Up Close: An Extended Interview with Alberta Ballet Choreographer and Dancer, Yukichi Hattori

Yukichi Hattori has been given the great task of changing the way people look at the arts, specifically, the art of ballet. Since graduating from the Hamburg School of Ballet, he has shown audiences across Germany, Japan, and Canada new interpretations on how ballet still has a lot to offer to our lives, not only in terms of cultural enrichment, but also as a resource for looking at how the values of commitment, hard work, and dedication can pay off when continually practiced. Now with his choreography of Temple (one dance from the three-part contemporary ballet, Up Close) being shown in Edmonton, he gives audiences a chance to witness and connect to what the rehearsal environment is like, featuring the men of Alberta Ballet.

Photo of Yukichi Hattori taken by Paul McGrath.

Photo of Yukichi Hattori taken by Paul McGrath.

What is it about the men of Alberta Ballet that brings this performance [of Temple] to life?

The females happen to be always busy. Like two years ago they had Swan Lake to prepare and this year they have Giselle to prepare. So because of that they’re not involved, but it’s not because I’m trying to be exclusive per say [laughs].

It takes two [both the audience and the male dancers] – creative dancers and creative audiences –  being in such [a] close space – you can feel the breath and things like that, that makes it so much more intense. In a bigger stage of course there are things we can do that are different and that touches people in other ways, but in an intimate setting like this, you really feel that you’re having a conversation throughout the performance… I really feel that we [the dancers and the audience] have a nice conversation with each other.

What are you hoping that audiences will take away from this performance [of Temple] in addition to having a conversation with the dancers?

This piece I’ve made is based on our daily training. Unfortunately, in North America there are a lot of people who still think that being a ballet dancer isn’t a real job. Sometimes I still get lots of questions like, “So what do you do during the day?” [Laughs] Yeah, so I have this frustration of people saying that I should get a Master’s degree in Dance or Art and things like that, and just because we didn’t go to a school that is recognized, we get labelled from people who don’t understand what we do. So [Temple] is to show how much concentration and how much discipline goes into ballet. I’m making a piece around that and I’ve combined it with Gregorian chants —which is the oldest style of European music sung by men [a long time ago] and these days there are females involved as well. [The show is] almost a religious environment; we show audiences our bodies are temples and that we have to build it each and every day through discipline and repetition.

In one interview, you mention the ballet scene in Japan is strict because it’s “bound by tradition”. You also refer to your training with the Hamburg Ballet in Germany as being rigorous. So how do both experiences influence the way you’ve chosen to choreograph Temple in Up Close?

Hmm, well I think it was very conservative—both Japan and Germany. You know, in Europe ballet is considered traditional art and as a ballet dancer, you have a very high social status, meaning it comes with great responsibility. You are expected to have a certain amount of knowledge about art and views about policies of art and education. So for myself, I feel a great sense of duty and because the people in North America doesn’t see dancers/artists in such ways quite yet –it’s not as intense as Europe—I feel that dancers here also aren’t as disciplined, but of course they’re working really hard and I’m not trying to disrespect anybody but I’m looking at the mindset which is a little bit different. Sense of duty [towards the arts] is a bit lower here: you dance because you want to do it, because you feel like it’s your calling. For me, it’s more about … [having] to make it as best as possible no matter what the circumstances are.

Ok. So there’s a bit of duty in there, but still your own freedom of expression comes through in what you’ve chosen to present as well?

Yes. We can only attain a certain freedom through proper construction in your body, and architecture in your mind.

Do you think people have responded positively to Up Close in the past [parts of the three ballets that make up the show were also performed in 2012 and 2013] because contemporary ballet relies on experiences from the world we recognize compared to classical ballet?

Definitely! I think what it is, is the setting is ideal for it. The world now is much smaller, so the theatre being smaller also matches with that too. But then again, classic ballet in the studio, it will be a little bit disappointing because you’re missing the point of view, the grand picture, the budget, that kind of stuff. But what I’m trying to say is that if we performed contemporary in a bigger theatre, we’d have to change the approach because you’re missing all those tiny details. So Up Close is I think successful because of the setting being right. That’s why in Edmonton, we’re not presenting it in the big theatre–to keep that intimacy.

So do you see yourself continuing to make contemporary shows like this in the future?

Oh definitely! In Germany, I went to Hamburg Ballet School and they had a choreographic curriculum so I’ve been choreographing since I was say 15. I just started doing it professionally around 2004 but it’s been a long process and it’s been part of my life, so I’ll definitely keep going.

