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    Vancouver Celebrates Hip Hop Against War And Occupation

    By Shakeel Lochan
    “Well, a lot of people within government and big business are nervous of Hip Hop and Hip Hop artists, because they speak their minds. They talk about what they see and what they feel and what they know. They reflect what’s around them.”

    - Afrika Bambaataa

    “I’ve been observing this system at every level and every rebel refusin’ to settle be catchin’ metal, I swear they sit back and revel in all they devilin’ with all they foreign country meddlin’, pot callin the kettlin’, mass destruction weapon peddling just let it settle in, they ain’t been fightin’ fair since Chris Columbus nestled in”

    - (Fight Back) Son of Nun

    The climate that tore Hip Hop out of its womb in the early 1970’s was one of racism, poverty and gentrification. Conditions in the Bronx and across the US at that time have degenerated even further today, across the whole world. Today’s global outlook is one of economic instability with increased competition between advanced capitalist countries like Canada and the US for consolidation of markets. Starvation, joblessness, homelessness, and dissolving of social programs are some of the major issues in so-called first world countries, while the plunder of the Third World is increasing at a frenetic rate. On the home front, attacks on poor people attempting to respond to worsening conditions also increase. Just since 2001, there have been the wars and subsequent occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and Somalia, equaling up to at least 2 million civilian deaths, with widespread shortages of clean drinking water, electricity, food and shelter. Ongoing justifications to these imperialist campaigns are the lies that were spread about why and how these campaigns were undertaken and what their true impact was. The Canadian ruling class heralded itself as peacekeepers in Afghanistan, while the US ruling class placed itself as head of a coalition of the willing in Iraq, bringing ‘democracy’ with air-strikes, house-tohouse raids and tanks. Today the latest and most significant target of US imperialism is Iran. With already three sets of economic sanctions placed against the country, and massive US forces off the coast of the Persian Gulf, the US hypocritically claims that Iran is a threat to the world due in part to it exercising its sovereign right to enrich uranium.

    Hip Hop and the Third World

    Meanwhile, Hip Hop has expanded its reach across the world, encompassing issues of war and occupation, taking on new forms since its inception in diverse international communities with their own stories of hardship and struggle respective to their regions.

    The Middle East being the primary wartorn region in the world today is fostering a rising tide of talented artists. From occupied Palestine come artists like DAM, whose lyrics speak about their love for their people and their boiling rage at the 60 year Israeli occupation of their home, forcing them to live as 2nd class humans. British pioneers Asian Dub Foundation have spoke about Islamophobia, the demonization of South Asian and Arab communities since the late 1980’s, taking part in various political actions across the world. The Narcysist, an Iraqi- Arab MC who came out of the critically acclaimed Montreal group Euphrates has spoken about the occupation and deci mation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Much like the American ghetto, the Canadian reservation and the urban poor areas are the scene of marginalized Indigenous youth who face poverty, violence, and systemic oppression. Today the ongoing theft of land and denial of Indigenous sovereignty are a continuation of Canada’s genocidal project. This struggle against this injustice has been mainlined into Indigenous arts and culture. Acts like the War Party, Team Rezofficial, Eekwol, Manik 1derful, Os12 and 7th Generation have all helped built a solid foundation of Indigenous Hip Hop, each bringing their own experiences in struggle and working closely with the youth in their communities.

    Hip Hop and Cuba

    Hip Hop exploded into the Cuban scene in the mid 1990’s. Perhaps the most important factor within Cuban Hip Hop is its endorsement first by the Asociaci?n Hermanos Saíz (Cuban cultural association related to the Union of Young Communists) and eventually the formation of the government agency La Agencia Cubana de Rap (Cuban Rap Agency), both of which seek to sustain and promote Cuban culture, with the Cuban Rap Agency specifically focusing on Cuban Hip Hop. The Cuban Rap Agency was created in 2002, preceded by the Minister of Culture Abel Prieto declaring Hip Hop as an “authentic expression of Cuban culture.” Fidel Castro himself went to say that Hip Hop was “at the vanguard of the revolution,” recognizing its ability to strengthen community unity and foster the exchange of ideas and critical thinking amongst restless youth. Hip Hop was seen as having the ability to bridge the gap between the Cuban generations that lived through the beginning stages of the revolution and the generation that came of Cuban culture.” Fidel Castro himself went to say that Hip Hop was “at the vanguard of the revolution,” recognizing its ability to strengthen community unity and foster the exchange of ideas and critical thinking amongst restless youth. Hip Hop was seen as having the ability to bridge the gap between the Cuban generations that lived through the beginning stages of the revolution and the generation that came afterwards.

    When asked about the role of Hip Hop in Cuban society, Ariel Fernandez (DJ Asho), who organized with Asociacion Hermanos Saíz and later was appointed National Hip Hop Promoter, explained, “the social role [Hip Hop] is playing is very important, Cuban rap is criticizing the deficiencies that exist in society, but in a constructive way, educating youth and opening spaces to create a better society.” The frontlines of Cuban Hip Hop take on topics from the stifling 48+ year US economic blockade on Cuba, to sexism, poverty, and homophobia. Key Cuban talent includes groups like Grupo Uno, Obsesion (group member - Magia Lopez is Director of the Cuban Agency of Rap, and a heavily involved feminist organizer), Anónimo Consejo, and Las Krudas (an Afro-Cuban lesbian duo).

    Hip Hop Under Attack

    Some wax poetic about a “golden age” of Hip Hop, and speak about the corruption of the culture. This is rooted in an attempt to corrode collective progress and assumes that Hip Hop exists in bubble immune to the problems that exist in the whole of society. Critics try to cloud the fact that Hip Hop culture has become a means of escape, expression and coping mechanism within a rapidly destabilizing world economy. Criticisms of Hip Hop are strangely akin to the criticisms of Third World countries by the ruling classes of countries like Canada (criticisms which eventually serve as justification for the occupation of said countries). The right to self-determination or respect of national sovereignty is ignored by the ruling classes of powerful nations, in their quests, disguised in a consistent barrage of claims of, establishing security, instilling democracy, establishing rights for women or even bringing freedom to the people. As if carpet-bombs and depleted uranium were the new doves!

    Hip Hop as the Voice of the Oppressed

    Just as the governments of imperialist countries want to shut down the significant unity in struggle that is arising in direct response to their invasions and occupations, so do they want to strangle any and all forces that have the energy to galvanize and inspire oppressed people. Hip Hop does in fact encompass the good, bad and the ugly in our collective societies, but more importantly it reflects the potential of oppressed people to come together under common demands. This is the power of Hip Hop and why it spans from Harlem ghettos to Canadian prairie reservations to the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip to Havana Cuba to… Vancouver, B.C. Canada this September 20th and 21st for the 4th Annual Antiwar Hip Hop Festival Against War and Occupation - HIP HOP VERSUS WAR 2008! This two-day festival is returning for its fourth installment and showcase of local and international talent in more than 20 different flavors. It will highlight the five elements of Hip Hop and its roots in social struggle against war and occupation at home and abroad!

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