For 2 1/2 weeks, I had the distinct honor of joining legendary Hip Hop Producer Diamond D, Pop and Lockin’ Specialist Pop Master Fabel, and Denver’s finest DJ B*Money as the lyricist/MC instructor for the Serbian contingent of The Next Level Program.
Next Level is “an initiative of the US State Dept & UNC Music Dept to send artists around the world to use hip-hop as a tool for cultural diplomacy & conflict resolution.” Over 2 weeks, we worked with a vibrant community of Serbian Hip Hoppers in Belgrade and Novi Sad. The Belgrade experience concluded with an outdoor performance at Dom Omladine after 10 days of skill-building. Novi Sad’s two and a half day residency concluded with a performance of its own, which we shuffled indoors at the promise of rain.
I was inspired by the hope that exists beneath the justifiable layer of pessimism exhibited by many of the students with whom I taught, learned, and chilled. It was only 15 years ago that NATO bombed former Yugoslavia. On one outing, we drove past the Yugoslav Army Headquarters that were damaged by NATO cruise missiles in 1999. Trying to build a cultural identity while physical and psychological remnants of war are so palpable is it’s very own struggle. In some essences, it seems that such a truth motivates the art and expressions of the people.
We also experienced Serbian nightlife, partying along the Danube and Sava Rivers with a all-night, energetic crew. Everyone–the hotel staff, the workshop participants, the tech and soundpeople, our Embassy hosts–generously extended their time and energy to ensure an expansive, creative experience and an overall good time. I’m so very grateful to everyone involved.
Visit Next Level’s website for a slue of photos and videos from all Next Level residencies including images from the final Belgrade performance at Dom Omladine and video from our live stream session at Watch More TV Radio in Novi Sad. And please visit the following links to support the work of those committed to making music, fighting homophobia and classism, and building sustainable Hip Hop culture in Serbia:
shirlette Next Level performance with MC Shan