Thursday, October 18, 2007

Harry Belafonte and why the fall of Communism ruined the UK BBoy Championships

Last weekend I was in Brixton for the UK BBoy Championships and was certain it would be a great event to blog about... Wrong! Security didn’t let me take my camera in, Pokemon from France didn’t make it to the finals, whereas the Korean crew TIP seemingly won the event because they had travelled the furthest to get there. The most fun I had there was smoking the occasional cigarette on the sly... in an enclosed public space - (Ignore the ban everyone!)
A Russian crew called Top 9 came in 2nd place, which somehow got me thinking about whether there was Hip Hop on the dark side of the Iron Curtain.
The Spiegel pointed me in right direction.

Whilst much of Western Europe was slow to embrace Hip Hop in the 80s, by 1985 it was already thriving in the German Democratic Republic and several other of the Soviet Union’s satellite states. All thanks to the movie -
Beat Street.
Picture a grey, dull and oppressive East Germany whose Government had effectively banned all movies and TV shows which depicted life in the West as being better than in the East…. Which was pretty much everything.

However, a strange twist of fate spared Beat Street from the Censors. American musician, actor and social activist - Harry Belafonte – produced the film. As an outspoken critic of the US Government, who had protested against the war in Vietnam and openly supported the Soviets, he was regarded as somewhat of a hero by the Commies. Furthermore, rappers emerging at that time were mimicking rap from America – which meant they were rapping about social injustice and the plight of the poor … in the ghettos of America. This rendered Hip Hop untouchable and even led the government to embrace it.

Honecker and comrades proceeded to sponsor annual Beat Street parties in several cities and a number of crews received full time positions touring community culture centres and retirement homes around the country. Anyone interested in a more detailed look at this topic should check out Nico Raschick’s documentary “Here we come”, and an exhibition opened earlier this year at the Stasimuseum, Leipzig documenting the emergence and influence of Hip-Hop in the GDR.

It’s a shame the wall fell merely 5 years after the film arrived in East Germany. If it hadn't, then surely they would have had someone decent to send to this year’s UK BBoy championships.