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Review: African Hip Hop Indaba

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african hip hopThough it was a chilly Cape Town evening, the Iconic Bar was heating up to the vibrancy and sheer excitement for the number one hip hop event in the country. It is a trendy bar and lounge space in the bustling mid town party district of Long Street, with leather couches and a centre bar area flanked by facebrick walls. A dance area was laid out in the middle of the club with tech lighting illuminating the surface and DJs spinning beats in the background. All this was preparing the scene for two epic battles; one for the best B-Boy dancer and one for the best Emcee.

Film crews and photographers were standing by as the dancers warmed up for the chance to represent South Africa in the UK B-Boy Championships. Each participant could be seen stretching their limbs and focusing their minds for the task at hand. The seriousness and commitment to the art form was apparent but most astonishing was the amount of respect and humour involved. A unifying sense of energy was evident: a shared belief that this was more than just a competition of skills – this was an art form, an expression of the freedom to communicate.

With each round the battle intensified, with astounding contortions of limbs and gravity-defying moves. Each performer watched the others, provoking them to be more daring, each challenge fuelling the excitement and energy in the atmosphere. The moves became more elaborate and at times so rapid that they narrowly missed the audience on the edge of the dance floor. After some deliberation from the judges, the title went to The Curse.

After allowing time for people to fill their glasses and socialise, the much anticipated Emcee Battle was announced. Contestants would perform for 90 seconds on a topic decided by one of the hosts. The audience wrapped around the stage in anticipation as the first duel took place.

Each emcee approached the stage deep in concentration, fervently mixing rhymes and phrasing in their mind. As the battle heated up, they enticed the audience through provocative lyrics that communicated the issues facing South Africans. Ideas flowed in rhythmic madness but with absolute precision of linguistic acrobatics. Each artist varied his pitch and tempo for excellent contrasts, evoking his own personal style. The battle reached ever greater heights as topics of democracy, the presidency and woman’s worth were explored. The artists appealed to the audience, presenting paradigms of passion which caused the crowd to stand and listen in a manner approaching reverence. One by one the contestants were whittled down, with the ultimate winner declared as Emcee Hemelbesem.

Throughout the night, various performing artists entertained the energized crowd. The booming bass frequencies shook the bones and the myriad of beats tickled the heart, producing a state of transcendence.

This show at Iconic bar was the first live event of the 14th African Hip Hop Indaba – a three day festival where the main event took place at the Good Hope Centre. Here one could witness dance acts, live graffiti painting, DJ line ups, dance-offs, photo exhibitions, documentary screenings, a lecture series, streetwear exhibitions, panel discussions and other attractions.

A Hip Hop-specific event is a daunting task to orchestrate. Not only is Hip Hop less mainstream than other commercial music, but its audience is not renowned for its spending power. Despite these challenges, the organisers of the 2014 African Hip Hop Indaba succeeded in putting together a great event notable for its variety, professionalism and enthusiasm. May they continue to develop the platform for emerging artist and build a greater appreciation for the Hip Hop music scene.

Gareth Harvey

Gareth Harvey is a performing saxophonist and music solutions manager at Octave Leap Music.

The Hip Hop Indaba took place at the Good Hope Centre and other venues around Cape Town between 28 and 30 August 2014.

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