Hip-Hop IS My Passport…

Happy New Year! Sydney is one of the first places in the world that welcomes the new year, so the whole area becomes abuzz in anticipation of the New Years Eve festivities, which include the world-renown fireworks celebration. Since my arrival, a slew of notable folks from the entertainment world have visited Sydney; Kanye West premiered his movie at the Opera House… or should I say Oprah House? Yes, Oprah was here with 300+ guests. No I did not get to see her, but I did get a chance to see U2. Their special guest was Jay-Z. (No, Beyonce didn’t perform, but she and Jay-Z were spotted around Sydney). U2 and Jay-Z performed before a sold out 80,000 seat stage at the Olympic Park Stadium. The music was fantastic. In the middle of the concert, Bono introduced a clip designed for the concert featuring Bishop Dr. Desmond Tutu, which called attention to political refugees all over the world. So it was a night of hip-hop, global activism, and world music at its best.

Speaking of hip-hop and global activism, as promised in last month’s post, I have a treat for you. I met with Morgan Lewis, better known on the Australian hip-hop scene as Morganics. Ironically, he was wearing a Jay-Z inspired t-shirt with the caption, “ I got 99 problems but b-boyin’ ain’t one of them”.This is true, by the way. I saw him b-boy. Morganics has been holding it down as a b-boy, M.C. (mass communicator), and thespian for more than 25 years. He has used hip-hop as a passport to not only travel the world, but also share the stories he has learned from his experiences with people around the world. What most interested me about Morganics is his purposeful choices to make hip-hop an explicit educational experience as well as artistic expression for his audience. Using his skills and the universality of hip-hop, Morganics has been able to serve as a hip-hop educational facilitator for disadvantaged youth throughout NSW. His work has helped these youth find their voice as well as enabled their identity development.

One project he described to me is one that eventually served as a catalyst for his most recent project, director and star of the upcoming feature length film, Survival Tactics. Let me provide you with some background. Morganics is multitalented. In addition to being a hip-hop artist, he is an accomplished actor, who started acting in his teens. He has used both skills to promote social activism in Sydney and throughout the world. In a project he co-created, he fused hip-hop and acting to help give voice to the plight of homeless youth in Sydney. These young people were paid to direct Morganics and other hip-hop artist in skits that spoke to their daily experiences. Each artist kept developing the characters the youth described, adding to them their own personal experiences as well as how the hip-hop artist have experienced life in Sydney. This experience served as the catalyst to the creation of the play Survival Tactics, which was delivered at the Sydney Opera house to critical review. The play has now birthed a movie, which Morganics hopes, paints a realistic portrait of hip-hop life in Sydney.

He allowed me to read a draft of the script before I arrived on the set, and I was amazed by several points. The first was that hip-hop in Sydney was truly a multicultural affair. The film shows how people, literally from all over the world and all walks of life, are united through hip-hop. While the film draws on hip-hop’s universal pull, it manages to also provide a snapshot of hip-hop culture in Sydney. Throughout the movie, you can also see examples of digital mash-ups that artists use to tell a story. For example, an artist in the movie describes how they engaged an audience in an anti-war protest during a concert:

N-EFFECT: “it’s the last show of the tour. I’ve got ten thousand people in front of me screaming ‘Say No War’ because the opening to the Resin Dogs set is me and a multi-media display protesting the decision to send troops to Iraq”. (As N-Effect mentions each character in the story, he is visually duplicated, so by the end of it there are six N-Effects.) “The band comes on and they drop into Nice Mics, you know Resin Dogs, DNO ampin up those Hip Hop shows. I drop a set” – Survival Tactics script

Hip-hop is also offered as a viable solution to some of the problems the lead characters face. To be clear, Morganics does not use the film to promote hip-hop as a panacea for all of the social ills which plague the world, but he does illustrate how different elements of hip-hop can be used to stimulate critical thought and discussion as well as promote civic awareness and challenge social injustice. I interviewed Morganics on some of the themes I observed in the film and have included the full video clip here:

As I mentioned in my last blog, while the film is definitely a hip-hop masterpiece, it still sticks to the fundamentals of storytelling, and focuses in on universal themes that everyone can relate to, based on their own life experiences (i.e. love, redemption). The film is currently in post-production and will hopefully be released later this year. Check the films website for more information. Please let me know what you think, as well as what additional questions you have for Morganics.

Most recently, I have had the opportunity to see him perform live in November at the Parramatta Riverside Theater, for Year 11 school children. (This would be the equivalent of high school juniors in the United States). He performed with two artists I hope to tell you more about in a later blog post, Brotherblack and Lystick. They delivered quite a few messages to the students with two overarching themes; take the time to make good decisions about your life, and embrace diversity. Morganics participated in a call-and-response act with the students in which half of the audience responded in French while the other responded in Japanese. He reminded the students it was their job to welcome the refugees who are settling in the area. To say the students were inspired is an understatement. The entire audience was immersed in the performance, as well as the messages being delivered, as evidenced in the conversations the students participated in following the concert.

I hope to catch up with Lystic as well as Brotherblack soon. Lystic is a music producer and engages with digital technology on a regular basis in the process of creating his beats. Brotherblack plans on pursuing a career in education. I am interested in his career choice, as well as in what ways (if any) he will choose to use his experience as a hip-hop artist in his educational pursuits. Next month I will take you to the Australian Poetry Slam, and introduce you to the winner, the national coordinator, as well as some of the poets who have been influenced by hip-hop around the world. Thanks again for staying connected, and I look forward to your feedback.

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