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Arts & Culture/Music
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Globalization of Hip hop: The Black Soil Organization
by: Tamara Leacock

Since the 1970’s, Hip hop has been known as a cultural phenomenon that changed the nature of music. Sprung from the heart of New York City, the BX, it was the voice and solidarity for urban America and soon evolved to become the lifestyle and political phenomenon to empower urban communities all over the world. However, in more recent years, Hip hop culture and music has become more of a business and less of a social and cultural phenomenon. Nowadays, Hip hop seems best known as the business of creating a marketable culture rather than celebrating the reality of the people.
In 2003, however, Sasha Dees, with colleague Philip Powel, went back to the roots of Hip hop culture and formed the Black Soil Organization. It was founded in none other than Holland. Hip hop may have been born in the Bronx, but it was revived in the Dutch, Netherlands. The Black Soil Organization is committed to stretching the boundaries of Hip hop into a medium for social change and collaboration, as well as, a medium for networking amongst people from all over the world. It’s about communication across cultural barriers. The organization shows how, according to Ms. Dees, "Hip hop is not just a music, but a culture and a movement." The name "Black Soil" was first coined by a comedian in Holland, named Howard Komproe. However, Ms. Dees, along with colleague Philip Powel, saw the capacity and potential of the phrase. Ms. Dees reflects, "we remembered ‘black and used it to really be about how roads are made of asphalt, and [how] Hip hop comes out of the city, out of the streets, where everything grows out of... 'black soil' is synonymous with the streets."
Reverting back to the streets, Sasha Dees first began her work by programming American spoken word events. Spoken word and poetry is one of the most influential "subcultures" of Hip hop. "Spoken word [and] poetry," Ms. Dees elaborates , "[comes] out of the Hip hop culture, like how beat poetry came out of the pop culture." And so, with experience in spoken word, Ms. Dees began screening films. Soon, the Black Soil Organization was created with its first main event, its international film festival. Sasha Dees explains, "I was already doing spoken word, music, and TV, so film was the next step." The Black Soil Film Festival, held in Holland in November 2003, was an international film festival that screened films, which were either inspired by or an inspiration to emcees, deejays, break dancers, graffiti artists, and all other artists of Hip hop communities around the world.
When screening the plethora of film submissions, Sasha Dees chose films for certain themes: classical films (made in the 80s and 90s); international films, which includes any films not made in the U.S.; Hollywood burn, which are commercial films that use Hip hop icons (i.e. Ice Cube and Eve in the motion picture, Barbershop); and an annual theme of choice. The theme of 2003 was called "Elements," referring to films that used only one element of Hip hop. This year’s theme will be "the Source," referring to classic films and film makers that have inspired young film makers of today (i.e. the film Scarface, or the film maker Spike Lee). The film festival features everything from films, and documentaries to short films and animations. When screening the films, Ms. Dees primarily looks for the quality of the film. However, sometimes she bends the rules for films centering on a particular theme she wants to show. While trying to feature films that reflect the organization and Hip hop’s roots, she admits that there’s a tough call between content and quality.; However, she prefers quality nonetheless.
Film as a medium is very powerful. Film is a form of communication that is accessible to a large audience, which includes those who may not read. Hip hop culture alone has become the culture of communication to unite people worldwide. Thus, Hip hop in visual media is simply all the more powerful. For this reason, according to Ms Dees, a Hip hop film festival was needed. Positive and authentic images of Hip hop needed to be shown to the world instead of the false images of Hip hop flooding music videos. Ms. Dees stated, "the video clips [selling false, commercial images] are proof enough that film is powerful since that’s what people are watching." The American commercialized image of Hip hop affects not only audiences in the states but communities wordwide that try to emulate the lifestyle. For instance, the commercialization of gangster rap has been spreading out of the United States and into continents like Europe, where now, as Sasha Dees observes, "though Europe is a very social system, unlike the states, where everyone is pretty much equal economically, kids just act like robbing and shooting is cool because on t.v., it’s shown as cool. [Gangster rap] has traveled to a country where crime is not necessary." . A major challenge in holding a Hip hop film festival was convincing foundations to support the event. Many of the older generations, including the very foundations that could sponsor Hip hop events, began losing their faith in Hip hop culture. Sasha Dees, nonetheless, managed to form a relationship with MTV. MTV provided Black Soil with free publicity, an opportunity to broadcast a thirty second trailer, as well as, a relationship that gave Black Soil the notoriety to become an international success.
Ms. Dees stressed the importance of supporting the film makers because it is ultimately the film makers that are representing Hip hop for the world to see. Ms. Dees further emphasized the importance of giving these film makers "international platforms, which lead to more contacts." Networking and communication moreover will bring the organization one step closer to its goal of an international Hip hop community. Though there are great differences amongst the films (representing everywhere from Columbia and France to Cuba and the U.S.), all of them are representing the same community. Ms. Dees says that the only true difference rides in the fact that "people communicate with the tools they have in their country." Ms. Dees continues, "the content reflects what's happening in their country politically and socially." Although much creativity stems from the artist's response to the social issues of their area, the social issues do not define and limit the art. In addition, language differences deter from the general message. Ms. Dees explains that, simply, "a poem from Columbia has a different flow than a poem out of Cuba." The differences of each region give Hip hop a flavor but don't change the ultimate message.
Overall, the November 2003 Black Soil Film Festival has had a tremendous impact on audiences and individuals on an international level. The three days of the festival were filled with after parties featuring prominent deejays, an art exhibit, the phenomenal group of films, and a provocative panel discussion stimulated as a result of those inspiring films. The festival empowered and inspired Hip hop fans and young film makers alike. It also helped to restore the integrity of Hip hop for the older generations of sponsors who were initially skeptical of supporting the event. Moreover, the most prominent impact of the event, according to Ms. Sasha Dees, was the use of film, and more so, the use of Hip hop inspired media for a form of communication and cross cultural exchange.

© Copyright 2004

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