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Take a look at the promotion of Up Close on Marker’s website: http://markermagazine.com/yukichi-hattori-alberta-ballet-choreographer-and-dancer/

The Photographer who Climbed Egypt’s Great Pyramid [Q&A]

You’ve probably seen the famous black and white Depression-era photo where  construction workers sit on the ledge of a crane with New York City beneath  their feet as they eat lunch. Influenced by the idea of capturing the world from  as high as “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” did, young photographers have been scaling  rooftops to take photos just as memorable.

Vadim Makharov, a young Russian photographer who helped advance this new  trend, sees “roofing” or “skywalking” as a way to make people see how big the  world really is in an age where technology and communication have made it so  conveniently small. He works with fellow photographer and friend Vitaliy  Raskalov, walking on ledges and wandering the underground to give people a view  of the world they may never have seen before. Together, they’ve gained the  media’s attention, in particular for their climb to the top of the Great Pyramid  of Giza in March of 2013.

Some criticized them for disrespecting the site and efforts to preserve it,  while others praised the art that resulted from the climb. Despite the positive  attention, Vadim and Vitaliy still apologized in an interview with CNN, saying  “we didn’t want to insult anyone. We were just following [our] dream.”

As I discovered over the course of this conversation, Vadim will continue to  live his dream, traveling and revealing secret places and unique perspectives of  the world’s iconic sites.

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You recently visited European countries like Sweden, Spain,  Germany, and France. What inspired your recent trip throughout  Europe?

It was not our first visit to Europe, but [Vitaliy and I] haven’t done  such a long-scale trip through Europe before. Our goal was to visit the most  famous places in Europe and to climb them — and we’ve done it.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

You collaborate with Vitaliy on a lot of these projects, from Egypt  to your recent trip to Europe. What’s it like to work with him?

He’s my very good friend. I’ve traveled with him all throughout Russia and  then we started exploring other parts of the world. We achieve better results  when we do photos together than alone.

Do you have a favorite or memorable image you captured from your  trip?

Most of all, I remember Cologne Cathedral and the way we climbed it. We  didn’t like the city very much, but the Cathedral was fantastic! I liked the  size and the architecture. We liked climbing the flagpole [as well], which was a  little more than 150 metres. Another memorable climb was the Sagrada Familia and  also Notre Dame. All together, these three cathedrals made our trip really stand  out.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Many of your photos are “daredevil” shots – pictures taken on the  edges of buildings and iconic landmarks, or even behind subways leaving  underground stations. Why do you take images from this view?

These are the places where people usually don’t go, so I have a chance to  make unique pictures. I have a possibility to show people the city from  different points of view, and underground it’s a completely different story.  Usually it’s hard to get there, but unlike rooftops, which you can see from the  ground, being underground is about what you cannot see — not many people are  aware of these places. In order to get there, you have to work hard and this is  appealing [to me].

Since your photos show perspectives of the world we don’t see too  often, do you think they’re historical records for the future, to remember the  world as it once was?

Perhaps one day, they’ll have some historical significance. But I don’t think  about it now in this way. In my photos — it’s my art. They’re not related in any  way to my points of view on social issues. I just want to show the way that I  visually see the world.

Egypt is one of the places I have always dreamed of visiting. You’ve  had the chance to visit in March of this year, and I think it’s fair to say that  your trip was more memorable than most people who have traveled to Egypt,  because you climbed the Great Pyramid in Giza. What did it feel like to reach  the top?

I dreamed for a long time to be in Giza and to see the pyramids close up.  Then, when I started climbing roofs [of other buildings], I realized I could  climb the pyramids. Why not? When I reached the top, I had a feeling similar to  what a mountain climber must feel, like a conqueror, reaching the top of the  mountain.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Did you find anything interesting at the top?

At the top there were words scratched in the stones in many different  languages. It means others have climbed the pyramids in the past. We are not the  first and won’t be the last. Another interesting thing we found was a book by  Moses Gates — he does a lot of traveling and climbs roofs and goes  underground.

There have been a lot of opinions about your climb [of the Great  Pyramid] — some people admire what you did and the photos you took, while others  criticize you for illegally climbing it. Why did you do it?

First, we did it for us. That’s why we don’t care about the critics. Second,  we do it for the people. We make beautiful shots that are delivered and given to  the world. I don’t think we do anything that can truly be called bad. What we’re  doing [with our photography] is beneficial work.

Have you ever run into trouble trespassing in areas to take your  photos before?

Oh yes, we’ve had some problems with the police. In Russia, we know the  process: Once you trespass on secured property, if [the] police catch you, you  pay a fine of 500 rubles [about 12 euros or 16 US dollars]. But these cases are  rare and usually nobody catches us.

