|—||Mr Ignatius Mabasa Deputy Director of British Council Zimbabwe|
I was asked to go to the British Council offices in London in February 2011. Nadine Patel (then Owen) said that the Deputy Director, Ignatius Mabasa, wanted to speak to me about how I could help the hip hop community in Zimbabwe.
After a few phone conversations between London and Harare, it was decided that in order for me to truly reach out to this community, I needed to fly to Zimbabwe. I must admit I was a bit nervous, my main mindset being about the political problems surrounding the notorious Robert Mugabe. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
My trip was planned for April 2011. I assumed I would be going alone, until I got another call. It was brought to my attention that HIFA (Harare International Festival of Arts) was happening at the end of April so, I was asked to bring a new piece to this festival. I took a team of 6 including: myself, 4 dancers and a DJ to perform Hip Hop is in Me.
Narrative stories told in the form of dance are de rigeur for contemporary dance, but when you add popping and locking as well as a little bit of crumping to the mix, what you’re ultimately left with is an extraordinary showcase of physicality and dancing ability. Hip-Hop Is In me certainly brought the house down with their emotionally charged, energy filled show that told the story of a man struggling to be understood and struggling to battle his demons.
This London based team of six added a touch of humour to their work as well, with a hilarious piece that had an unsuspecting audience member take centre stage. Hip Hop Is In Me certainly do have the rhythm and they sure as rain have the bass!
My initial thoughts on arriving in Zimbabwe were ones of “very calm-and laid back”. Maybe this was in comparison to my previous experiences of West Africa, but Southern Africa definitely felt different.
The performance at HIFA allowed me to gauge the state of hip hop dance in Zimbabwe. However, I felt that the audience was not a reflection of the country. It seemed that the price of tickets only allowed higher earners to afford the show and therefore, the demographic of the audience tilted towards a more “white” working make-up.
A visit to the local township of Mbari allowed us to connect with what could be argued as the “real Zimbabwe” and in turn, organise a group of 20 young people to come from the suburbs to enjoy the show.
Having met various individuals who were bringing the fight with regards to hip hop dance in the country, I concluded that there was potential to build something in Zimbabwe. However, not all the people I met were totally transparent in their support for the community.
On returning to the UK, it was decided that the LIVE VIBE template would be taken to Zimbabwe in an attempt to provide the local dancers with a new performance opportunity. Not to mention a new experience for Zimbabwean audiences.
Live Vibe is an original concept which was performed for the first time at Sadler’s Wells. It offers a rare opportunity for young artistes from the worlds of dance, music, spoken word and beyond to present work in a professional environment during the early stages of their careers, as well as the invaluable experience of performing in a top London arts venue alongside established professional companies.
Created by myself, it showcases the UK’s hottest, raw dance talent in an inspirational, interactive atmosphere and ,with the support of trained mentors, helps them take their craft to the next level.
LIVE VIBE UK
Live Vibe began in the UK in 2009 at Sadler’s Wells. Starting with its theme of ELEMENTS, it soon became a popular live interactive show gaining Arts Council funding in 2010. This allowed the Live Vibe at the Movies series to be produced at the Lilian Baylis Studio. The four shows culminated in a fifth show at the Peacock theatre in January 2011, featuring the four finalists of the LBS series performing alongside street dance giants, Flawless. We are currently in the process of putting together an exciting 2012-2013 series.
LIVE VIBE INTERNATIONAL
Live Vibe made its international debut in December 2010 at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. Live Vibe Hong Kong was produced in partnership with Fake Frog Productions, following on from the vision of CEO Jessica Hefes. This show featured dance acts, companies and performing arts schools from Hong Kong, all fused with live bands and audience participation. It was presented in dual language form, featuring Hong Kong’s very own actor and street dancer, Deegor, and myself.
The next stage for Live Vibe Zimbabwe was setting up the local groups to perform at Live Vibe 2012.
