So. Does Welsh Hip Hop still have a Community?

This was the question put as a conversation starter for the first of a series of ‘What’s up with Hip Hop’ discussions as part of the Festival Of Voice.

9th June 2018

As with anything in Cardiff Hip Hop, there was apparently a ‘hoo-haa’ in advance of the event, because either people mis-read the original promo, or they felt that the panel should have been different. Unfortunately, I think this meant that some people that would have benefitted from being there, weren’t there. I have to say massive props to Dregz for arranging this, and for providing an extremely important space for people to have this reflective discussion. If we can’t reflect on our scene, how can we progress in a productive way?

The ‘panel’ was there as a snapshot of Cardiff’s Hip Hop community (because yes, of course we have one). The discussion was open to everyone there, and not focussed on the panel. Cookie Pryce of the legendary Cookie Crew, was there as our host and her insight as an outsider to our scene, as well as her knowledge of wider Hip Hop culture added an extra depth to the discussion.

It was great to see so many faces in the room, everyone with different experiences and backgrounds and I particularly valued the contributions from Oort Kuiper and Asha Jane.

There was a lot of discussion about social media, and about promotion/promotors. Social media can work in our favour but it has also fragmented things – when I first started breakin’ there was one website to find out about all events across the UK. Now everyone has their own event page on facebook, and people often miss out on things if they aren’t in the loop. I also find, as some others in the room did, that social media can put an unwanted pressure on us to ‘do’ social media posts etc. taking away from the joy of being together and creating. I would say though, that everyone I knew in that room was not via the internet – I’d seen them perform or attended gigs and events with them. The process of getting to know and meet somebody has been speeded up with Instagram and Twitter, but physical interaction is what cements relationships.

There was discussion about promotors needing to work more closely together to ensure that they don’t clash. We can’t support everything, but if we support each other, including sharing events on social media, rather than only driving forward our own brand/agenda then we all benefit.

Dan made an interesting point when he said something along the lines of letting go of Hip Hop. Now I’m not going to do that but it has definitely changed from what it once was and I understand what he’s getting at. I would add to Jaffa’s explanation of Hip Hop purists recognising experimentation, play and mistakes as being the basis of the culture, to say that for me community is also the essence of what it’s all about. People like Rufus Mufasa are leading the way, smashing boundaries at Hay Literature Festival and drawing in new audiences across Wales. In our pre-discussion preparation there was quite an intense conversation about what we actually mean by Hip Hop, and this is perhaps a question for a future debate.

Including younger people in these discussions was raised a couple of times, and this is something which we all need to be mindful of. There were young(er) people in the room, but the very nature of a formal discussion is not inclusive, so we need to be taking this conversation out with us. Myself and Magugu were speaking on our way up to the room about the change in the younger generation, whereby they are creating music at home, but not putting on events to share their music. This is a complex situation, which also feeds into the discussion about social media, which is the norm for young people now. It is vital that we support new artists coming through, in whatever way they want us to.

There is a disconnect between the elements of Hip Hop and the Hip Hop community as a whole. Many of our Bboys only train for fitness or to battle, rather than to party or exchange. Graffiti writers aren’t necessarily into Hip Hop music. Is this necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so, but if people want to be a part of a wider community, which some of them do, then we need to make sure that we’re open and inclusive, and people that want to be a part of this conversation need to make themselves known.

Some events coming up:

June 15th: Four Owls/Three Wise Men/ Jaffa & more, Cardiff
June 15th: Voices on the Bridge, Pontypridd, feat. Rufus Mufasa & Unity
June 23rd: Rhythmically Applied – Mr Woodnote/Skunkadelic/Rap Battle
Last Saturday of every month – The Hold Up Open Cypher  at Oner Signs.
June 30th: Hip Hop festival at Cinema & Co, Swansea including a showing of Style Wars.
First Thursday of every month – The Smooth Guide curated by DJ Veto
July 7th: Sure Shot – Analog Africa
July 12/13th: Blue Scar Hip Hop theatre
July 14th: Graffiti jam in Sevenoaks Park from 2pm
Local Produce – @bluehoneynightcafe on facebook
Rap battles – Pryme Cut Ent

Radio Cardiff:
Sunday afternoons: Boodikah’s Basement
Tuesday nights: The Rapture
This, that & 3rd

 

What is Hip Hop Theatre?

I’m not sure if I’ve lived a sheltered life, or if my head is too full of other things, but I somehow missed the hype around ‘Hamilton’ – a majorly successful piece of Hip Hop Theatre.

