I found myself yesterday evening sitting in a darkened Primary school hall, waiting for a Hip Hop (what does one call it” Show? Exhibition? Display? Performance?) ... choose any of those words ... to begin.
The crowd was standard primary school parent fare. There were the trendy mothers; the matter-of-fact no-nonsense mothers; the mothers with too much time on their hands; the mothers with too little; and some grandparents looking scared. There were fathers as well, some looked a little unwilling, but everyone was putting on a brave front.
The music is not hard to describe – especially for those of us who demand that it is turned off the moment it makes its appearance on commercial radio stations one may be listening to on one’s travels – it is unbearable.
The lyrics ... or perhaps more accurately, words to accompany the unbearable throb of the other stuff are impossible to unscramble. The opening one went something like this:
Da da de Da da ... wanna be a mole; Da da de Da da ... all about control; Da da de Da da ... sitting on a pole; Da da de da da ... lookin’ at a hole.
I have no idea what they might mean, but I could not fail to notice the extraordinary things the dancer on the stage was doing. He was an older bloke of (it’s difficult to judge these days and was a bit hard to see, because his shirt kept on sliding down his torso to cover his head) something like 18 perhaps? He was balancing on one arm, T-shirt around his head and woolen cap having fallen off, naked torso and jeaned legs thrusting and contorting in the air.
For a novice, like me, it was a fairly eye-catching and dramatic beginning to an evening which really was revelatory. Hip Hop is a whole cultural thing, which I have absolutely no idea about. It has happened around me, for the past 20 years, and I have simply been able to turn a switch to get rid of it. There are movements the kids were doing with and to each other, which I have no idea of. Poses, stances, jerks which signify stuff. Stuff like – “well that’s me”; or “I’m done, your turn now”; or “ yes, I acknowledge your clapping out there”.
It was a bit like watching athletics, ballet and mapantsula - all rolled into a Tik pipe and lit with the American flag. But it is, for better or for worse, common culture.
The clothing they were wearing was most improbable – and it meant that the skill was not only in jerking your legs in the air, while you swapped hands in your handstand. But you also needed to make sure your oversized jeans would not fall down when you were right side up, or that the crotch had not fallen down so low, that you would be completely restricted when you wanted to disengage your legs from your hip joints – which you would do often. You also have to manage your cap on your head, when you are upside down.
I was lost in wonder and amazement! And the amount of technical skill was almost unbelievable. I mean, these were not professional dancers, they are kids! Some of them were kids at Primary school and others were from the nearby High school. I could not believe my eyes, when I saw my own, usually somewhat shy child, leaping around and doing cartwheels, in time and in sequence!
So, what do I make of it? It was, certainly, bewildering. And as my partner’s father commented afterwards – “If we had to do that we would need a Hip op!” But the fact is, it was all really impressive. And I saw this phenomenon in a completely different light last night.
Does that mean I am going to allow Hip Hop on the car radio – bloody hell, no!