In August 2011, I returned to Harare to continue my work. We had put the shout out via various local artists that we were looking for local street dance groups to perform at the culminating show in 2012. We held the auditions at Alliance Francais and were pleased to see 16 groups hungry for this opportunity. After 4 hours of non-stop dancing and deliberation, we chose 6 Dance Crews to perform in the final show and undertake a journey from that point until February. The 6 Crews were: Eschusia, G-Stepperz, Royal Crew, Break Equation, Unit Edge and D-Chronic.
The crews were given the theme of “The Smoke That Thunders” This being the nickname given to Zimbabwe’s most iconic landmark The Victoria Falls.
…And away they went to create.
I returned in December to see them at the half way point of their creation. After spending a few days with them and doing workshops, it was obvious, especially after them sharing a few minutes of their work, that the crews were working in a real LITERAL form. Stories of tourists arriving at the Victoria Falls were in abundance and I decided to have an emergency workshop with all crews to talk about the difference between ABSTRACT and LITERAL work. After two days of work shopping, their minds began to change which resulted in a change in work created. I particularly remember seeing one individual’s face light up. He came to find me after the workshop to tell me about his vision that he was quietly excited about.
The crews were then left until I returned a week before the show in February. I could feel the excitement in Harare from the moment I arrived. It was an amazing week beginning with my team being delayed in UK for 6 hours because of snow, and arriving in Dubai hours late for our connecting flight.An extra day in Dubai was unexpected, but we finally caught the next morning flight to Zimbabwe. So,we were already a day behind schedule and I had the first signs of a flu virus.
Production wise we caught up and got back on schedule, but so did my virus. I woke up on the Thursday morning two days before the show feeling absolutely ghastly. I was rushed to a hospital and discovered I had a fever of 39 degrees…I was burning up…I had antibiotics injected directly into my veins as well as pain killers.
Crazily I was back on my feet in an hour; as they say- no-one wants the sob story!
I arrived at the rehearsal space where I witnessed the most amazing piece of work from one of the crews. It was a wonderful moment because people didn’t know if I was sweating from the antibiotics, or weeping because of the beautiful art that was put before me.
Next day was technical rehearsals at the REPS Theatre. It all ran well and according to plan and before I knew it, it was the show on the Saturday. We had a matinee and an evening performance…both were fantastic with great energy. The shows were well received by the mixed audience. Part of my team on this last visit was Tony Adigun from UK. Tony is Artistic Director and Choreographer of Avant Garde Dance. On this mission he was charged with pulling together a Super Crew and choreographing a piece in three days which would end the show. I must sa,y this vision was realised and the final Super Crew performance at Live Vibe was epic.
In conclusion, the Zimbabwe experience has been the most fulfilling project so far of my 16 years in the dance industry. The process was not easy, but I realised it would not be as you had to initially understand another culture before instructing and carrying out the process you believe will have the most effect. The biggest challenge was identifying people “on the ground” in Zimbabwe that were genuine and wanted to see the community move forward. I guess you could say the same thing exists in all global communities. Specifically in Harare there were some parties not very transparent, but once there was a realisation of these people it was best to just move on without them.
I want to say thank you to the British Council Zimbabwe. A special mention to Ignatius Mababsa who initially spoke to me about his vision. Also Chipo Kanyumba, who has worked tirelessly on this project. Big shout to Charlene Toussaint for all her hard work, as well as Celia Moran in support. Final shout to Bonita Cattle who has been instrumental in laying the foundations of Live Vibe from its inception.
We go back to Zimbabwe for HIFA (Harare International Festival of Arts) on April 27th with a repeat of the show on May 2nd…
Watch this space…
Hakeem Onibudo is a performer, choreographer/director, mentor British Council Ambassador and professional host who began teaching dance in 1995, forming the company Impact Dance. His work has enabled him to work with children, young people, amateurs, semi-professionals and professionals in projects varying from school workshops, TV performances and theatre productions, from London to many Global communities. These include work with BBC TV, Nickelodeon, CH4 (Endemol), ITV, Cosmopolitan Show, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Royal Ballet School, Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells and Peacock Theatre to name but a few. He is the creator of the unique street-style dance class XPRESS YO’SELF, which has been running at Danceworks for 16 years.