The Entertainersby Rob Scher / Images by Suicide Monkey / 17.11.2011
I managed to fake a bit of street cred for last week’s interview with the Royal Fam Kings. This week, I have no chance. Duane from Ubuntu B-Boys, arguably South Africa’s number one b-boy crew is coming to my house for the interview. I consider hiding the Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath posters. A housemate suggests replacing them with a Beastie Boys one. That’s how un-street my house is.
Duane arrives with fellow Ubuntu member Gift. After the offer of a cold Black Label, they seem more relaxed in the presence of Ozzy staring down at them from the wall. The past week has been quite an education for me and Duane assumes the role of teacher comfortably as he explains the essence of what it is to be a b-boy, “It’s first about finding yourself. To be a true b-boy you must know your style, what flow you’re going to do. You are either going to be a power move b-boy, a style b-boy or a popper and locker.”
These are words I’m becoming familiar with. I now describe my sporadic movements on a dancefloor as popping. I like to pop, although I think I’m missing out on the lock part. I wonder if I could become a b-boy, for Duane it’s been a long process. “I’ve been doing this thing for about 15 years, I left school before matric and got a chance to go to the Battle of the Year in Germany. I decided then to pursue what I love, travelling and b-boying. I’ve never worked a proper job in my life. It’s a hustle.”
Envious of someone that’s survived this long without a proper job I’m interested in how Duane’s managed. He smirks, “Through years of positive real work that I’ve put in, hardcore training and also teaching kids in communities. The government doesn’t give us funding, but because of the work that we’ve been doing people have started supporting us and seeing how real we are. We are finally getting funding from guys like Red Bull. It’s been tough but it’s the mountain you need to climb to get to the other side.”
The lesson continues as Duane explains the five elements of hip-hop: MC-ing, b-boying, graffiti artists, DJ’s and ‘Knowledge of Self’. The last element seems a tad existential and I challenge Duane on this. As someone proudly from the Cape Flats, how does he navigate a culture largely informed by America. “My knowledge of hip-hop, experience, and from what I’ve been researching is that hip hop and b-boying does not belong solely to America, it’s an African art form. If you trace back to the days when they used to lam in the circle and make their fire, they would be spitting rhymes, singing and chanting. Someone would play the drum, which is basically the DJ keeping the beat.” Going back to the context of how the scene began in New York, Duane counters. “Back in the 80s in the south Bronx it started with funk – African Bambaataa was where the scene started.”
Duane has a fierce passion for the culture and with events like the Red Bull Beat Battle, he seems optimistic about the future. “For dance itself, its huge. Dance is going to get seen now on a larger scale that’s a bit more mainstream. There’s always going to be a stigma attached when corporateplayers get involved, but for me anyway, if it’s going to contribute towards the growth of dance, I’m cool with it. Red Bull stays true to what they’re doing, they consult with the dancers and make sure they do it properly.”
The Black Labels are running dry and the Ubuntu guys have a tight schedule before departing for Joburg. With someone who stays true to b-boying and the culture of hip-hop, I ask Duane how he feels about the format of the Beat Battle. Is it fair for eight completely different dance styles to go up against each other in a competition?
“At the end of the day, the best show wins. It’s entertainment, skills are important but it’s about making the crowd happy. For a b-boy competition you stick to the fundamentals, but this is for entertainment, still staying true to what you’re representing. We want to show that we can entertain, and still b-boy.”
*All images © Suicide Monkey.
Learn more about Red Bull Beat Battle here.