Friday, February 18, 2011

Hip Hop as Resistance: Planeta Rock from the South Bronx to South America

In 1982 Afrika Bambaata dropped the track Planet Rock, a song that brought the words of the Bronx-based Zulu Nation to all audiences and was, as hip hop historian Jeff Chang describes it, a “hypnotic vision of one world under one groove, beyond race, poverty, sociology, and geography.” Twenty-eight years later, in 2010, Bambaata's message was alive and well in Santiago, Chile in the form of a week long Hip Hop Festival aptly named Planeta Rock. Planeta Rock celebrated all the five elements of hip hop; knowledge, break dancing, graffiti, mc'ing, and djaying. While knowledge is often the forgotten element, it was clear that at Planeta Rock it was central pillar, where commercialization has yet to influence its form and content, and the lyrics bombast the powers that be.

The festival opened with the Fiesta Zulu and a message from Afrika Bambaata, sending shout outs from the Bronx down to Santiago and all those that are following in the footsteps of the Zulu Nation. Breakdancers abounded, rocking Six Step, Zulu Spins, and Windmills. This setting could have been anywhere; the break beat pulsed throughout the crowd and hundreds of youth continued to rock it till the wee hours of the night. The political nature and uniqueness of Chilean's political hip hop scene became more apparent during a release of a book entitled From Message to Action that chronicles political hip hop in Chile. Films shown at the gathering included a smattering of graffiti, music, and break dancing videos from Latin America that were juxtaposed among short political documentaries highlighting land occupations throughout Chile, the plight of political prisoners and the struggles of the indigenous Mapuche people.

At a similar film event at Planeta Rock, a highlight of the night was the music video 1500 días, which held a match to all the false campaign promises of the presidential candidates. Just the week before this gathering, the right-wing candidate and media mogul Sebastian Piñera had won the elections. The song lays into the neoliberal policies that all the presidential candidates have pushed, proclaiming that they won't participate in the elections of the rich, and that the 1500 days between elections should serve as 1500 days of organizing and struggle. In a country where 40% of the population is not even registered to vote, these lyrics have widespread resonance.

In Chile, as in many parts of the world, hip hop is its own form of independent media – the people's resistance to the right-wing controlled media. Regarding this, Dj Erko, one of the organizers of Planeta Rock 2011 referenced a quote by old school NY political group Public Enemy “As Chuck D said, rap is the CNN of black folks. In our cases it’s the CNN of the neighborhood, the barrio of the oppressed. Hip Hop has had the capacity to be a tool of contra-information, propaganda, education and knowledge.”

In 2011 rappers Subverso and Portavoz, who wrote 1500 days, have taken their political critique to the next level with the project, Memoria Rebelde, or Rebel Memory, which seeks to teach Chilean history through hip hop and multimedia. Portavoz says the inspiration for this project goes back to the origins of hip hop. “In the Bronx, Harlem or whichever ghetto, there were many Latin American immigrants and black people who used hip hop to denounce what was happening and also as a way to share their experiences as black people, as immigrants, and as oppressed people. We are trying to rescue this form of popular education and use rap as a powerful tool to tell the story of our people.” They released a Memoria Rebelde video at Planeta Rock declaring their refusal to celebrate Chile's bicentennial while thousands of people continue to be oppressed. They also pointed out the government’s hypocrisy of celebrating the rescue of 33 miners who had been trapped when the country’s history is stained with massacres of miners organizing for workers rights. Subverso says they wrote the song so that people can “recognize the true history of our land and its people” and thank all the “true historians of the people who have been illuminating the dark corners where the poor have struggled to forge their own project of liberation.”

Babes, booze and Buddhism

Film explores the atypical lifestyle of Naropa founder

By Adam Perry, Boulder Weekly

Of all the films featured at the 2011 Boulder International Film Festival, the most Boulder-centric is Crazy Wisdom. The 90-minute documentary is Los Angeles filmmaker Johanna Demetrakas’ stunning tribute to the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan Buddhist who founded Naropa University in 1974. Demetrakas will be on hand for a Q-and-A after the BIFF screening of Crazy Wisdom,which sadly, for such a profound (and profoundly Boulder-related) film, is occurring at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, at the First United Methodist Church, rather than enjoying prime-time billing at the Boulder Theater.

Demetrakas, who teaches at the University of Southern California in addition to directing both dramatic and documentary films, met Trungpa in 1971 and kept in touch until his death in 1987. Subsequently, Demetrakas — through four-and-a-half years of active filmmaking and five years of research — was able to capture perhaps the first truly intimate and honest picture of Trungpa’s controversial life.