Has this or any negative criticism from the media ever made you think  about stopping or changing the style of pictures you take?

I rarely encounter my work with negative criticism…I take shots from heights  because I like it. But someday in the future I’ll be tired with it. Even now, I  don’t do all my shots from the roof. My second favourite POV is commercial or  industrial plants. I like taking shots of plants, electric stations, and  different manufacturing facilities.

Where would you like to travel to next to take pictures?

Our next trip planned is Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and possibly Afghanistan.

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What are your thoughts about this new photography movement? Do you think it’s ok to break the rules in the name of art? Share your thoughts on this post or comment on my twitter @beckyhaganegyir. I look forward to reading your thoughts and opinions!

Take time to see more of Vadim’s work here: http://500px.com/dedmaxopka

See the original interview here: http://matadornetwork.com/notebook/the-photographer-who-climbed-egypts-great-pyramid-qa/#J0VYzAoMcW8cwT47.99

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Update from February 2014 :

Check out this recent vid of Vadim and Vitaliy’s climb to the top of Shanghai Tower (at over 650 meters!):

The Miseducation of Femcees: Two of Edmonton’s Female Rappers Show Love For Their Culture

This is the last in my series that explores hip-hop culture in Edmonton. I’ve discovered the strong voices that artists have and choose to share with their community, and there’s no better way to finish than to have these two powerful femcees voice their opinions about their culture.

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Tzadeka and Mc Lovely are two female emcees or “femcees” whose rhymes aren’t just about experiences as a woman, but they’re about human experiences, inspired by their surroundings in the city. Tzadeka, whose name is inspired by the Hebrew word for righteousness, represents this to the fullest in everything that she does as a performer. Mc Lovely, for the last ten years has been rallying females involved in all aspects of hip-hop culture. Together, both give their opinions and insights about the importance of hip-hop to them and why people in Edmonton should take notice.

Who’s your favourite hip-hop idol?

Tzadeka: I’m not sure I can name my one and only hip-hop idol — but I will name some names. I love Bahamadia for her deep, smooth vocals, real life content and non-hyper sexualized persona. Jean Grae for her fierce sometimes angry flows. Lauryn Hill for being a sick MC as well as an incredible vocalist. Kinnie Starr for representing Canadian aboriginal femcees with an enduring need to challenge how humanity at large is ‘pornified’ and what that means for women in hip-hop and women in general.

I was first turned on to hip-hop by my older sister in the 90’s — Tribe Called Quest and Diggable Planets were my entry point. I love strength and integrity in music and I am inspired by, particularly women who exemplify it in an industry that promotes women as sex objects in so many cases.

Mc Lovely: I try not to idolize celebrities or performers. We are all just people. I treat everyone equally, with respect and dignity. I have opened for a lot of people who most would consider famous…. When it comes to my favourite MC it would have to be Black Thought from the Roots. His songs filled with lyrical skill, harmonies, and thought, have always moved me.

Picture taken by Flavor Edmonton.

Picture of McLovely taken by Flavor Edmonton.

What’s your definition of hip-hop?

Mc Lovely: My hip-hop is a reflection of my life in poetry form. A way of explaining life and emotions from love to frustration. Each song I produce is not some frivolous topic a label is making me rap about. It’s a defining moment in my life: that time I had my heart broken, that ladies night out with my best friend, my love of comics, a confession to a friend.

Tzadeka: Hip-hop is a culture, so it’s a constantly growing, expanding organism. It’s living. I think it’s almost beyond definition because so many artists are taking it to different places and fusing it with different cultural art forms and modes of expression.  I guess that’s how I see hip-hop — as a means of expression that’s not limited to music. It’s dance, visual art, beats and rhymes, lyricism — everything. Hip-hop has been adopted and adapted by so many communities, especially marginalized ones that it’s a powerful means of communication and expression of identity! I work in the inner city with mostly First Nations youth and I see how drawn these kids are to hip-hop and its ability to empower, giving a voice to those who feel they have none.

Photo taken by Tzadeka.

Profile photo taken by Tzadeka.

How has it influenced you as an artist?

Tzadeka: … I have been intensely inspired by hip-hop, but at the same time, I wouldn’t say that I’m exclusively tied to the genre. I was raised on world music, jazz, blues, classical and roots (my dad’s a classically trained cellist and lifelong musician) so I like to think that the music I create is informed by these musical traditions too. I started out doing spoken word as a teenager and it just sort of developed organically into something that resembles hip-hop. I have always been drawn to oral traditions and storytelling and so that’s kinda my point of origin.

