“When I say Peace! You say Hip Hop!” “Peace!” “Hip Hop!” “Peace!“ “Hip Hop!” echoed off the buildings of downtown Vancouver as people threw peace signs up in the air and moved their bodies to the freshest beats on the West Coast. It was September 15, 2012 and Vancouver's International Hip Hop 4 Peace Festival: Peace! An Element of Hip Hop had arrived. For the next 2 days there was no denying the energy that swelled from the antiwar activists, and local and international MC's, DJ's, breakers, and graffiti artists who came together to spread peace through the medium of hip hop. In the face of an era of increasing war and occupation by imperialist governments like the U.S. and Canada, hip hop is a part of the global language of growing resistance by oppressed people.
This year's Hip Hop 4 Peace Festival was bigger and better then ever, with over 2500 people taking a stand for peace and participating in shows, workshops and a forum.
The necessity of this one-of-a-kind festival could be heard as the first beats of Hip Hop 4 Peace left the speakers. Every day the beats of oppressed people for peace and resistance are being answered by the beats of imperialist war drums. When the festival began it had already been over 11 years of occupation in Afghanistan. In just the last year the world has witnessed incredible bloodshed and the incalculable destruction of infrastructure by imperialist guns, drones, bombs and missiles fired on the people of Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine. Now the U.S. government and their colonial allies have imposed a devastating civil war on the people of Syria, who face sanctions and covert imperialist military operations in their country. As well, these same colonial governments have their eyes set on the independent government of Iran, imposing crippling sanctions under a barrage of threats of foreign military intervention.
“Mobilize against war, they say they want to globalize, but what for? We're saying that it's education, not occupation, mobilize against war” - Vancouver based MC Joose Justis
To mobilize against increasing imperialist war – that is why Vancouver's peace coalition Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO) organizes the festival each year. Hip Hop 4 Peace is a festival that brings people in Vancouver together in action for peace and social justice that transcends borders through the language of hip hop. The festival is absolutely built, organized, sponsored and supported by communities of youth, families, and working people from across the world who have had enough with just accepting the world the way it is and are working to change it.
Diversity, dedication and passion for peace and hip hop characterized the first day of the festival. Over 25 talented artists came to the stage for an all-day outdoor show on Saturday, September 15 that began with a traditional indigenous welcome and opening by Coast-Salish Elder Kelly White. Ali Dahesh, artist, festival organizer and producer of this year's festival promo video followed, focusing his many talents down to tight microphone flows with a clear message of resistance to wars and injustice. Kasseb joined Ali on stage and the English and Farsi rhymes rocked seamlessly back and forth. For their first time at the festival, Chief Rock from Six Nations, and Lisa Monchalin, of Algonquin, Métis and Huron heritage, amazed with their unbeatable vocals and modern mix of traditional indigenous music. Illtone and King's Landing came up next, moving the crowd with focused beats and insightful lyrics.
Ndidi Cascade ignited the stage, a powerful voice for women in hip hop; Discreet da Chosen 1, hailing from the Squamish Nation, didn't disappoint with his motivational and positive rhymes; hip hop powerhouse Fully Faded, formed by emcees Abyss and Sauce and DJ C-Lo, brought quality and distinction through a mix of old school and a progressive frame of mind; and A-Slam introduced the crowd to the influence of the East with his own special mix of hype beats and Indian rhythms.
The level of anticipation and excitement in the air grew with the crowd and the show continued. Joose Justis once again took his rightful place on the Hip Hop 4 Peace stage and people grooved to his soulful beats and socially conscious lyrics. Chants of OBSESIÓN, OBSESIÓN filled the air and it was no question what act was up next – OBSESIÓN – direct from Cuba. Revolution poured out of the microphone as MC's Magia and El Tipo Este began a power-packed set. Their chemistry spread and it was clear that hip hop and the Cuban revolution had joined together on the Vancouver stage and the universal language of hip hop was speaking.
The first day of the 8th International Hip Hop 4 Peace Festival ended with three acts that had never before been brought to the stage. Babaluku Free Nation hailed from Uganda, and brought with them the rhymes and resistance of their roots and heritage. New to Vancouver versatile vocalist Tonye Aganaba nearly knocked down Vancouver's downtown core with her dynamic vocal and solid stage presence. Ekko, lower-mainland based artist and community organizer, was the last scheduled artist, letting her heart speak for her and leaving the crowd wanting more.
Throughout the day, not all of the action was on the stage. Participants in Hip Hop 4 Peace and also came over to the MAWO antiwar information tables with literature, buttons, books and festival merchandise. Debates and discussion filled the air around the tables as people got more information about imperialist wars and occupations waged around the world, signed a petition against Canada's participation in attacks and sanctions on the people of Syria, joined the campaign to free accused Wikileaks whistleblower and soldier for humanity Bradley Manning, or signed up on the MAWO e-mail list to get involved in organizing upcoming antiwar events and actions in Vancouver.
The Malcolm X self-determination tent returned to the festival this year, and people lined up to walk inside and read more about the struggle of oppressed people for their right to self-determination against wars, occupations and foreign intervention. The tent is named after black liberation fighter and revolutionary Malcolm X, and contains boards with more information about his ideas and life, as well as an information board dedicated to the Cuban Revolution and the struggle of the Cuban people against the U.S. blockade.
On September 16, the “School of Hip Hop, held at the Collingwood Neighbourhood House in East Vancouver, began with a forum ‘Peace: An Element of Hip Hop.' Alison Bodine, co-chair of Mobilization Against War and Occupation(MAWO) opened the forum with a reflection on the first day of the festival and the role of hip hop in building a movement for peace. Alison then invited up forum speakers. First was Chief Rock, who presented hip hop from Indigenous perspective. He was followed by OBSESIÓN, pioneers of hip hop in Cuba, who covered the development of hip hop in Cuba, the effects of the U.S. blockade on hip hop in Cuba and the creation of the Cuban Agency of Rap. Next Thomas Davies, a coordinator of the newly formed Vancouver Committee to Defend Freedom of Expression presented on the case of the police assault on Fire This Time newspaper and the importance of defending freedom of expression.
Then it was time to learn about how to use the tools of expression that hip hop has to offer. Joose Justis and Estea Elements gave a master MC workshop that covered all the basics on how to write rhymes and got people out of their seats. Next, b-boy Savage Rock of the Now Or Never crew levelled with eager students during an intimate and interactive workshop on the culture of breakdancing. Many generations of people were lined up on the dance floor, learning from one of Vancouver's best.
Vancouver's 8th International Hip Hop 4 Peace Festival: Peace – An Element of Hip Hop!, had come to an end. After bringing out over 2500 people, showcasing some of the best hip hop talent from Vancouver to Cuba, and after all of the petition signatures, antiwar literature, debates and discussions, this year's the festival may of wrapped up but what is most clear is that Hip Hop 4 Peace will not be over until the beats for peace triumph over the war drums.
The world around us is characterized by the struggle between imperialist governments and oppressed people. Building a movement for peace is going to take unity, dedication, involvement and action by poor, working and oppressed people all over the globe. More than just two turntables and a microphone, more than the 4 elements of MC'ing, DJ'ing, breaking and graffiti art, Hip Hop 4 Peace has stepped up to centre stage and once again shouted out loud for peace – are you ready to do the same?
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