As we were leaving the Living Word Festival, I tell Barb that it feels like everything is happening in its proper order. Attending Paul Flores’ USF talk on the lineage of hip-hop, finding Nikki Giovanni’s interview on the connections between hip-hop and folk culture, and then having this festival go down right here in West Oakland’s own Lil Bobby Hutton Park (aka DeFermery Park).
Props to everyone at Youth Speaks for putting together a gathering that brought together so many of of the classic elements (MCing, DJing, and Graf) with the modern realities of urban survival (voter registration, grass roots lobbying, local sustainable produce, and affordable building materials) and all under the umbrella of arts awareness. The result was a general attitude of shared open knowledge, respect of individual experience, block party revelry, community outreach, and everyone looking out for their own personal good time.
One of the highlights was seeing Town Park in full effect with a wide array of skaters from every demo, age group, and ethnic makeup you could imagine. The only material requirement: bring your own board. The only non-participant requirement: Get your skate on or find a safe spot to watch.
From the distance I was viewing the skaters, I imagined that it didn’t matter how fancy or new your skateboard was, all that mattered is how hard you rode and your commitment to push yourself a little further to get to that next trick. More than anything, it reminded me of the real spirit of hip-hop’s origins, how you take what you got and turn it into an art form.
The tag line of the festival was red, black and GREEN in a nod to the Bay Area’s consistent commitment to diversity and environmentalism which was no big surprise but it was chill to find out that even the paint the graf artists were using were eco-friendly. Nice!
Sadly, we couldn’t stick around for the headliner of the festival, the mighty Mos Def, since we had already committed to attending the Korean Diaspora Reading at Eastwind with Lee Herrick and Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, but we did get a chance to hear Los Rakas bring it with an infectious, carefree, and dynamic energy was well in line with the vibe of the festival. Their lyricals were on point with one MC acting as the sonorous sound canvas full of rolling Rs, booming echoes, and long drones as a frame for his partners crisp, staccato cadence. All the while paying homage to their roots in Panama, the Fruitvale, and sharing props with the woman providing their beats–DJ Leydis.
You better believe that we’re making plans for next year’s festival and doing our best to stick around for the whole day.
Los Rakas at the Living Word Festival
Mos Def Live @ Defremery Park! Oakland, CA