Mc Lovely: As an artist, I am constantly changing just as my life has changed. Skill grows with every year. Hip-hop has been my routine for over a decade. It has helped me draw, write, design clothing, dance, smile. Hip-hop is the love of my life.

Do you think of yourself as an artist or as a woman artist?

Mc Lovely: I think of myself as a poet. Being a woman is usually only important to the men in the scene. “Oh look a girl MC — what an oddity”. When it comes to being a woman in hip-hop, I try to help other girls struggling or just starting out. That’s what my Promotions Company, Ladies United Voice, is all about. Whether a girl is a producer, rapper, DJ, dancer, graffiti Artist, clothing designer, I try to help so that she doesn’t give up. I support female hip-hop not because it’s better but because it is equal. We deserve to be heard.

Tzadeka: I think of myself as an artist and a woman artist. But I’ve found that especially in hip-hop a lot of people react with surprise that I’m an MC, not just a “singer” ‘cause I’m a woman. My aim for many years has been to work with girls and women to promote community and solidarity amongst femcees so that there is a safe space to create and showcase music in what I see as a very male-dominated genre. I don’t represent all female MC’s, but I am a woman. My lyrics speak to my experience in the world as a woman and much of the work I do in the community focuses on female mentorship and empowerment…so ya, I guess I do identify as a woman artist a lot of the time.

Photo taken by Kavan the Kid.

McLovely reading her favourite comics. Photo taken by Kavan the Kid.

Why in your opinion, is hip-hop an important part of Edmonton’s culture?

Mc Lovely: Hip-hop gives an outlet for expression to many people who have no other way of relaying their struggle. Edmonton has many poets and artists that want to influence how we interact daily.

Tzadeka: In Edmonton, there’s a pretty sweet little music scene and hip-hop is a part of it, but often I see the different genres sticking to their own and promoting artists that are similar to themselves.  However I have seen this start to change and open up more and more.  Punk bands, folk and indie rockers, hip-hop heads and reggae bands are all coming together and realizing we are all different flavours of the same musical substance.

Photo of Tzadeka performing taken by Kara Rain.

Photo of Tzadeka performing taken by Kara Rain.

Mc Lovely: That song you hear when you wake up that puts a smile on your face, the Mural you drive by on your way to work, the dancer you see in Churchill Square. It all becomes a part of who you are.

Tzadeka: I know there’s Edmonton femcees out there but I want to see more of them. I want to see them headlining shows, supporting each other and getting supported by all the dudes in the scene. I see this as really important. If there’s a show with all ladies on the lineup GO SEE THEM! Music is music is music and hip-hop is even more than music. It’s community, identity, and a voice from the margins. That’s why it’s important for Edmonton to hear it!

Take a look at the online edition here as well: http://markermagazine.com/the-miseducation-of-femcees.

Crossing Musical Boundaries: An Interview with D2D’s Sanjay Seran

It’s no accident that Delhi 2 Dublin (also known as D2D) are being requested at more music festivals across the world. Their music transcends different genres of music. Some people call it a fusion of Celtic and Bhangra sounds and one observer of their performance even called it “Celtic Reggae”. But as I discovered talking to lead singer, Sanjay, at the 2013 Edmonton Folk Festival, their music isn’t meant to be contained into one genre, and maybe that’s the reason why many people refer to it in different ways. D2D creates a sound that is exactly what music should be – enjoyable and an opportunity to forget yourself in the moment while listening to D2D’s beats.

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Picture of Sanjay Seran performing at the Edmonton Folk Fest taken by Vic Mittal.

Picture of Sanjay Seran performing at the Edmonton Folk Fest taken by Vic Mittal.

When you were young, did you imagine you’d be touring the world as a musician when you grew up?

I never imagined I’d be a musician as a kid. But, I had a feeling – that started around grade 9 or 10 – that there was something that I needed to do. Then, I went through university and played the dohl and did music on the side. I have always been about singing.

Does cultural heritage inspire your music more or less than representing yourself as an individual artist/musician?

The cultural side comes out a little more because it’s easier to accept – there’s a lot to reference to with it. The artistic side comes out a lot differently because there’s nothing to refer to. You know, I listen to a lot of Kid Cudi and Lana Del Ray, and I’d love to express myself the way that they do, but when I go that way, I feel a bit shy. But going back to the issue of cultural heritage, yes, the artistic side gets pushed back because it’s more comfortable to be cultural. Ideally, you’d be “artistically cultural”.

