming. With the help of the music videos of KRS-1, he laid out the basics of putting together a song, even performing a few of his own and inviting Oki, from the KI First Nation, to perform a special song she had written for this year’s festival.

To get ready for the final workshop of the day, everyone cleared the chairs from the centre of the room, and did a little stretching in anticipation for the BBOY and BGIRL workshop. B-Minus from the Now or Never crew, and Matt, Johnny and Josh from the Dirty Rotten Scoundrelz, led a packed room through the basic steps of breakdancing. Those basic steps became more and more complex and by the end, everyone had a good chance to show off their new skills in the dancing circle.

When the workshops were done, the festival wasn’t over and everyone quickly packed up all the gear and headed down to Joe’s Cafe in East Vancouver for the festival wrap-up party. Many of the artists who supported this year’s festival, along with those who came out to take part in the festival showed up and had a chance to share some of their talent. There was a slideshow of the history of the festival and a very special exchange of gifts that took place between MAWO organizers and Obsesion, showing the strong connection between the two in building hip hop and the message of peace.

This year’s festival was another success, with over 1800 people who crowded Vancouver streets and filled rooms to take in the music and politics. As KRS1 put it, “Hip and Hop is more than music. ‘Hip’ is the knowledge and ‘Hop’ is the movement.” This festival is growing stronger every year, with collaborations between Vancouver, Cuba and beyond. Stay connected for next September, when the 8th International Hip Hop 4 Peace Festival will be back hitting Vancouver’s streets.

                                          Photos to Come Soon!