Youth from Hillbrow and Johannesburg inner city display enthusiasm during rehearsals for the upcoming hip hop festival

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTRS Editor

On my way to Windybrow Centre of the Arts in Hillbrow on Saturday, March 11, 2023, I received a call from a friend while walking in the streets of Hillbrow. During that call I was quick to tell the friend to cut short the call as I “was in a dangerous place, too risky to be talking on a phone.” A few minutes later as I arrived at Windybrow Centre of the Arts and witnessed what the young people from this community and the other surrounding inner city neighbourhoods were doing in the rehearsal room, my spirits were lifted. A sense of hope instead of fear seized me. 

These teenagers, irrespective of the environment they find themselves in are artistically transforming their lives for the better. As I saw the excitement on their faces, I in fact regretted that statement I had made carelessly earlier on.  After all, People live there and they have big dreams to change their lives and that of their community for the better.

They are determined to do this through artistic self-expression.  And, yes Hillbrow, just like many other neighbourhoods in South Africa where there is high levels of unemployment, over-crowdedness and hunger, it is not wise to be talking on an expensive cell phone mindlessly in the streets. But a narrative that generally says well, everything is bad and dangerous in this community is certainly incorrect. Good things are happening there, especially among a section of the youth from this community, who are working with a number of role players, including Non Profit Organisations active there.

I realised the stupidity of my general labelling of the place as simply dangerous without much thought to be incorrect. The youth I found in Windybrow rehearsing a dance production for the upcoming hip hop festival created for talented teenagers from this community and the inner city to are confident, talented and know what they want in life. The upcoming hip hop festival featuring mainly talent from this community promises to be an eye opener for visitors.

This is because a significant section of the youth from this community certainly have dreams to reverse this narrative that simply labels their neighbourhood simply as dangerous with nothing good coming out of it. Organised as a festival encouraging clean living, free from the damaging culture of using alcohol and drugs as some form of entertainment at music festivals, this hip hop festival is the first of its kind to  ever take place in inner city of Johannesburg  involving the youth from the community as participating artists.  And the youth from this community who will be performing at this festival are enthusiastic. This hip hop festival clearly will give the audience a window on to the determination and commitment by the young people to change their lives and that of their community for the better using creativity. That may even change the general public perception that nothing good ever comes out of this community. These teenagers have bid dreams and the excitement and the energy they exuded as they went through their dance moves, left me with an understanding that the environment in which someone comes from does not actually determine one’s destiny. Among them there is clearly talent to look out for and those that will attend this festival at Con Hill on March 25, 2023, will certainly witness the enthusiasm and the talent to perform that these teenagers have.

These youth are not alone on this transformative journey though. A number of organisations with a vision to change the perception that youth from socially and economically depressed neighbourhoods such as Hillbrow and Johannesburg inner city, cannot rise above their circumstances are behind this journey of hope.

They are collaborating in putting together this festival together and offer an opportunity to these youth to express themselves artistically through this hip hop festival of hope. And significantly the festival will take place against the backdrop of Human Rights month in South Africa, which will be marked by various festivities happening at Con Hill, of which this festival is a part of.

Essentially what this hip hop festival seeks to do is to deal with bigger issues that afflict this community from time to time, and create an opportunity for social cohesion and unity among the different communities that call this place home.

Brought by Lefika La Phodiso in partnership with National Arts Council, Flame Studios, Windybrow Arts Centre and others Uzwano  Hip Hop among other issues seeks address issues that often divide South Africans and those hailing from elsewhere on the African continent, resulting in xenophobic attitudes and even confrontation in some cases.

“The organisers and the participating teenagers will therefore expressing themselves using Hip Hop as an art form to address social justice issues in a safe space for teenagers. In many ways they are reimagining Hip Hop for positive outlooks and empowerment. Providing teenagers from the inner-city an opportunity to see live music without alcohol and drugs.

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