Following our installation piece ‘Landmarks’, for Made in Roath Festival, Rufus Mufasa kept drumming into my head ‘you’re a set designer’, ‘you’re a theatre designer’… I just smiled and nodded. But then I had to come with something for her ‘Fur Coats from the Lion’s Den’ album launch. I ‘dressed’ the set with record sleeves, fairy lights, silk scarves and a red carpet, and loved creating an intimate space for the event.

Now we’re working with Rachel Pedley (Avant Cymru), thanks to development funding from National Theatre Wales. It’s allowing us to work together, also with Tommy Boost, Maple Struggle, Jamey P and Jamie Berry, to create another Hip Hop theatre piece.

So ‘what is Hip Hop theatre?’. I went to see a piece billed as Hip Hop theatre at Wales Millenium Centre years ago – annoyingly I can’t remember the title of it, but I do remember coming away feeling let down. It wasn’t Hip Hop in any way related to my understanding or experience of Hip Hop, but then nor are many ‘Hip Hop dance’ performances. My experience of Hip Hop is that it is immersive, participatory and circular. What we went to see was simply theatre – I was an audience member, and the people on stage were performers, separate entities.

Collaborating on ‘People-Picture-Power-Perception’ is a totally new experience for me. Training for battles and jams is very different to training for a performance. Creating visual work to be part of a theatre set is totally different to painting on a wall. What is really refreshing though, is the collaboration process – sharing ideas, experience and knowledge to come up with something ambitious, as a group. Working through things together, which may not on the surface relate to an end product, but it all feeds into what we are producing.

Unity and Boost taking a break from creating new work in an abandoned hospital.

We have put out a questionnaire to gain a wider input on ‘Perceptions’. Many of our discussions have been around gender, barriers and relationships, and this is a theme running through the piece. We wanted to take these discussions further, asking the public to input their ideas, some of which are already being used as inspiration.

We’ve also been researching the roots of Welsh Hip Hop. Talking to our mentors, who were there at the beginning, asking for their input because our culture comes from what they were doing in the eighties. These conversations are shaping ‘People-Picture-Power-Perception’, because how can we not pay tribute to those who came before us. What we are saying with this production is ‘this is where we came from, this is where we’re at, where are we going now?’. People like Lil Miz (aka Pyklops), Skroe and Oner, DAJ and Haylstorm, who hold that knowledge and freely pass on their learning to myself and so many others along the way.

Fina, Coma, Seco (Skroe), 1986

I’m excited to see what Welsh Hip Hop theatre is, and what it could become. I hope that it’s more fulfilling than my first impressions of it, and will be keeping an open mind…

Research questions 1

Research questions 2

People-Picture-Power-Perception is on at Chapter as part of Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival, on Thursday 31st May at 7.30pm. Tickets £10/£8: Book early to avoid disappointment.

 

 

Better Together

Hip-hop is all about community. Supporting each other, working together, pushing each other’s boundaries and growing together. It’s also about competition – against each other, against another crew, against the world. You have to be extremely humble, honest and brave to set yourself up to battle, to put yourself out there and potentially fail so publicly. But by failing we can learn, we can develop, grow and accept our weaknesses, to build on them, and become stronger and more creative. Here is where it’s vital to have people around to nourish and to be honest with you, to encourage your growth and help you lick your wounds.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the Cardiff Bboy scene at a time when it was strong – when a regular training session once a week, brought together bboys from different crews, to train together, sort out their differences and build. Over the years I have, for many reasons pulled back from training, and my focus has been more on painting. Recently though, I have more of an urge to dance again, thanks to Rachel Pedley (Avant Cymru). It’s refreshing to train with somebody whose approach is so different to mine. Her background is in theatre, ballet, contemporary and Hiphop dance and so there is no pressure for my movements to be strictly ‘bboy’. My focus has also moved away from battles which has also taken away that pressure.

Cardiff has a reputation for its Hiphop scene being well integrated – bboys, dj’s, writers and rappers all rubbing shoulders at nights out. Again I’m slightly removed from this scene now, but somebody who is pulling it all together again for me is Rufus Mufasa. She has somehow managed to get me to perform lyrics publicly – something I never thought would happen, even though I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. Her solid reassurance at pushing boundaries has given me the support I’ve needed to create in new ways, and to trust my instincts and follow my heart. I’ve also felt brave enough to try new things in public without being scared of messing up – my foray into loop pedal use has been bumpy, but we’re getting there. Hiphop is so much more than any of us realise, we just need to be open and allow the culture to be open – Hiphop is based on play and experimentation.

