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The great British break-off

Breakin’ Convention, a celebration of hip-hop culture, is set to return with star performers, DJs, freestyle dance jams and graffiti exhibitions

20 April, 2017 — By Róisín Gadelrab

Breakin’ Convention artistic director Jonzi D

MERCURY Prize winner Speech Debelle and rapper Klashnekov are among the artists set to appear at a special outdoor “Park Jam”, closing a celebration of hip-hop culture in Clerkenwell over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Breakin’ Convention, Sadlers Wells’ annual hip-hop festival, returns on April 29-May 1 with a packed programme of national and international acts – two days of quality hip-hop dance theatre, ending with a free, outdoor family party at Spa Fields.

In between performances and during intervals, the Sadlers’ foyer will be transformed with DJs, freestyle dance jams, graffiti exhibitions, workshops from top international artists and live aerosol art. Celebrated spoken word artist, dancer and Breakin’ Convention artistic director Jonzi D curates the festival, which he founded with Alistair Spalding 14 years ago.

Jonzi said: “It came about as a result of me touring my hip-hop theatre show Lyrikal Fearta – my first hip-hop show that I felt was my first style of performance because nobody else was doing it at the time.

“In the 90s, when I was touring, there were a lot of people, particularly in France, doing contemporary dance theatre using abstraction within the form, rather than in battles or within a social dance context, so I thought, this justifies my reason for doing it, I’m not weird. This is a chance to say hip-hop theatre is a genre.”

At the time, Jonzi was working with Alistair, who went on to be appointed CEO of Sadlers Wells.

Jonzi said: “He called me and said, ‘that hip-hop theatre you’re talking about, let’s do it’. I wanted to put graffiti on the white walls in the mezzanine area. I thought he was going to say, ‘no you can’t do that’. But he said, ‘let’s do it, it’s white, we can paint over it the next day if we want’.

“We did our first show, we got rave reviews, they were chucking five stars about.”

Just Dance will be at Breakin’ Convention

Jonzi credits part of the festival’s success to the nature of a hip-hop audience.

“We got a lot of noise,” he said. “I encouraged people to use their phones. There’s always a point where I get people to take their phones out. A lot of the reviewers were responding to the audience response. It was beyond any theatre shows that were out. Usually theatre is very silent, maybe a few titters, but with Breakin’ Convention you get fans, noise. We break the fourth wall so well.”

The festival has since gone international and tours around the world.

“Our first date was at the world-famous Harlem Apollo, where James Brown and Aretha Franklin have played, a stone’s throw away from the source of hip-hop culture,” said Jonzi.

“A lot of the music in America over the years had to leave America because of political situations. There was apartheid at the time, jazz musicians like Dizzie Gillespie had to come to Europe for jazz music to be celebrated as a culture. This is exactly what’s happening with hip-hop now. There’s a parallel with what happened with jazz musicians having to leave the US for their art to be valued. A similar thing is happening today with hip-hop, which comes from disenfranchised communities in America.”

Breakin’ Convention highlights

THIS year’s Breakin’ Convention Programme is packed with special acts. For the full programme, visit www.breakinconvention.com.

In the meantime, Jonzi D has picked out some acts to look out for: “We have a very special event on the Friday night – we’re doing a collaboration with Jazz Refreshed, probably the coolest brand in music in London today. Natalie Stewart from Floetry, she’s going solo, exciting musical collaborations, the Freestyle Funk Forum, four dancers from around the world and beat-boxer Hobbit, DJ Psycho Mantis, jazz musician Jason Yard, will be playing. The main event, we have artists from Korea called Just Dance, amazing, a crew from France called DC Vortex choreographed by Yugson of Wanted Posse fame, a crew from Austria doing a piece called FOMO – another piece about mobile phones and social media.”

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