Jonzi D is a dancer, spoken word artist and director, he is the foremost advocate for hip-hop theatre who has changed and continues to change the profile and influenced the development of the UK British hip-hop dance and theatre scene over the 20 years.
Breakin’ Convention is the UK’s festival of hip hop dance theatre, presenting dance by companies and crews from around the world and around the corner. The 2017 festival includes live performances from top hip hop dance crews including Soweto Skeleton Movers (South Africa) Just Dance (Korea) and Tentacle Tribe (Canada).
1.What would you describe as the position of hip-hop theatre in the UK?
- There is a lot of contemporary dance artists that are using hip-hop in their work and it is still being labelled as contemporary dance. I see obvious breaking or popping, locking and I see this in a lot of new work so yes, it is a very exciting place for hip-hop theatre right now as a language in the theatre.
2. How did you get involved in hip-pop theatre?
- As a hip-hop artist and a theatre artist I wondered why they were so polarised. So, when I left London Contemporary Dance School all my energy went into seeing how the elements of hip-hop artistic disciplines could be a theatrical vehicle.
3. Why do you think hip-hop is important to British culture?
- Firstly, the concept of British culture does not acknowledge the amount of people who are bringing culture to the Britain. It’s a weird one. The cities are very diverse places. But I can answer in relation to London culture, that is where I am from, it is where I grew up and where I met the world! From Africa, from North America, from China, the world exists in London. With hip-hop culture, it is not about where you are from but where you are at and when you are in London it feels like the world. We must move past the constraints that are imposed.
- 4. How do you think rap and hip-hop music as genre have evolved over the last 20 years do you think it can maintain its authenticity?
- I think that music has been… Hmmm. I think hip-hop music as an idea is a very strange concept. I can tell you why I think this. As soon as hip-hop music became controlled by the major labels they started to steer the music towards a gangster a bitch, ho fantasy that does not really represent the reality of what real hip-hop is. All you need to do is put on the radio for the last 20 years and you hear hard-core swearing, stuff like that. I know MC’s all around the world and most of them, none of us rap like that. And it begs the question why does the music industry constantly want to present us like criminals. I have a real problem with music industry because I think the most far-reaching aspects of hip-hop culture has been the most bastardised. If you are asking me about hip – hop music I think the industry has failed hip-hop in the last 30 years.
- 5 What was your inspiration for Breakin’ Convention and how do you see it growing?
- Interesting and in relation to the last question I saw Breakin’ Convention as a chance to present hip-hop culture without the hysteria surrounding gangster crime. I wanted to create something that was family orientated, that both adults and children can enjoy, be inspired and be amazed by all the elements of hip-hop culture and not to be wrapped up in this criminal energy which is not the roots of the culture. I found hip-hop when I was 13 and I was not a criminal then and I am not a criminal now. Hip-hop has been a part of my life all the time. So, I think it is a bit unfair that some of the images that are portrayed. Breakin convention is about pushing images that challenge those stereotypes presenting images of creativity and empowerment most importantly.
- 6. Included in your impressive resume is a MBE nomination in 2011. How does it make you feel to be recognised for your work?
- It makes you feel good. (laughter) The value of what hip-hop is, is being acknowledged. If it needs to happen via me then that is cool. But I am excited because I do champion hip-hop and push it a lot. It is not about me! But to get a reward, yeah that was something that made me happy.
- 7.Who are the names in Hip-hop that you think will influence the next generation?
- BBoy Sunni, he is a UK BBoy who is really good and I have a lot of faith in him to do well in the future. In relation to theatre I would say Ivan Blackstock he is doing very very interesting theatrical hip -hop and unflinching strong work.
- 8.The origins of Hip-Hop in NY’s Bronx were about the deprivation of a cultural sect, how is UK hip-hop different or is it?
- I don’t think it is different, obviously, they are differences but I think the socio-economic environment is the same. We have that here, the richer getting richer and the poorer getting poorer. There is a sense of inequality. So, I think the social context will encourage people to seek empowerment through the arts. So, I see a movement that is developing and growing, some would call it Grime. But I think is all part of the same movement of so-called street art culture. Ultimately, I hope this movement will facilitate real change. As would voting in Jeremy Corbyn. It is interesting how he has a lot of the hip-hop community on side, as he represents a leadership, which I think from a hip-hop perspective we can understand. Not this fake leadership that these political parties want to propose. They are taking us for ride. I do not want to hear a government that tells us education is a privilege. Hip-hop is a culture of self -education and it has existed outside of the institutions and look how powerful it has been.
- 9. What are some of the highlights of this year’s Breakin’ Convention UK tour?
- All the internationals touring companies, Soweto Skeleton Movers, SA Tentacle Tribe from Canada and Just Dance from South Korea. What I really want to stress is the great work happening around the country. For me that is the big highlight of this tour.
- 10.What advice would you give to artists and performers interested in Hip-Hop theatre?
- Train hard at your hip-hop techniques before you start doing theatre. It is important to understand the foundation of hip-hop technique before theatrical interpretation.
- The tour ends on June 2nd and will now visit Leicester, Blackpool, Brighton and Birmingham to catch the rest of the tour in your city book here: http://breakinconvention.com/events/festival/breakin-convention-2017-leicester
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