Some people call your sound “fusion”, others “world”, but what do you call D2D’s sound?

I don’t call it anything really. [To people who need to label it] call it whatever you want if it means something to you. It’s us. It’s Canadian music brought together by people from across Canada, who ended up together in Vancouver, and who enjoy electronic and cultural music.

Your music plays with so many different sounds that move past world music in a way. Sometimes, I think it’s easy to see world music as being deeply rooted in tradition… as always being the same and not evolving. But every generation with their interests, makes sure it evolves.

That’s the thing. Tradition has to have some kind of meaning for it to last. Anything done without meaning doesn’t mean a thing. Hopefully, [as an artist working with a tradition] you’re making things that resonate with you and then you hold on to it. That’s something that D2D works to do with the music we make.

Speaking of the value of different cultural traditions, I know you’ve performed in Irelandhow did the audience there respond to your music?

In Ireland, we played to a small crowd and everyone liked it. Europe is way more ahead in their sound.

You haven’t been to India yet. Are you planning to go soon?

We’re making plans to go this September. In India, I think they’re going to love it! India has a lot of fans of electronic and party music. Also, Bhangra is still very popular…. So I think it’ll go really well – it has [our music] all the elements that people [in India] love.

You have so much energy on stage and the connection with your audience is great! I saw a video, where you sent out a canoe with someone in it to go “paddle surfing” through the audience. How did you come up with that idea?

[Laughs.] It was for a show we played in Vancouver. That was T’s idea [Tarun is an electronic and tabla player and back-up vocalist in D2D]. T really wanted to put out a canoe – and you see canoes all around Vancouver all the time – and he also hadn’t seen anyone do that before.

Do you have any other memorable connections between D2D and an audience or fan?

Yeah, we have some really cool fans that have even become friends. In Northern California we have friends that started out as a posse that would come out to see us when we would perform there. This doesn’t happen all the time. There’s also a connection with the audience that we’re putting out there. It hard to really explain…but you can feel it on stage, where you’re feeding off of the audience’s energy and the audience is also responding to what you’re putting out there. We respect them [the audience] just as much as they respect us.

So what’s next for D2D?

We’re working on a collaboration with the Funk Hunters [an electronic Canadian DJ duo] – we don’t know what that’s going to end up being like. It could be an EP or it could even be a mini-documentary. We’re also going to do some fests in the UK. What we’re focusing on now is really to continue developing our sound.

Check out more of D2D’s music on their website: www.delhi2dublin.com.

See the original here: http://markermagazine.com/delhi-2-dublin/

Jeffrey Hatcher’s A Picasso at the 2013 Edmonton Fringe Fest

American playwright, Jeffrey Hatcher’s play, A Picasso, uses the subject of beauty in art, not to dispel the horrors of war, but to make audiences question if beauty is heightened because it seems rare during war and times of loss. Watching this play at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, this question is explored in a multi-layered story that brings up many questions such as who does art belong to—the people or the artist? Led by the two lead characters—the infamous Picasso played by Julien Arnold and Miss Fischer, an art critic employed by the Nazis to collect “degenerate” artwork, played by Shannon Blanchet— they explore the answers to this question, within a Parisian interrogation room, while also facing each other’s philosophies about the world and the role of art in life.

The intelligence of this script is made bolder by Shannon and Julien’s earnest performances which audience members respond to with their laughter made over the quick, witty jabs both characters make over topics of sex and gender roles, or for the moments of intense silence when the audience gets a glimpse into the person that Picasso might have been outside of his larger-than-life identity. All of this makes the play a work of art in itself for allowing the audience to believe that hope is always a possibility—even when it seems as if it does not exist.

Watching the “Young and the Restless”: A Folk Fest Experiment

What do you get when you throw together folk bands, one of which who called their music “therapeutic” with a Celtic-Bhangra band who takes their audience on an “acid trip” as they called it, with their electronic based beats, and get them to play random songs together? This isn’t the start of a bad joke – but it had the potential to be.

On Friday, August 9 unexpected magic happened at the Edmonton Folk Festival on stage 6, when the “Young and the Restless” session featuring The Head and the Heart, Neko Case, Rayland Baxter, and Delhi 2 Dublin took the stage all at once. All four bands played ten minute sets and then finished with an improvised performance which all four bands participated in all at once.

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Picture of The Head and the Heart taken by Vic Mittal of VSM Photography.

