It was time to see; now it’s time to listen.
STREET ARTS: A Celebration of Hip Hop Culture & Free Expression began in October with graffiti and its nerdy cousin, street art. The streets of Downtown Albuquerque—a city with a long and often acrimonious relationship with graffiti—saw artists putting up posters and murals, beautifying the scenery. 516 ARTS Executive Director Suzanne Sbarge and Program Coordinator Francesca Searer say that so far, the exhibit has opened the conversation they had hoped for.
“It could have been just a big fight,” Sbarge says. “But there has been a lot of intelligent dialoging.”
Hip-hop culture and its various modes spring from the disenfranchised, those who have nothing and have to make do with what is available to them. Graffiti artists steal public space (and in the early days, also the paint); DJs sample pre-existing sounds to create new music; MCs drop references to nearly everything.
Graffiti may be the eyes of STREET ARTS, but hip-hop music is definitely its mouth. SHOUT-OUT: A Festival of Rhythm & Rhyme, held at several venues beginning Nov. 4, brings hip-hop culture, several spoken-word artists and poets to a number of venues.
In fact, many of SHOUT-OUT’s performers are arguably more in the realm of spoken word art than traditional hip-hop music. But as co-organizer and Outpost Executive Director Tom Guralnick puts it, the overarching point of this “festival within a festival” is free expression.
The streets of Downtown Albuquerque—a city with a long and often acrimonious relationship with graffiti—saw artists putting up posters and murals, beautifying the scenery.
The SHOUT-OUT schedule is a mashup of styles, instruments and messages. D.C.-based hip-hop artist Koyayi will rap over Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto and keyboardist Jason Linder at the Outpost Performance Space. Poet Amiri Baraka is collaborating with pianist Cecil Taylor at the KiMo Theatre. Beat boxer Saywut?! is having church with Beethoven. “Def Poetry Jam” alumni Amalia Ortiz and Kevin Coval are stopping by 516 ARTS. Youth poets from the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Voces program are coming along for the ride. The whole shebang.
One of the motivations behind the festival is once again to open a dialogue regarding hip-hop and its place in the world. It’s a goal that shouldn’t be too hard to achieve, since hip-hop is all about communication. Poet Amiri Baraka, for example, has written 40 books of essays, poems, drama, music history and criticism.
Searer says that the works presented in SHOUT-OUT are powerful.
“The stuff I’ve been hearing, I’ve had to kind of catch my breath,” Searer says.
Bearing that in mind, they are also accessible to a wide audience, not something that requires a philosophy class beforehand to understand.
“A lot of art is very closed to a certain circle,” Searer says. “These people are trying to reach out to everyone.”