Hip Hop vs War festival brings hope

Vancouver audiences suck (don't get defensive, just work on it). The fifth annual Hip Hop Vs. War festival happened this weekend at the Vancouver Art Gallery, bringing local and international hip hop artists together to explore hip hop as ``an important tool in the movement to end war and occupation'' And they did actually make people move, other than just b-boys and b-girls. Perhaps most inspiring was the relationship between the event and the empowerment of local youth.
In the middle of their set, fan favourites Ndidi Cascade and Deanna Teeple relayed to the audience that they are hip hop workshop facilitators for youth, and recently came across a rare talent. They invited a woman in her early teens to the stage, who proceeded to shock the audience – not only with her gift of rhyme and language, but with the her heartbreaking sincerity. Tears poured down her face and onto her shirt, threatening to stop her in the middle of her song. She remained strong, sharing from her heart her desire for peace and equality. After she finished, the crowd gave one of the most enthusiastic responses of the day, and she was far from the only one drying her cheeks.
Leeland Askew (Discreet Da Chosen 1), an endearingly personal and friendly rapper from the Squamish nation, shed some light on the relationship between hip hop and youth mentorship. ``'Hip' means young and urban and youthful. It means the youth, the next generation. 'Hop' means to move 'em. It doesn't just mean move 'em physically, but it means move them mentally, move them emotionally, move them metaphysically, advance them to the next level. Teach them what's going on.'' Leeland himself works as a Youth Advocate at the Squamish Nation Youth Centre. He recently opened his own recording studio and introduced me to three young teens he's mentoring who are starting a punk band.
``Hip hop is a voice.'' Amalia Nickel, an employee of Kilowatt Records and Hip Hop Canada, explains why aboriginal peoples make up a large portion of the hip hop scene in Vancouver. In light of their long history of struggle against violence and oppression in this country, it's not hard to understand why indigenous youth are picking up the mic.
Askew has seen the positive effects of hip hop in his community. ``It's opened up a whole new avenue... and especially being aboriginal, because a lot of the kids, you know they're kind of isolated and they don't think there's anything else out there for them.'' To him the message that hip hop is giving to aboriginal youth is that you ``[can't] let society pigeon-hole you, you let the world know where you stand.''
Mobilization Against War & Occupation (MAWO) also deserves credit. After the opening forum on Saturday, two hours were devoted to workshops on MC'ing and DJ'ing. Put on by the performers themselves, these workshops gave youth a chance to take control of the beats and taste empowerment through expression        
The fact that hip hop artists like Leeland, Ndidi and Deanna are engaged in such strong leadership roles in their communities bodes well for the future – it actually really excites me. The indigenous and other marginalized communities in this city will benefit from an increase in positivity and self-affirmation, and the dominant culture will profit from the mirrors that these generations of artists will hold up – that is, if they're able to reflect.

// Lionel Kitz,

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