As the name of the session suggests, all performers were young adults who brought a “youthful”, confident energy to the music they performed. But this isn’t what made their performance that day, successful. It worked because all bands were having a conversation with each other through their music about love and culture and even about hanging out and talking with Jesus (based on a lighthearted, humorous dream that Rayland Baxter once had and then decided to turn into a song), within a safe place – indeed, kind of like an onstage therapy session. All four bands talked/performed without pressuring each other or competing with one another to overshadow the other’s performances.

So what do you get in the end? A blend of styles that showed the audience that music always has room to surprise, amuse, and charm listeners as it did at “The Young and the Restless”.

See my review for Marker Magazine here: http://markermagazine.com/a-folk-fest-experiment/

Chase Padgett’s Nashville Hurricane: A Review

When Chase Padgett walks onto the stage in the Strathcona Library he assumes the roles of four entertaining characters who demonstrate that fame comes at a cost. Chase reveals Nashville Hurricane’s transition from a fragile Southern boy who’s scared of the world, to a confident, intelligent young man, who learns that the world has a lot to offer.

This musical genius’s story is told in a documentary fashion through all four characters – Nashville Hurricane himself, his mother, his manager, and his mentor. The show is funny and honest, without being overbearingly serious, and allows audience members to engage individually with each character.

Chase’s own musical abilities shown through his guitar playing also make the play remarkable, but performing more than two songs would have strengthened the entertainment of the production.

Nashville Hurricane Shot2

 

Have you seen this show lately? Drop me a line and tell me what you thought of it.

See this review and more here:

http://markermagazine.com/2013-fringe-show-reviews/

YEG Represent: A Look Inside Edmonton’s Hip-Hop Culture

“…[It began as] the voice of people who didn’t have a voice. Today, it’s our news channel — how someone from Edmonton can communicate with someone across the world.”

I’m hearing a revelation about hip-hop that’s very different from what I learnt as a girl.  Hip-hop was the anthem of “people with bad morals” as some teachers said.  But Sonny Grimezz, a DJ and member of Edmonton’s hip-hop music group Politic Live, tells me about hip-hop’s power. He’s one of many in Edmonton who understand the world better because of hip-hop. Critiques on society, politics, economics and neighbourhood events are all channelled through hip-hop culture.

Hip-hop (culture) began in New York as a reaction to injustice in the 1970s. Breaking away from carefree disco culture, hip-hop looked at the lives of marginalized people and used their struggles to create gritty, in-your-face emotions through DJing, rapping, breaking, and graffiti. Today, hip-hop uses its traditional roots and our modern commercial society to communicate to people across the world.

Hip-hop artists in Edmonton know that the culture has its problems and that people tend to focus on its darker side with glamorized violence and risky morals. “A lot of people get it confused. Many [hip-hop] artists rap about their experiences and what they’ve gone through… They don’t endorse certain negative things like violence, but other artists do.  Rap has both sides of the spectrum,” rapper Jo Thrillz confirms.  But the Edmonton hip-hop community believes that there’s more good than bad to hip-hop, and as the rappers of Locution Revolution told me, “there will always be people to school”.

Recovering hip-hop’s past

Taking the public to “school” begins with a connection to the past. This doesn’t mean Edmonton hip-hop artists rap rhymes like Grand Master Flash “…Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge…” or dress up in velvet tracksuits, rocking their b-boy moves to oversized boom boxes. Instead, they connect with the message that’s been there from the beginning — empowerment— and share it with the city.

In 2001, hip-hop culture was recognized for its goal to empower people with the Hip-Hop Declaration of Peace. It was signed by artists and agencies like UNESCO and the Temple of Hip-Hop, and was presented to the United Nations. To further this, the Declaration named the third week of May Hip-Hop Appreciation Week.

While Edmonton artists may not have signed the Declaration, many are fully committed to it. Hip-Hop in the Park, created by Locution Revolution’s iD, occurs the third week of every May to honour Hip-Hop Appreciation Week.  An event like this one, which just had its sixth running, not only showcases the culture to the city, but allows hip-hop to become “beauty in its purest form” as expressed by breaker Pharush.

Other artists, like painter Lorien Mahieu, agree with Pharush’s statement, saying, “[Hip-Hop in the Park] is a great place to watch, learn and build confidence as an artist.” The public also gains confidence in hip-hop artists when they see their passion as they perform. Mitchmatic, who has performed there four times, adds that it “works really well for changing people’s perception [about hip-hop]”.  The negative ideas people have about hip-hop change when they hear and see stories of ordinary lives becoming extraordinary.

“Imagine the strength, ‘cause momma there must be
The humility that must accompany begging for money
Stripped of all pride, but your baby’s hunger
Gives you the strength to be just another number.”

