'We're here, we're loud and we're indelible'

Looking around your neighbourhood, have you ever become incensed by the sight of a perfectly painted wall, ruined by the meaningless squiggles of a spray can? Well, next time, look again. The squiggle, or graffiti, you see before you, strewn large across an urban canvas, may actually be the tag of a hip-hop artist. Like the music, behind it will be a message, maybe not directly meant for you, but aimed at the eyes and hearts of others who live by the culture.

“We’re here, we’re loud and we’re indelible.” And that’s certainly the message behind two films to be screened in September at the Tri Continental Film Festival, Hip-Hop Revolution and Counting Headz.

Writer-director and hip-hop MC Weaam Williams’s film Hip-Hop Revolution is a rich tapestry of all the elements of this vibrant youth culture: graffiti, music, poetry, politics, break-dancing and crew rivalry. The message is clear in Williams’s softly spoken melodic rhymes that weave the film together.

Hip-hop, a global vehicle underpinning youth identity, landed in the laps of South African youth just when they needed it. First emerging 25 years ago on the Cape Flats, hip-hop received significant political injection from black consciousness during apartheid where “knowledge of self” and racism were important themes of the time.

The melodic beats, hard-hitting rhymes and spray-can art reached a generation of youth in South Africa who were marginalised by circumstance and politicised by necessity. In hip-hop they found their individual expression. Cape Town youth were the first to reshape hip-hop into a different form than its United States commercial version. It has become a political broadcast to a community about daily issues.

Counting Headz tackles the issue of female exclusion from hip-hop. For filmmakers Vusi Magubane and Erin Offer, hip-hop as a genre for the voiceless has been grabbed by women and used to rewrite the rules of a society.

The women in Counting Headz, such as the Godessa crew who feature in both films, refuse to give in to inaccurate media coverage and pressure from the music industry to play up their sex appeal.

Instead, they speak of globalisation, HIV and Aids, privatisation and poverty. Believing that hip-hop has a significant role to play in the “Third World revolution” these artists recognise the need to speak out about what’s happening on the ground for women and, by doing so, create a space that allows women to go beyond either a sex symbol or being one of the boys.

These films profile some of the biggest names in South African hip-hop and combine local hip-hop anthems with cultural aesthetics, giving them a charged and angry edge that is both true to the culture and so often lacking in documentary filmmaking. The message is clear. Hip-hop culture is powerful. It’s mobilising township youth and the revolution is still to come. The writing’s on the wall.

Hip-Hop Revolution and Counting Headz will be screened at the Tri Continental Film Festival. For details go to www.3continentsfestival.co.za

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