Trinity College Festival Shows Hip-Hop Has Gone Global
By RINKER BUCK, Courant Staff Writer
April 06, 2008
The cities of America might be substantially revived, without the aid of either government handouts or corporate largesse, if urban citizens unleash their creativity to reclaim neighborhoods on their own terms.
That was one of the dominant themes of the third annual International Hip-Hop Festival at Trinity College this weekend, which transformed the green lawns and auditorium spaces of the Hartford campus into a thriving hub of music, graffiti art and self-reflection.
This year's festival attracted not only artists, musicians and scholars from major American cities, but hip-hop performers from as far afield as Portugal and the Middle East, reflecting the increasing globalization of the countercultural movement that burst out of the South Bronx in the early 1980s, giving voice and a new style to a generation of urban youth. As hip-hop music and art has traveled the globe, many festival participants said, it is rediscovering its roots as an urban protest movement and source of expression for youths who feel alienated from mainstream culture.
"The wonderful thing for me in hip-hop right now, and at this festival this year, is seeing how foreign influences are reviving what was once seen as just an American art form," said Jason Azevedo, 22, a Trinity senior who co-founded the first festival at Trinity in 2006 and helped organize the program this year. "In the U.S., hip-hop has been hijacked by big business and turned into a commercial music venture,' he said, "but in these foreign countries where it is coming on now, hip-hop is nascent and real, reflecting the self-expression of these youth from all of these countries."
Azevedo said that the globalization of hip-hop has been accelerated by the rise of the new "community sites" on the Internet such as iTunes, Facebook and MySpace, which allow users to quickly share their favorite music groups. These sites also create a level playing field where celebrity performers and new talents have the same ability to spread their music.
"The whole metaphor of hip-hop that is accepted by hip-hop scholars today is that this was a movement that grew out of the gross lack of opportunity in the Bronx in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which is the same as in communities today," Azevedo said. "Hip-hop gave urban kids a means of expression that the education or political system didn't provide. These kids were saying, 'OK, you don't educate me in art? I'll do graffiti then. You didn't teach me to speak? I'll do my own speech and music and reinterpret music and language for you.' Now with Facebook and MySpace, that approach is spreading around the world."
The Trinity festival, Azevedo said, also confirmed what he described as an "international movement" to take hip-hop seriously as an academic discipline. Most major colleges and universities in the U.S. — and, increasingly, overseas — offer hip-hop courses as part of their American studies or anthropology programs, he said.
One of these academics is Bakari Kitwana, a journalist and activist who is a scholar in residence at the University of Chicago and the author of, among other titles, "Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop." Kitwana was the festival's keynote speaker on Friday evening.
In a far-ranging talk, Kitwana traced the history of hip-hop and said that the distinctive musical style and angry lyrics of the movement took off across America, and now globally, for a good reason. It was a new form of mass communication and self-expression that offered explanations for what schools were not addressing: the long terms consequences of American slavery, colonization and the alienation of the African-American diaspora.
"The young today are the first [American]generation to live in a post-segregation society and hip-hop speaks to that," Kitwana said. "When Barack Obama gave his recent speech on race and said all these things about the races getting together, the hip-hop generation knew what he was talking about. And you see this in the tremendous acceptance of all races at hip-hop events."
On Saturday morning, four members of the Trust Your Struggle Collective, from Brooklyn and San Francisco, demonstrated graffiti art techniques to an audience of about 50 festival participants near the Cave Patio cafeteria area at Trinity. (A finished mural by the artists' collective, painted at last year's conference, is on permanent display in the main entrance area to the cafeteria.) The group travels the U.S. every summer providing workshops, fulfilling mural commissions and lecturing on self-expression through graffiti art.
While the air filled with the aerosol aroma of their spray paints, and the collective members helped participants draw figures, one member of the group, Robert "Tres" Trujillo, explained that there is often a lot more thought behind the urban murals than their random placement and design would suggest.
"If you walk through the average city now you are bombarded with thousands of images a day — advertising on buildings, buses, TVs in storefronts," Trujillo said. "That's the corporation taking over the visual space of your neighborhood, trying to tell you to buy this, live this way. The mural works we create are reclaiming that visual space to make a statement about what life should really be about. It's hip-hop—projecting that we are proud of our own art, our own culture, and taking back the space for self-expression."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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