This verse from Wanty Wanty on Politic Live’s album, Ellipsis, helps listeners empathize with situations they might not live with, like welfare.

“…There are a lot of stories that aren’t being told,” says Politic Live’s Arlo Maverick.  He reflects on the Edmonton hip-hop community’s desire for us realize that we can empower each other by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes — like the hip-hop artists before them.  He continues, “Hip-hop is very much about where you’re from. We take a lot of pride in our city. Politic Live’s Dirt Gritie finishes, “Being community-minded is a big part of who we are.”

The art of individuality

Many artists develop as individuals by sharing their talents with the community. “Why wouldn’t you share something that helped you find your identity with other people?” Pharush remarks with confidence, referring to dancing with his crew, United 1ne, fellow hip-hop dancers and DJ and mentor, Creeasian, at Churchill Square on Thursday nights.

Pharush’s identity as a breaker began with his determination to prove that breaking involved just as much skill and discipline as studio dances like jazz or ballet. He founded his crew United 1ne along with fellow dancer Poppin Fresh.

Pharush says, “People don’t understand the roots of b-boying — a b-boy or girl is their own person.” When he dances, he mixes breaking moves with other dance genres like salsa, First Nations grass dancing, and even ballet, to help people see the unexpected in breaking. Being open to other dance forms and cultures has taken him across Canada, particularly to help youth be comfortable with their identities. “Everybody has a creative potential — dance doesn’t limit you. You get to a point where you’re not thinking [when you’re breakdancing], ‘cause you’re in the moment.”

He’s seen many moments where youth feel proud of their dance accomplishments while working with friend and mentor, Conway Kootenay, who’s a member of Red Power Squad. The Squad uses hip-hop to empower inner city youth. Kootenay taught him about First Nations culture, and with this knowledge, Pharush began doing workshops in schools with United 1ne and Kootenay in Edmonton where he says they demonstrated “culture and not just steps” to students.

Edmonton hip-hop’s future?

Lorien Mahieu’s paintings aren’t what you expect when you think of hip-hop art or graffiti.

“Graffiti has always been a hard topic for me to discuss. I’ve often heard the stereotypical saying of how it’s not art, it’s just vandalism, but I love graffiti! In my opinion, it’s as beautiful as a Dutch landscape or impressionistic painting.” Mahieu admires graffiti’s form and style, but he doesn’t see himself as a graffiti artist or street artist even though his work is appearing at more hip-hop events like Hip-Hop in the Park.

Ideas about what hip-hop can be, like what defines graffiti, are changing. Technology plays a role in promoting this change.

The future of hip-hop lies in the past for some artists. Mitchmatic’s comedic 2013 Edmonton Music Award nominated song Why Don’t You Know? uses a track from the ‘50s to create a sound that’s distinctly fresh and different. Other artists like Jo Thrillz, who has wanted to be a rapper since he was six, capitalize on social media sites like YouTube to make childhood dreams a reality.

Five years from now people will either love or hate hip-hop — as it’s always been. But no matter how people feel, hip-hop will never stop being an experience that people react to. Locution Revolution’s Khiry Tafari believes people should always react to how artists work to improve hip-hop. “Hip-hop allows me to use my voice to do valuable work,” he says, “Maybe we don’t have a lot of people listening, but at the same time, what’s more important is making the effort to get them to listen.”

http://issuu.com/markermagazine/docs/marker_issue2_final_webissuu/19?e=7748819/3934922

A YEG State of Mind: An Interview with Hip-Hop’s Locution Revolution

In Edmonton, as an entertainment and festival capital, many different cultures are celebrated. Hip-hop culture is a quieter force than many of the arts and cultures exposed throughout the city, but it’s growing strong. Hip-hop in Edmonton experiments with its own distinct sound, pulled together from the many art and cultural influences within the city. Locution Revolution is one talent creating their own YEG [“Young. Edmontonian. Gifted.” — a label promoted by local designer Solidaritees] sound that iD (a member of the group) told me is “grown folk-country-banjo-urban-rap hip-hop”.

How does Edmonton inspire your music?

iD: I would say it’s almost indirect — you don’t know it’s there, but it is. You listen to rap from around here and it has its own sound. You don’t hear songs about three feet of snow from rappers in California, but you hear three feet of snow raps in Edmonton.

So is the city in a way your muse?

Khiry Tafari: It’s about reping where you’re from. It’s a lot about making it your own and representing YEG.

