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South by South Bronx Festival Revels in the Art and Politics of Hip-Hop

By Patrick Wall | December 4, 2012 9:48am

CONCOURSE — Austin, Texas, the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” has long flaunted its creative cred by hosting the annual taste-making music and media festival, South by Southwest.

Now, The Bronx has a chance to do the same with an event next week at Hostos Community College, aptly named South by South Bronx, which will showcase the borough's most famous invention — hip-hop.

“We feel that there’s a need to have a hip-hop festival in the South Bronx,” said festival co-organizer Rodrigo Venegas, known as Rodstarz. “This is the birthplace.”

The free festival on Dec. 14 and 15 will begin Friday afternoon with a series of workshops on the practice and politics of hip-hop, led by Bronx artists and activists. It continues that Saturday with an onstage conversation between hip-hop legends Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Kool Herc, and concludes with back-to-back performances by some of the genre’s pioneers and rising stars.

“It’s saying, we can throw a dope, hot music festival,” said co-organizer Gonzalo Venegas, who goes by G1. “But it also has a component that talks about sustainability, peace in our communities, and addressing stop-and-frisk.”

Or, as Rodstarz put it, “This is a hip-hop festival. This is not a rap-music industry festival.”

The Venegas brothers, who front the activist rap group, Rebel Diaz, are Chicago natives who live in the South Bronx, where they helped found the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective. The brothers and other members of the collective began working on the festival early this year.

Rebel Diaz, which includes DJ Illanoiz, will perform at the festival's Dec. 15 concert in Hostos’ main auditorium. They will be joined by Grandmaster Caz, former Brand Nubian-member Sadat X, Bronx rapper Mysonne, up-and-coming emcee YC the Cynic and poet La Bruja, along with other musicians, dancers and graffiti artists.

Though Bambaataa and Herc won’t be performing, they’ll have much to discuss.

The dance parties that Herc and his sister, Cindy Campbell, threw in the rec room of their West Bronx high-rise in the early 70s are often cited as the first stirrings of hip-hop, with Herc’s dual turntables supplying the movement’s original soundtrack.

Those parties “were the first signs of what was going to be a grassroots musical movement in The Bronx,” said Mark Naison, a professor of African and African American Studies at Fordham University. “That’s kind of the big bang that set hip hop in motion.”

Bambaataa is another pioneering Bronx DJ, often called the “Master of Records,” who founded the Universal Zulu Nation. This year, he was named a visiting scholar at Cornell University.

Cindy Campbell will join her brother and Bambaataa in the talk, which Naison will moderate.

Participants in the free workshops can soak up the history of DJing from Grand Wizard Theodore, who some consider the first record scratcher, or of hip-hop dance from Popmaster Fabel, senior vice president of the legendary Rock Steady Crew.

Other artists and activists will give crash courses on the interplay of hip-hop and social media, self-publishing and “surviving the police state,” among other topics.

“The conditions that hip-hop grew up in,” such as violence and poverty, “are still alive today," said Rodstarz.

The family of Ramarley Graham, the unarmed Bronx teen killed by police this year, will receive a social justice award at the festival.

Hostos Community College is hosting the event and several local nonprofits are helping fund and run it. The organizers are quick to note that there are no corporate sponsors.

“The festival honors those who have not sold their music to corporate America and become millionaires,” said Naison, the Fordham professor. “People who had and still have a community consciousness that drives what they do.”

The workshops run from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14. Visit rdacbx.org to register. The concerts and panel discussion happen Saturday, Dec. 15 from 1 to 5 p.m. All events are free and located at Hostos’ 500 Grand Concourse building.