Next Level Bangladesh - Hip Hop in Dhaka!

Not something I expected to be writing about, but Grace and I went to a hip hop show about a month ago. It was a joint effort of the US Embassy, the UNC Department of Music (small world!), and I imagine a lot of other people to whom I'm now giving short shrift. There are some better write-ups here and here, as well as a Facebook page, but the basic gist is that several American hip hop artists travel the world and collaborate with local artists to put on shows together, in addition to hosting workshops and other things.

Getting to the show was a bit of a hassle, but that's a pretty tired refrain at this point. Actually arriving was a bit more exciting. There was a massive line outside. Grace, ever careful to avoid wielding her diplomatic privilege, politely queued up at the end. I, who wield Grace's diplomatic privilege at every opportunity (maybe I'm just more practiced at wielding privilege seeing as how my descriptors read like those of the quintessential patriarchal bogeyman), suggested that maybe we could jump in front of the line, seeing as we were the only non-Bangladeshis in it. This turned out to be the right call, as we were quickly swept inside and ushered to the front three rows (reserved for fine, fancy folks such as ourselves). I will grudgingly admit there are some perks to diplomatic travel.

The stage set-up was pretty cool. DJ booth in the middle with some graffiti installations on either side, all backed by a projection screen displaying scenes from Dhaka.

After various introductions the show got started in earnest. I'll mostly try to include videos, since pictures hardly give the full effect for something like this. There was a lot of fusion of traditional Bengali music, song, and dance with more modern hip hop styles. The video below captures one of these transitions.

Shortly afterwards these guys segued into break-dancing, which included some classic moves.

There was also a good amount of straight-up rapping, though this snippet doesn't really do it justice (more later!).

Beat-boxing was pretty prominent, too. Hopefully I'm not getting this wrong, but I believe the guy playing guitar is singing Bangladesh's national anthem while accompanied by a beat-boxer.

Another act featured a dancer and beat-boxer duo, with some pretty impressive choreography. Unfortunately the video I captured was pretty bad, so you'll have to content yourself with a single still.

Speaking of things that I failed to capture well in video format, there was a bit of a DJ battle. At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old man (usually I strive for crotchety young man), it was a bit disappointing that no one was turn-tabling on site. Just hitting play on their laptops. But, hey, if it works for Girl Talk...

Regardless, it was made more interesting by dance accompaniment, and a lot of the beats were really good (though the crowd didn't always agree with me on who should win).

One of the American artists in the group was none other than Asheru. Now, to be honest, I actually didn't really know who he was. Even when he launched into "Judo Flip" (aka The Boondocks theme song), I thought he might just be covering it. Only after a few seconds of him demonstrating his mastery of it did I realize it was actually him. Pretty cool! Here's a bit of his performance.

One of the last performances featured two dancers, again mixing up hip hop sensibilities with traditional Bengali ones.

The show ended with the entire (sizable) cast being brought out on stage, to great applause. Fun times!