Last summer The Bridge: UK Hip-Hop festival made it’s debut on Tyneside: an all day celebration of hip-hop culture that looked to inspire people not only to enjoy music, but to dig deeper into the colourful culture that we all love through performances, talks, workshops and more. The festival had some of the biggest upcoming names in UK hip-hop on the bill, like Genesis Elijah and Paigey Cakey, but more impressively it also featured some of the best from the humble North East scene on it’s Home Grown Stage, like Reali-T, 90BRO, Listaa and HB to name but a few.
Given the success of last year’s event, The Bridge is back for a sequel this summer! The Sage, Gateshead, will play host to the jam packed festival line-up now across two days on 29th and 30th of June. The event is again brimming with incredible local talents as well as internationally recognised artists, a multitude of talks that look deeper into hip-hop’s rich culture, and open mic events that will let budding emcees test their skills.
We spoke to festival organisers Sandy Duff and Donald Jenkins in order to find out more about the philosophy behind The Bridge and what the event means to them…
The Bridge is run in conjunction with CoMusica, a community project that you’re a part of – could you tell us a little about that?
I work for CoMusica, which is part of Sage Gateshead, and a main focus of that work is supporting young people’s development, both musically and as individuals. We run a range of inclusive programmes that are geared to helping people in different situations, using music as a way of improving their lives. It could be that someone is having troubles in their life and music can provide an escape from that, or it could be that you have the skills and the talent, but don’t have a route into the industry.
CoMusica can help with training and courses that improve those skills and open up new networks, new friendships and new experiences. We’ve helped young people get their lyrics and beats together, make recordings, put out albums, EPs, mixtapes, get signed, get booked and ultimately, get paid for doing what they love. It’s a slow process and there’s no “get rich quick” route but those who are dedicated can achieve it.
How pleased are you that The Bridge is back for its second year?
It’s great to see The Bridge back again this year. The team do a fantastic job representing the UK hip-hop scene and in particular shining a light on some of the incredible talent that’s up here. For me hip-hop culture transcends music; it’s not just fashion, dance moves or writing your name, it’s a whole community brought up on the principles of education, support and nurturing, which is really the core aims of my work for CoMusica.
What were your highlights of last year’s event?
Obviously my focus lies with the participation and emerging talent elements of the event, so highlights for me were the workshops which firmly repped the hip-hop elements. It’s important for the scene that we don’t live in isolation, members need to understand the importance of each art form and appreciate how they fit together. This leads on nicely to the talks last year, which I felt were really exciting. The UK history talk was important as it gave some context to the culture from key voices in the early scene, and I was especially proud we were able to create a platform for women in hip-hop to have a voice in both the panel talk and in the amazing live performances so many of them dropped.
A lot of people will only know hip-hop as a music genre, but of course it’s a lot more than that, what other elements of hip-hop culture will be on show at The Bridge?
Yeah, the elements are key! At the CoMusica event at Sage Gateshead on the Saturday we have some amazing stuff going on that young people can get involved in. There’s live art going up from Dreph, Nomad Clan and Sune, plus workshops with Dreph and the Ghetto Method Crew. Beatbox masterclasses with Carpetface, Dance workshops from Bad Taste Cru and Soca-To-Me, lyric writing and cyphers with Leddie MC, Seek the Northerner and Ken Masters, and a DJ masterclass with Smoove plus some very special guests dropping in.
Donald a lot of people will know you from your poetry and Born Lippy events, so how do those things link with The Bridge?
I’ve been a huge hip-hop fan for 30 years now. It’s through my love of rap lyrics and rhymes that I became interested in spoken word, having not liked much of the poetry I was exposed to in school. When I started writing myself, it was with the intention of writing rap bars but they morphed into poetry stanzas when I became exposed to the poetry slam scene. Today I write and perform poetry and sometimes rap as well. I’m currently part of the group Front Step Collective; on some of our tracks my delivery is still pure hip-hop laden over live instruments.
The events I run, like Born Lippy, are about celebrating all things wordy, from performance poetry and hip-hop to comedy. Each night draws on what I think are the obvious connections between these different art forms. They are all about manipulating the English language, word play, talking and reflecting on experience and engaging audiences through interactive performance. Our nights are aimed at people who wouldn’t normally access poetry, maybe because of being perceived as dull, confusing or written in an by gone era. Our line-ups have included rappers like Stig of the Dump, Bobbie Johnson, Rick Fury and 90BRO, so Born Lippy is also about showcasing hip-hop to new audiences beyond the traditional fans.
You’re also going to be doing a few talks during the festival, what will they be on?
I’m running a talk at Arch Sixteen on Saturday 30th at 11:30 called ‘Oldskool vs Newskool: Changing the Definition’ – should modern rap be called hip-hop or not? It will look at the lyrics, fashion and culture of hip-hop, how they have changed, whether or not 90’s boombap era is what should define hip-hop and if styles like grime and ‘mumble rap’ fall into the category of hip hop or not.
Are their any other parts of the festival/artists you’re looking forward to seeing on the day?
I’m really looking forward to seeing the DJ Supreme IcePick showcase at Kommunity on Friday night at 6pm. Oldkool legendary producer, and turntablist.
Finally, what does the festival mean to you?
It’s a chance to show that the North East can be the landmark for celebrating hip-hop culture, for creating a platform for international and local acts to perform together. An opportunity to bring all the elements together for one show. A place for young people to access hip-hop training. A place for people to explore the roots of British hip-hop. It’s about having honest debate about the issues that effect our scene.
By Johnathan Ramsay