Learning is a two-way street – or so the members of Nomadic Massive experienced during a short jaunt to Brazil last November, a follow-up to a similar visit here by Brazilian hip hop artists earlier in 2008. The multi-ethnic, socially-engaged hip hop collective, based in Montreal, hit the road with more than just a few performances on the agenda – a heavy dose of musical and cultural exchange were also in the mix. They paid a visit to the
Brazilian chapter of the international hip hop awareness group Universal Zulu Nation, held an informal talk at Fundação Casa, a juvenile youth detention center in São Paolo, and hung out with legendary b-boy Nelson Triunfo. But what marked them the most was more intangible : an exposure to a society that was open to discussing hip-hop as a valid cultural phenomenon, from government officials all the way to street level.
“There’s a lot of things Montreal has in common [with Brazil], but hip hop as a model officially in the educational or political sphere doesn’t exist here like it does there. There’s a much stronger validity in terms of the relationship between hip hop as a cultural phenomenon and [its use] as an educational tool to reach out to kids who are on the margins of society. It’s just more culturally acceptable to consider music as a valid profession there,” says Butta Beats, beatboxer and drummer. They would experience this first-hand during a visit to Eremim, one of Brazil’s many alternative community schools, which heavily integrate art and music into the curriculum through participatory educational methods. “Eremim was paid for by the union of the neighbouring businesses,” recalls guitarist Ali Sepu. “They would go into the communities and interview potential students and families to design a program which was apt for the students of that particular neighbourhood. And hip hop was one of the things that came up, along with more practical things, and learning about the historical links between Africa and the ancestry of many of those kids.”
Brazilians, it seems, feel closer to Africa - and not just geographically. Their concept of diaspora, according to bassist Diegal, aka Rawgged MC, is more far-reaching and universal than it is in Canada. “As a Haitian, we always talk about the Haitian diaspora – those who have left Haiti to come to Montreal, Miami, New York and so on. But there, when they talk about diaspora, they really mean the African diaspora, meaning those who were displaced to Europe or the Americas to work [as slaves].” Diegal and bandmate Vox Sambou stayed in the country an extra 3 days to travel north to Salvador da Bahia and attend ‘Estratégia Quilombola’, a 4-day event packed with performances, discussions and workshops with other local artists active in their communities. “Quilombos are communities of marooned, fugitive slaves who gained their independence or freedom from colonial powers. I believe hip hop is one of the remnants or offspring of that culture of resistance,” he says. Both of them discussed the day-to-day experience of being Haitians living in Canada, and Vox Sambou also used the trip to complement his own research into tracing the path of the Haitian diaspora.
Nomadic Massive returned in December charged with new knowledge and, most of all, new energy. “It comes naturally with the sharing of cultures,” says Ali Sepu. “We come from out of town, and we stimulate the vibe that’s already there, but also renew the energy that we bring back. We have to continue to do these cultural exchanges to kindle just that : the spark.”
Nomadic Massive’s cultural exchange project was supported in its approach by Alternatives. Nomadic Massive’s new album is out since March 28th, 2009.
Violaine Brisebois-Lavoie worked as an intern in South Africa with StreetNet.
StreetNet’s aim is to promote the exchange of information and ideas on critical issues facing street vendors, market vendors and hawkers (i.e. mobile vendors) and on practical organizing and advocacy strategies.