By Bill Aguado
We often think of artists as those whose work hangs on museum walls, or who perform on the major stages, and so on. Today’s generation of Bronx hip-hop artists explodes with hybrid genres, such as music with spoken word and digital art combined. We experience the hip-hop artists with Latin Jazz or Western African and R&B or any combination of rhythms. You can find these performing or performance artists in alternative venues, throughout the Bronx, El Barrio and Upper Manhattan, representing voices from the cultural battlefront, striving to be heard and recognized. These artists visually reflect the values, struggles and challenges that artists of color experience. Many use their communities as their creative base and sources of inspiration. But all are hard working, constantly rehearsing, rewriting and refining. They share a tremendous pride in their works and recognize the efforts of their peers.
Collectives like Rebel Diaz (www.rebeldiaz.com) reflect a strong community empowerment and vision, primarily among communities of color. Full Circle under the direction of Rockafella and Kwikstep, have inspired so many young dancers and have redefined break dancing as an interdisciplinary art form. La Bruja, a poet, composer, musician and playwright, has combined these art forms to promote her Puerto Rican culture as a creative force. And Circa 95 has adapted the pop-up gallery concept to empower young women entrepreneurs while promoting their original digital hip-hop music. There are certainly hundreds, even thousands, more who use their creative forces to define and redefine contemporary culture with their unique voices and perspectives. Each of these voices is centered on their heritage and chronicles their ethnic-specific cultural experience. These Bronx hip-hop artists are the “town criers” keeping their peers, neighborhoods and social networks informed and alerted to the many challenges their communities face. These artists are models for community engagement and cultural empowerment.
Bill Aguado, an exhibition organizer and cultural activist, is the former long-time executive director of the Bronx Council on the Arts.