Less bling, more substance  

Hip Hop Symposium tackles real issues

By Anna Sarkissian

The average person associates hip hop culture with the booty shaking, bling brandishing wannabe gangsters who are taking over the airwaves.

“We're bombarded with those images,” says independent student Mennatella Shawky, who is a member of Students for the Advancement of Hip Hop Culture (SAHC), which recently became an official CSU club. “But you have to dig deeper than that.”

SAHC organizers are hoping their fifth annual International Symposium on Hip Hop Culture will shed light on lesser-known facets of hip hop – DJing, rapping, break dancing and graffiti – which can be used a tool for self-expression, empowerment, and social change.

“We're interested in conscious hip hop. We want to bridge the gap between academics and the community so we can engage in a discussion about real issues,” Shawky explains.

After a three-year hiatus, the event is back starting Oct. 29 with four days of workshops, discussions, screenings and celebrations based on the theme of Rhymes, Rhythms and Resistance. It wraps up Nov. 2 with a showing of Beyond Beats & Rhymes in association with Cinema Politica.

During the Hip Hop No Pop session with alternative educator Nantali Indongo, participants break down the lyrics of popular commercial hip hop songs by speaking the lyrics to each other, face to face.

“They realize what they're saying,” Shawky says. “And sometimes they can't bring themselves to pronounce the words.”

Hot topics this year include hip hop in Ethiopian Jewish communities in Israel and social work through hip hop. Fine Arts alumna Lynn Worrell will be presenting a session about W.O.R.D (Writing Our Rhymes Down), an organization that teaches literacy through hip hop.

SAHC is making a concerted effort to reach out to youth through various community centres to encourage their participation.

“Hip hop can help them explore their situation, rewrite their histories, shape their own future, explore life lessons embedded in lyrics and even write their own,” Shawky says.

The symposium was founded in 2002 by former Concordia students Diegal Leger and Dana Schnitzer with help from Katherine Blenkinsop and has now been exported to Cuba, after inspired participants started their own spinoff.

The event facilitators are artists, musicians, and educators themselves. Leger and Indongo are members of the hip hop super group Nomadic Massive, which is dedicated to spreading what they call open-minded hip hop. Shawky is a social worker who uses bellydance as a tool for resistance.

The conference brings together real life musicians, scholars, and audience members to create dialogue and assert the voice of the global hip hop movement in an academic and socio-political context.

The fifth annual International Symposium on Hip Hop Culture is free, except for the breakdance workshop ($15) and the performance showcase at Reggie's ($7).


Concordia University