Behind big, cocoa brown eyes and the uniformly sized, tightly rooted dreadlocks of my smiling elevator companion, was the moderator of my first CMJ panel. I noticed him before, in his austere light brown blazer. We registered side-by-side and he seemed quietly content, yet unabashedly intrigued by his surroundings. He's the kind of man who presses impatiently on the "close door" button in the elevator, but upon selling you a copy of his book he'll humbly encourage you to contact him if you didn't enjoy the read (and not in that pretentious way, but quite sincerely).
Blitz the Ambassador
When I walked into the panel entitled "Across Cultures: Beats and Rhymes Worldwide" I was overcome by a sense of comprehension and satisfaction when I saw my stair-defying friend sitting in the front of the room behind a name card that read "Dalton Higgins." Author of the newly released book Hip Hop World, Higgins is also a broadcaster an international music booker. The panel that he was guiding today was an exploration of international hip-hop and an analysis of its place and abilities within the U.S. market. More importantly, the panel discussed how U.S. hip-hop is heard globally and how our artists – hip-hop or not – can (and should) begin to be a part of that globalization process.
The remaining panel members consisted of a diverse and accomplished group of industry professionals including publicist and promoter (and global marketing guru) Fiona Bloom of The Bloom Effect, filmmaker Magee McIlvaine of the international, fair trade record company Nomadic Wax, lyricist and radio show host MC Melodee of Amsterdam's hip-hop group La Melodia, and music writer/blogger and photographer Matt Sonzala.
The discussion was poignantly focused, beginning with different ways to break out of your hood while emphasizing the undeniable necessity of networking. One thing that all five panelist agreed on wholeheartedly is how generating revenue should take a back seat to investing in the experience of brand-building and traveling to make connections. They encouraged their audience to spend their time and money going to specific places and pounding the pavement – whether in international cities or known music meccas in the States.
MC Melodee of La Melodia
"So many people think that the world is inaccessible, and it's not," said Bloom. In a day where CD sales are plummeting and technology is shifting the trends and realities of all industries, she's right on. The ability to reach out globally by the strength of your connections and the universality of your art is, indeed, quite the staying power.
The panel also discussed how sometimes creating an educational or creative package to go along with your show will give you an interesting edge. Have many artists thought about workshopping before or after a set (or creating a show where this is comfortable and comprehensive)? Whether it is an educational element or not, the panelists encouraged artists to specifically package themselves and their live performances to fit their brand, their audience and the quickly changing market.
After all, isn't every musician selling their personality just as much as their music? Creative merchandising and packaging is key to getting people interested for more than just a few minutes, especially if your target is (and very well should be) global.
Panelists Bloom and McIlvaine also produced and promoted a showcase that was happening later that night. It was CMJ's only international hip-hop night, located at Manhattan's 92 Y Tribeca. Hosted by Blitz the Ambassador, the global throw-down featured the warm, fierce MC Melodee and her group La Melodia; expressive, high-energy rap duo from Barcelona, At Versaris; Israel's Coolooloosh, a band with soul, flowing rhymes and just a little bit of Klezmer; Moroccan afrobeat and modern rap group Alfaress; and the rough, multi-lingual rhymes and complexly oriented, organic beats of supergroup Nomadic Massive.
Anybody who attended the show was surely converted. All you have to do is expose yourself to world music to realize the language barrier that seemingly restricts us from getting close is really just a fence we can choose to open or close.
-Words and photos by Amanda Macchia