Collaborating with other people is truly important to me at the moment. As well as linking to paint walls, I’ve also started linking with other artists on canvas. This gives a bit more time and headspace to think things through, and work more closely together, which can translate to a closer creative partnership on the wall. As well as working in this way with Sadsak, I’m collaborating with Rosie Skribblah, who is also schooling me on the ‘art’ world from which I have always felt so far removed.

Opening up more as an artist has brought me so many more opportunities. The next few months I have loads coming up – new collabs, shows and performances, and so many wonderful people to meet and share with.

You can catch me and/or my work at:

1×1 Art Exhibition (Aures London), 23rd February – one night only! 6pm-12am, Leake Street Arches, Leake Street, London
An expanded view of drawing (Arts and Education Network), 5-26 March, Riverfront, Newport
International Women’s Day Swansea exhibition (Women’s Arts Association), 8-19th March, Cinema & Co., Swansea. I’ll be showing a collaboration with Rosie Scribblah. For the opening event on the evening of Thursday 8th, Myself, Rufus Mufasa and Rachel Pedley (Avant Cymru) will be performing.
International Women’s Day Cardiff exhibition (Women’s Arts Association), 3rd-23rd March, Llanover Hall, Cardiff. Myself and Rufus will be opening the exhibition on Friday 9th 6.30-8.30pm.
International Women’s Day Barry exhibition (Women’s Arts Association), 3rd March-28th April, Art Central, Barry. Opening event Saturday 10th.
Piano’s for High Street/ Station to the Sea (Higher Street International & Volcano Theatre), 28th March, Swansea Station. This collaboration with Mark and Nazma (Higher Street), will see the decoration of a piano and a new performance with Rufus, based around the history of the pottery used to decorate it.
Tongue Tied (Write a note), 6th April, 7-10pm, The Talking Heads, Southampton. Me and Rufus will be performing extracts from our ‘Landmarks’ installation.
Affordable Street Art Fair (Peaceful Progress), 7th April, 5pm-12.30am, The Boiler House, Cardiff. I’ll be showing new work alongside Sadsak and other contributors to Cardiff’s Street Art and Graffiti scene.
Landmarks (Maindee Library), 21st April, 4-5.30pm and 7.30-9pm, Maindee Library, Newport. £5/ £3 concessions. This installation, by myself and Rufus Mufasa, was first shown at Made In Roath Festival, with thanks to Articulture. ‘Landmarks’ explores ‘nature’ – words including acorn and ivy that have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. For this edition we will be collaborating with Marion Cheung, whose ‘Lost Connections’ paintings also inspired the content for ‘Landmarks’.

Este e le pais che vive de turismo

As we approached the ‘Palm Mar’ archway in our taxi from the Airport, I was struck by how separate the town was from the next built up area. It feels isolated and unfinished.  I convinced a security guard for one of the incomplete apartment buildings on the outskirts of Palm Mar to let me look around one of the blocks, which had been started in 2007, and who knows when it will be finished – apparently the lack of movement is due to money and politics.

There are empty buildings all over the island, not only half-built, but ones which had once been in use and fallen on hard times, now left to crumble. Yet alongside these, there was a flurry of new building work happening elsewhere in the town, a strange juxtaposition.

The only bars and restaurants I came across felt as though they were only for tourists. This strange atmosphere isn’t something I’ve experienced before, usually holidaying in our camper van on the coast of Wales, or visiting family in Spain. My wandering uncovered no local shops or culture, but lots of abandoned buildings, both in the town and on the mountain.

A week wasn’t long enough to fully explore, and I’m leaving feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, but uncomfortable about the unsustainability of this kind of tourism. I believe there have been some changes to laws around development here, which may impact on the ‘vibe’ of the tourist resorts, but for now, the German Tapas and British pubs reign free.

10 years of concrete dropped onto the rocks,
Endless rocks watch.
Soft dates crushed underfoot,
and you avoid eye contact with my awkward other-ness.

For whom do the pine forests store their wealth?

Complex crumbling concrete counter-culture,
Arab architecture and foreign food.
Sun-seekers dipping their pork-pink toes, and the sea breathes deeply,
forever.

Check out the walls page to see some pieces from this holiday here.

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Youth

When I first moved to Cardiff in 2005, I was super excited to discover Cathays and Central Youth and Community Centre. I got involved in the music youth club, quickly progressing to work in the open access club as well as the inclusive youth provision and a project for young people not attending school.

This background in youth work has instilled a strong belief that young people are vital to the health and wellbeing of our community. Too often the views, actions and abilities of our young people are not taken seriously, and they are unable to contribute in a meaningful way, to shaping the world in which they live.

