MAWO-Vancouver Wields Hip Hop as a Weapon
Against War & Occupation and as an Instrument for the Unity of Oppressed People!
First Ever Hip Hop Festival Against War & Occupation In the World!
By Kira Koshelanyk
Throughout history, across borders and oceans, while colonizers crashed ashore, dove in from the sky, and ignited the ground underfoot, people under attack have had to fight to defend themselves and their dignity. Alongside this fight, is the fight to maintain and protect their culture, as culture plays an important role in the expression of the lives and feeling of unity of oppressed people and this unity is integral to their resistance. From the black ghettos in New York in the 70‘s to present day in occupied Palestine, this struggle has been a major point of unity for all people oppressed by colonialism and imperialism.
Through recent decades, hip hop culture has been the mercury rising in the thermometer of oppressed peoples consciousness and the common form of expression of dissatisfaction with a world ravaged by war, occupation and destruction. Hip Hop’s recent explosion has its roots in the rising voices of slaves, people of color & indigenous people, youth, immigrants and refugees, all the way from Da Arab Mc’s (DAM) in Gaza to native hip hop emcee, The Obese Chief in Hobbema, Alberta. In Vancouver in June of 2005, Mobilization Against War & Occupation (MAWO) undertook the organization of the world’s first-ever Hip Hop Festival Against War & Occupation. This unprecedented initiative was undertaken to unify hip hop as a global phenomenon of resistance, the protest music of this century, with the most important social movement of this century, the antiwar movement.
The festival hit the streets long before opening night on June 8th as MAWO organizers tested the idea, appealing to record stores, venues, community centers and artists for support. The jump-off started immediately with a tremendously positive response with six free venues, from downtown clubs to community centers and parks, to dozens of performers, from fast-rising local native talent like the Sunday School Dropoutz and The Obese Chief to internationally re-knowned Punjabi Hip Hop group, Signia. Support came from 23 endorsers like students unions, radio stations, hip hop record stores and record labels and even endorsement from the City of Burnaby. At the beginning of June, the Hip Hop Festival Against War & Occupation held the number 2 spot in the Vancouver Sun’s “Top Summer Festivals of 2005” calendar and received broad coverage in international and local media. This idea that started out in the hearts and minds of MAWO organizers was quickly taken up by people all over the Lower Mainland and the festival was organized through a connection with consciousness and support of masses of people. In the weeks before the festival, more and more people were drawn into the organizing. On the streets, where people live and work and in communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities and around high schools, there wasn’t a lamppost untouched by the brightly colourful Hip Hop Festival Against War & Occupation poster.
The result of this buildup came over six days, with all but one of the shows being all-ages, with more than 37 performers and more than 1,200 people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, all ages coming together under the banner of “Hip Hop Against War and Occupation”. Testifying to the mass scale of the festival, the outdoor show on Saturday July 11th saw nearly 600 people out at Grandview Park who came to rap, watch, discuss, dance and add their antiwar message to the 8’ by 21’ graffiti wall constructed as a huge, interactive antiwar art display. On the final day of the festival a gathering of over 50 activists, artists, youth, students held passionate discussion on the significance of the festival and the important unity forged between hip hop, antiwar politics and movement building at the festival’s closing forum. This discussion, and the presentations from organizers and performers, consolidated and cemented the resolve of artists and activists alike to push their unity beyond that day and the festival itself and build a diverse, inclusive and effective antiwar movement.
The Hip Hop Festival Against War & Occupation 2005 unified hip hop as the most popular form of cultural expression and resistance with the antiwar movement, the most important popular and social movement of today, strengthening both in the battle against the most dangerous and intense assault on oppressed people internationally: imperialist war and occupation. More importantly, the festival showed the strength of this unity and prepared the ground for the festival in 2006, and years to come as long as war and occupation exist, with the exponential potential for growth to an international level – taking this tool of expression, resistance and expansion bigger and further as our voices come together to say “No to War & Occupation!” “Yes to Self Determination!”
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