Watching Crazy Wisdom in Boulder recently with a gathering of current and former Naropa students, it was obvious that Demetrakas succeeded in not only delineating Trungpa’s fascinating escape from Chinese tyranny in Tibet and the meat of his “Shambhala” vision — a peaceful, mindful community amid a dangerously chaotic world — but also what it was like to know “the bad boy of Buddhism” personally. For Naropa students, who are fed a PC version of Trungpa’s life — which notoriously included excessive drinking and sex — Demetrakas’ unflinching portrayal of her former spiritual guide is refreshing.

“The film was not so much about his teachings as it was about him,” she says. “One of the directions that I made to myself was that I wanted to make a film where my audience gets to experience his mind, even a glimpse. I feel like if you experience that, if you go through your own changes, questioning him, questioning his life, questioning where Naropa’s at right now or whatever …  you go beyond that and just be there. I wanted you to experience what being around him was for me. So I hope I got that done a little bit.”

'What all these billions might have been and still are buying around the world'

... WMR has been informed by a strictly anonymous source that many of the "terrorist" attacks in Iraq that have been blamed on "Al Qaeda" and its allies were, in fact, carried out by CIA-supported Sunni cells. US Special Forces teams seconded to the CIA units provided protection to the Sunni cells as they carried out their terror missions.

The CIA and Special Forces teams ensured that the Sunni terrorist cells hit their pre-determined targets. In some cases, when the certain Sunni teams were thought to be unreliable, the CIA and Special Forces overseers would execute the Sunnis. 

In other cases, a remotely-controlled car bomb would prematurely detonate, requiring the CIA-Special Forces units to cleanup the evidence and chalk the terrorist event off as a "suicide bomb." The media would be fed press releases that "confirmed" the bombing as a suicide attack. Our source worked with two different Sunni terrorist cells in Iraq. ...

Polk neighbors derail LGBT history mural

By Matt Baume, Bay Area Reporter

A proposed mural depicting the LGBT history of Polk Street may never be painted due to objections from neighbors.

The mural is a joint project of the Lower Polk Neighbors and the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, intended to instill local pride while beautifying a blank wall on the side of Hemlock Alley.

In fall of 2010, an LPN committee selected two neighborhood artists, Helen Bayly and Aaron Bo Heimlich, and asked them to design a mural depicting the influence of Polk Street's Beat poet community on the LGBT movement.

The artists showed a preliminary mockup at an LPN meeting last month. Half of their design is monochrome and shows historical police harassment, public poetry readings, and protests near Civic Center. The other half depicts a colorful, inclusive contemporary Pride Parade, framed by figures such as Harvey Milk.

Bayly and Heimlich consulted with the GLBT Historical Society, and incorporated actual incidents of police harassment, as well as tributes to social service organizations and their clients.

Reaction from LPN members was decidedly hostile.

"People said, 'That's the Castro, that's not here,'" said LPN Chairman Ron Case.

"The mural itself was really, really crude, very poorly done," said David Villa-Lobos, executive director of Community Leadership Alliance, a neighborhood advocacy group. "Folks felt that a lot of it has more to do with the Castro, and far more to do with Pride and that kind of thing, than it does with the history of Polk Street."

The artists were surprised by the reaction.

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Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times

Halfway around the world from Tahrir Square in Cairo, an aging American intellectual shuffles about his cluttered brick row house in a working-class neighborhood here. His name is Gene Sharp. Stoop-shouldered and white-haired at 83, he grows orchids, has yet to master the Internet and hardly seems like a dangerous man.

But for the world's despots, his ideas can be fatal.

Few Americans have heard of Mr. Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings on nonviolent revolution — most notably "From Dictatorship to Democracy," a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for
download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.

When Egypt's April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed effort in 2005, its leaders tossed around "crazy ideas" about bringing down the government, said Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist. They stumbled on Mr. Sharp while examining the Serbian movement Otpor, which he had influenced.

When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp's "198 Methods of Nonviolent Action," a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to "protest disrobing" to "disclosing identities of secret agents."

Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some
activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp's work into Arabic, and that his message of "attacking weaknesses of dictators" stuck with them.

Peter Ackerman, a onetime student of Mr. Sharp who founded the nonviolence center and ran the Cairo workshop, cites his former mentor as proof that "ideas have power."

Mr. Sharp, hard-nosed yet exceedingly shy, is careful not to take credit. He is more thinker than revolutionary, though as a young man he participated in lunch-counter sit-ins and spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector during the Korean War. He has had no contact with the Egyptian protesters, he said, although he recently learned that the Muslim Brotherhood had "From Dictatorship to Democracy" posted on its Web site.

While seeing the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak as a sign of "encouragement," Mr. Sharp said, "The people of Egypt did that — not me."

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