6th Annual Hip Hop for Peace Festival - 2010

‘HIP HOP FOR PEACE!’ echoed through the streets of Vancouver this September as the city’s 6th Annual International Hip Hop For Peace Festival took center stage. Organized by Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO), over 1500 people came out to events over three days in New Westminster, downtown Vancouver, and Surrey. The festival featured performances by local and international talent, including MCs, breakdancers, DJs and Graffiti artists. Headlining this year’s festival was Obsesion, the pioneers of Cuban Hip Hop, who returned for their second year of rocking Vancouver crowds. People of all ages, workers, immigrants, Indigenous people, women and peace-loving people all made this a community event not to be missed.

The festival’s opening night took place at the Douglas College Student’s Union Lounge in New Westminster for an evening called ‘PROJECT PEACE AND THE NEW WEST BOOGALOO.’ Payvand Pejvack, an organizer with MAWO, MC’d the night, letting everyone know what the festival was all about and what was in store for the weekend. She pointed out the tables lining the walls loaded with literature and information about MAWO’s campaigns and the issues facing people living under war and occupation around the world. She also made sure that everyone checked out the graffiti installations that have been spray painted over the last 5 years, including the newest one that demands freedom for 5 Cuban men held as political prisoners in US jails, also known as the Cuban 5.

The first performer of the night was Brittany, representing Ephin, who got the lounge warmed up with her charming jazz and hip hop melodies. Up next was Saint Soldier, a Sikh MC who moved the crowd with his positive and uplifting style of hip hop. Discreet da Chosen 1 rocked the mic and featured his hometown crew of young BBoys, Elementz, who lit up the linoleum with their breakdancing skills. GroundBreakers had the house jumping up with their energetic live performance, and Republicka Central had everyone feeling their Mexican hip hop. Speeches Beyond had heads bobbing and soaking in his thoughtful lyricism. Plazma then hit stage, as Joose and Talkz had the room bumping with their engaging blend of reggae and hip hop.

As the night went on, the anticipation for the headlining act from Havana, Obsesion, grew. Finishing off the night, Magia, El Tipo Este and Isnay took the stage and immediately had everyone’s hands in the air and bodies moving to their revolutionary Cuban hip hop. Nobody wanted the night to end as chants of ‘Encore’ and ‘Otra’ encouraged Obsesion to go on in to the night.  

The festival’s second day opened up to sunny skies and a big crowd at the Vancouver Art Gallery for ‘VANCITY BEATS, PEACE IN THE STREETS’ for an all-day outdoor Hip Hop showcase. Payvand, the festival’s MC, kept the previous night’s momentum going by leading the crowd with chants of ‘We want Hip Hop! No to War!’ and letting everyone know what was in store for the day. On top of the performances were information tables, graffiti installations spread throughout the gallery grounds, and the Malcolm X tent, featuring quotes, photos and information about the life of the uncompromising leader for human rights. The tent also had interactive displays of life under war and occupation around the world and the blockade on Cuba.

To get the day going, Kelly White, a Coast Salish elder and activist, welcomed the festival to the territory with a song of peace. She also threw in a rap about Leonard Peltier, a Native warrior and activist who has been a political prisoner in the United States for 35 years.

Payvand then invited Ndidi Cascade and Deanna Teeple up to the stage to rock the crowd with their powerful vocals and intelligent lyrics. Quest Poetics, the one-man hip hop orchestra, performed next, dazzling everyone with his loop pedal skills and getting the crowd to sing along to his anthems of peace.

JB the 1st Lady, MC, beatboxer and young traditional Native woman brought her unique style of hip hop to the stage, mixing in modern rhyming with traditional songs. Next up, A-Slam rocked the stage as a live band fusing Punjabi and hip hop, with a complete dance crew. Speeches Beyond and the GroundBreakers kept the crowd moving to their positive songs. Fresh from Victoria, Kia Kadiri brought her strong voice and positive blend of hip hop, jazz, funk and soul to the ears of the crowd, along with her special guest, Felecia Andalong. Discreet used his positive hip to keep the crowd moving and once again showcased the Elementz crew on the outdoor breakdancing floor. Plazma then got the crowd to move right up to the front of the art gallery steps for an energetic set.

The Art Gallery was buzzing with people to see the headlining act, and it was now their turn to see them. Obsesion hit the stage and had the trio’s Cuban beats and revolutionary hip hop bounced off the downtown buildings, leaving a mark on the audience’s heart and the city.

The fun was not over there. BBoys and BGirls ciphered on the linoleum as Estea El MC’d the special breakdance showcase along to the fast-paced beats from DJ K-Rec’s turntables. An impromptu acapella performance by SoS and a heartfelt performance by EsEs finished off the day before the rain started to fall and as the last festival T-shirt was sold.

The third day of the festival set up shop at the Chuck Bailey Rec Centre in Surrey and wrapped up an incredible weekend of hip hop and social justice with an afternoon called ‘INCREASE THE PEACE! SURREY ARE YA WITH ME?!’ This gave everyone who came out to the festival a chance to interact with artists and activists more deeply about the festival.

Janine Solanki, outreach coordinator for MAWO, opened up the day by introducing the film ‘La Fabri K,’ which explores how hip hop is being used as a positive tool for artists and communities in Cuba, and also documented Obsesion’s controversial tour through the United States. Janine then introduced a panel of speakers to discuss how hip hop is used as a tool for expression of oppressed people and as a weapon for peace.

Aaron Mercredi, an organizer with MAWO and the Indigenous Rights and Action Project (IRAP), spoke about the growth of hip hop among Native people in Canada, and related the conditions of Native communities to the projects of New York, and showed music videos of how Native MCs are reflecting the life of Indigenous people.  Magia, Alexey, and Isnay of Obsesion, spoke about their experience building the foundations of hip hop in Cuba, the responsibilities of artists to their communities, and their role in progressive movements. Shakeel Lochan, an organizer with MAWO, spoke next on the topic of how hip hop is being used by people suffering from war, occupation and oppression as a culture of resistance from Palestine, to Iraq and Native reservations in North America.

After a lively discussion, the day continued in to interactive workshops. Estea El and Joose Justice jumped in to an engaging MC workshop, showing interested MCs the basics of rhymes, the rhythm of the beat, and the need to overcome your stagefright!

Matt, Sevrin and Danny of the DRS crew got everyone off their feet and in to BBoy and BGirl poses in the breakdancing workshop.  The young trio dazzled the crowd with their signature moves and classic style, and even got the aspiring breakdancers through a routine!

For the final act of the weekend, the house lights went out, the stage lights came on and Obsesion lit up the stage, rocking the audience one last time with their revolutionary rhymes, and thanking MAWO and everyone in Vancouver for hosting them for one more year.

Over 1700 people filled venues and Vancouver streets at this year’s festival. With some of the freshest artists in hip hop culture today, this annual International Hip Hop for Peace Festival used hip hop as a vehicle for something much bigger. Like Dead Prez said, ‘It’s bigger than Hip Hop.’ It’s about peace, social justice and equality.  Stay tuned for September 2011, when the 7th Annual International Hip Hop for Peace Festival comes back to town. And be ready...

                                          Photos to Come Soon!