So how does representing YEG make hip-hop stand out from places like Toronto?

iD: We have totally different sounds, especially if you look at Toronto and you look at Edmonton and they’re polar opposites almost — for the most part, Toronto has a more commercial sound and Edmonton sounds are more…

Khiry Tafari: Diverse.

iD: Yeah, there’s a whole lot of different sounds, and I’m sure Toronto has a whole lot that I haven’t been exposed to underneath the surface…but Edmonton and a Prairie rap sound comes right down to the dialect [here in the city].

I’ve noticed that here people try and get back to the roots of hip-hop — especially in trying to stand out and make people take notice of what you’re doing.

iD: Yeah and I think that’s something that just happens. You don’t try to be Edmonton [by MCing]… it grows when you develop a style, you develop a sound, and that’s how it’s developed.

Khiry Tafari: Hip-hop is very community minded…. We also realized no one would put us on the map unlike a bigger centre like Toronto, so we had to step it up.

Do you have a message for people who look at hip-hop as offensive?

Khiry Tafari: I’d say, let us perform for you. Someone who watched us and had his own [negative] notions of hip-hop once told us once “you guys have something to say” and he was just in amazement because he saw that rap and hip-hop is who we are and that our messages about living life comes through.

iD: Nobody is going to rap the same way as you — that’s what makes us individuals. Rap has so much influence, especially for kids coming up, and they often play a part because of what they’re hearing. So if you think about your song becoming a hit and everybody in the world gets to hear it, what is it that you really want to say? Do you want to be bragging about swag and popping bottles and hanging with models? You’ve got the floor use it! Otherwise people aren’t going to give you floor next time — it’s a privilege not a right to be on the microphone.

Khiry Tafari: When I was starting out, it was all about battles — about earning respect.

How is your music different from your fellow artists in Edmonton?          

iD: The dynamic between us is “unduplicatable”. Individually, I’m a country boy. I’ve got a whole different experience from growing up in the countryside. But together, we both bring something completely original to our sound.

Khiry Tafari: Overall, we’re not afraid — we’re entirely different from everyone else. He’s the country guy and I’m the city guy. For any one band to rise, to be the cream of the crop, you have to be different or have something going for you — that “it” factor. And together, we’re dynamic, we complement each other.

What’s the personal connection between you and rap?

Khiry Tafari: I never knew what I wanted to do [when I was young] until I started rapping at 22-23. I liked being on stage. Rap allowed me to use my voice to do valuable work. When I was a kid, I liked to prove people wrong — listening to De La Soul’s “I Can Do Anything” — I took that literally. But I was also athletic, but I also came to a point where I wanted to show people what I could do with my brain. I wanted people to see that I could do other things. And, I’ve developed other skills by being a rapper too — like being able to work with kids.

iD: Because I was willing to do the work [to become a rapper] it made me see that I can do anything!

What direction do you see hip-hop heading in the future?

Khiry Tafari: It’s hard to say…Rap music has been about borrowing from other sounds. Where we as musicians come in, we decide what our vibe [sound is]. You’re always going to get an original sound — my ear will always hear a different sound.

iD: With hip-hop there’s always going to be challenges and there will always be people to school.

Khiry Tafari: Focusing on the negatives [of hip-hop], means we’re going backwards, and we need to progress — and our words, our dialect have to show that peace, love, unity, and bringing up the youth for the future.

iD: Hip-hop is the future. It’s the only place that where you come from doesn’t matter.

An Unforgettable Act: Gregory Porter Performs at the 2013 Edmonton Jazz Fest

As Gregory Porter tells his definition of a full life, standing tall with his eyes glued to the audience singing “Imitation of Life”, there’s a sincerity heard in his voice.

Watching him perform as the opening act for Esperanza Spalding on June 25, 2013 in the Winspear Centre, he fills the space with his soulful jazz that takes the audience back to the days when gents like Nat King Cole ruled billboard charts. While Porter’s performance shows the audience that he could have stood toe to toe with men like Cole in those golden jazz days, his music moves beyond idyllic romance sung about in standards like “When I Fall in Love”. The warm tones of his voice sing to the audience about the struggles that go hand in hand with wanting to love — making him a man of our times, as he helps the audience think about our life through his lyrics.

Throughout the night, the audience listens in anticipation for his insights as he performs songs from his albums, Water (2010) and Be Good (2012) — about appreciating the past in “On My Way to Harlem”, to facing the injustice of inequality in “1960 What?”, to acknowledging complicated emotions from wanting someone to love you in “Be Good (Lion’s Song)”. From the moment Porter opens the show with “Imitation of Life” he gives the audience his very best. This is a presentation of a man who sings the truth.

GregoryPorterPhoto of Gregory Porter provided by the Edmonton Jazz Festival Society.