I am a Creative Agent for the Arts Council lead creative schools programme, working with schools to develop creative projects with young people at their heart. I have also worked with youth organisations including Voices From Care, Autism Puzzles and am very excited to be at the beginning of a six month project with Newport City Council Youth Service.

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Graffiti for change

For a long time community groups and organisations including the police, probation, schools etc. have seen the potential for utilising spray-paint and ‘graffiti’ art for engaging communities. Very often though an artist will be employed for a very short space of time, and will drop in, and drop right back out again at the end of the project. If graffiti is to be useful in providing an alternative path there needs to be sufficient thought about the bigger picture.

Whenever I’m asked to do a workshop, I begin questioning… Why? What will happen when I’m gone? Who else is involved? And most importantly, what is the context – what’s the local graffiti scene like?

Writing graffiti gives a voice. It adds colour and character where there was none before. It makes people ask difficult questions – Who did that? Why?

When working in a community it’s important to involve local people as an integral part of the process, so that they can carry on once I’ve left. And I’ll ALWAYS push for a legal wall, to provide an alternative to illegal graffiti. Legal walls allow development of skills and techniques, a place to learn and grow, and a place to meet and connect with the wider community.

 

Cardiff’s Millenium Walkway Graffiti Hall of Fame

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Landmarks

If you go down in the woods today

It was a real treat to spend a day in the woods with my good friend and co-conspirator Rufus Mufasa. We’ve begun lots of chats about developing our combined practice, but life always cuts them short.

We walked and talked, sat and talked, listened and observed, absorbed and explored.

An abandoned building with potential to become a site-specific performance stage was our starting point and we put words on paper, paint on wall and talked about ideas for sound creation.

We listened to the woods, and they cradled us to hold discussions which brought tears, fears and by-gone years to the surface.

Lost in the woods – words removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary

This graveyard for words removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary reminded me of a quote I’d read only that morning by an artist called Cattle:

Graffiti, like disease, is metastatic. Writing on walls highlights a building’s ageing process; with landlords actively opposed to graffiti, their attempts to cover the marks with bad colour swatches actually highlight the existence of graffiti. Graffiti is like lush green ivy on a wall.

We walked and talked our way to another abandoned building, this one almost completely re-claimed by ivy and all natures greenery. Our immense concrete contribution will one day be just another layer in the earth’s crust.

Big thanks to Articulture for making this day happen – it’s led to a piece which will be on show for Made in Roath at Inkspot next month – Monday 16th– 8pm, Thursday 19th– 8pm, Saturday 21st– 6pm&8pm. We also hope to develop an outdoor piece to show at festivals next year, so watch this space…

Cattle quote from ‘Graffiti World, Thames & Hudson, by Nicholas Ganz’.

Finally!!

After a long and drawn out process, Cardiff Council has seen sense and will be returning the Millenium Walkway Hall of Fame to Cardiff’s graffiti artists.

Past, Unity ‘save our wall’

This hoo-ha began back in March when I set up a petition to stop one of Cardiff’s only legal walls being sold off for advertising:

1,178 people signed the petition, but It was thought that advertising along this stretch of wall could bring in £100,000 of well-needed funds for the city and a new location would need to be found.

The new location was decided on, at Callaghan Square – not quite so peaceful – surrounded by traffic, but still a safer space than most graffiti spots, and easy for visitors from outside the city to get to. Finally though, it has been agreed that it makes more sense for the original wall to be re-instated.

The space has hosted a number of jams, including the ‘Back to Nature’ jam for International Women’s day:
I look forward to seeing many more events to come once the Council’s own branding is removed from the area.

Thanks Barry Diamond for this epic panorama image of the wall before it was covered up in April:

Related articles:

Knitting & Graffiti… Good for our mental health (millimagic)

Petition to save Cardiff’s graffiti ‘hall of fame’ from Champions League final adverts (The Cardiffian)

Tongwynlais Resident Starts Petition to Save Cardiff Graffiti Landmark (Tongwynlais.com)

Building a wall (millimagic)

Whistle-stop tour (millimagic)

The Writing’s on the Wall (Diff Graff)

RIP Cardiff’s Millenium Walk Graffiti Wall (We Are Cardiff)

Millennium Walk Away (Diff Graff)

A graffiti wall ban on Cardiff’s Millennium Walkway comes into force ahead of Champions League final (Wales Online)

No news = good news (millimagic)

Cardiff has a new graffiti wall and work has already started (walesonline)

I love Cardiff Council (millimagic)

Petition: Save Cardiff Millennium Walkway Graffiti Hall of Fame (change.org)