“I am an African. Not because I was born in Africa. Because Africa was born within me. And I Am“ – Kwame Nkrumah
Hip-hop is an empowering cultural experience that is deeply rooted in a tradition of slavery, reflecting the social, economic and political circumstances of impoverished communities of immigrants. As such, it is the ideal medium for the exploration of the experience of an isiXhosa youth in a post-apartheid Society.
Hip-Hop and Contemporary Beat interrogates what it means to be a black person growing up in poverty and having to reconcile one’s culture with the demands of modern life. Luthando Lucas’s various moments of reflection and realization are expressed through hip-hop dance and Afro beats. As Lucas asserts, music said “words we wanted to say in words we wanted to hear”.
The piece grapples with complex issues such as poverty and HIV/Aids that affect South African townships. Despite the severe adversities and struggles of life in his East London township, Duncan Village, Lucas notes that music is the one thing that is always present. Music plays through the car radios as you walk down the streets, in the taverns where you go to forget about the day’s hardships, in the homes and in the spaza shop on the corner of the block. Consequently, music is how Lucas expresses Kasi life.
Luthando Lucas adapted his novel, I am into this stage performance that expresses the angst and identity crises experienced by the Black Child. Directed by Reginald Danster, Hip Hop vs Contemporary Beats is a portrayal of a Xhosa man’s journey of self-discovery, and an attempt to reconnect with his culture. Lucas invokes an exploration of the history and heritage of hip-hop in order to understand his individual identity as a young Black man from the township. He further attempts to reconcile his Christian traditions with that of his African culture.
The play weaves an individual’s cultural experience into a greater thread of the postcolonial African identity and challenges the various aftershocks of Apartheid that affects the lives and identities of contemporary South African youth.
Although the play provides great insight into the psyche of a traditional Xhosa man, its one-dimensional portrayal of the Xhosa experience limits its potential impact on the audience. What does stand out, however, is the strength of the performers’ movements which adequately captures the power and significance of dance in contemporary African culture. The dancers’ effortless and passionate movements are the highlight of this show as their energy is extremely compelling.
Hip-Hop vs Contemporary Beat was brought to the National Arts Festival by Gompo & Mdantsane Art Centre & the Guild Theatre.
By Thandiwe Matyobeni