The oil-rich South American nation of Venezuela is in the midst of a complicated and contradictory process of social transformation. The revolutionary movement, headed by President Hugo Chavez, is redistributing wealth, bringing key industries under state ownership and promoting experiments in direct, participatory democracy. The aim of the Bolivarian revolution is to build a “socialism for the 21st century”.
Driven by the direct involvement of the previously excluded poor majority, the revolution has a strong cultural aspect. A new documentary Hip Hop Revolucion investigates the role of hip hop in the process of change. Made by filmmaker Pablo Navarrete and journalist Jody McIntyre, the film will be released later this year. Visit www.alborada.net for more information.
The article by Navarrete and McIntyre below is slightly abridged from the Latin America Bureau.
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Venezuela’s Hip Hop Revolucion (HHR) movement was founded in 2003 and brings together like-minded young people from across the country. As well as organising several international revolutionary hip hop festivals, HHR has created 31 hip-hop schools across the country. Teenagers can attend in conjunction with their normal day-to-day schooling.
We were told that normally those attending the hip-hop schools learned hip hop skills for four days a week and had one day of political discussion. However, in some schools those attending had decided they preferred the ratio the other way round.
Once participants have “graduated” from the course, they are encouraged to become tutors to the next batch of attendees. Most graduates come from low-income backgrounds, and many go on to establish schools in their local areas.
At a hip hop school we visited near Charallave, about an hour south of Caracas, one student told us how he had done just that.
First, he approached the political leaders in the area, and they agreed that the project was a strong idea. Then, he approached the gang leaders in the neighbourhood, and they agreed to make sure the kids got to and from their classes without being hassled.
To many participants, the hip hop schools are another element of a new spirit of unity and solidarity in their local communities. In their eyes, hip hop and the political struggle are inextricably linked, and this is their chance to play a part in building a better future.
HHR took us to a nearby barrio for a show local HHR members were putting on for the community. As the music started, kids came out from their houses; most of them were still dressed in their school uniforms. Entire families came out to their balconies to watch.
These hip hop workshops are a monthly occurrence, so the young people in the area know when to come. Unfortunately, that afternoon it was pouring with rain, which apparently kept many people indoors.
Nevertheless, a crowd quickly grew. Many of the kids were very young, and, without shoes or a care in the world, they washed their feet in the huge puddles of rainwater.
The barrios are at the heart of the HHR movement, and the crowd at the workshop we visited were captivated by the rapping and break-dancing on display.
Our trip to Venezuela also coincided with the inauguration and first ever conference of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Thirty-three presidents from all of the countries of the Americas (except the US and Canada) were in Caracas for the event.
Photo exhibitions displayed on central avenues of Caracas in the days preceding the conference expressed solidarity with the people of Cuba, Libya, Iraq, the workers' movement in Argentina, the Palestinian people, and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US among others.
“CELAC is the most important development in the last 200 years,” Jamil, a member of HHR, told us.
“We respect Chavez, because he understands our struggle, but we are always looking to be self-critical in order to keep our revolution moving in the right direction...
“I'm a revolutionary from my heart. [If] Chavez fucks around and flips on us, we're gonna flip on him.
“And that's what I think he expects from us. That's why he is so serious with his proposals and with what he does. He has the confidence that he won't flip on the people.
“And he understands that capitalism is crumbling. And this is our time, this is our moment, for Latin America, for Venezuela and for us.”
Video: An appeal for 'crowdfunding' to help Hip Hop Revolucion be finished and released - alboradafilms.
Video: 'Soundtrack to the Struggle' by Iraqi-English hip-hop artist Lowkey, who travelled to Venezuela for the documentary. The clip was shot in Venezuela during the doco's filming - GlobalFaction.