By Tashauna Reid
Above the Chinadoll lounge there is an art gallery showcasing graffiti, portraits and paintings of hip-hop legends done by NYC filmmaker Charlie Ahearn, and various Toronto artists.
A DJ is spinning the 1981 Peech Boys hit, “Don’t Make Me Wait,” and the crowd radiates pure energy. From skinny jeans to baggy jeans, skateboarders to gangster rappers, they all move to the same beat. It feels like an old school trip back to the eighties, a time when hip-hop was golden.
Every hip-hop head in the city was present for the launch of Manifesto, a four-day celebration of hip-hop music and culture.
“There is so much talent in the city that doesn’t get recognized,” said Che Kothari, the executive director behind Manifesto and a Ryerson Image Arts grad.
That’s why he wanted to create this event, he said: it’s a gift that goes both ways, and it’s kept him very busy. His colleagues say he hasn’t slept in the past three weeks, anticipating and planning every moment.
The festival hosted 85 performers at eight events across the city last weekend. It featured a range of artists, from Dream Warriors, Maestro, k-os, Shad, Saukrates, Choclair, Brassmunk, Maisa One, DJ Premier, to Ryerson’s own, spoken word artist Boonaa Mohammed.
“No one person founded this. The whole city founded this thing. Toronto founded this thing,” he said. His ideas spawned with the help of his partner Ryan Paterson. Close friends Adrianne Lorico, and Prakash Surapaneni (all Ryerson graduates in Image Arts) jumped on board as well as a huge group of supporters and volunteers from the community.
The group has been working diligently since January to make their vision a reality. Working closely with the city, members attended city hall meetings and held fundraising events. With a strong team of volunteers and more than 40 sponsors, Manifesto took shape. Nine months later the huge hip-hop festival came to be.
“The representation of hip-hop in the media right now is sending a negative message to the audience.” Kothari said. “Hip hop is a powerful tool.”
The festival featured art exhibitions, dance battles, free styling showcases, skate park competitions, pickup sports and live music.
“We hope we inspire others to start their own projects,” said Kothari. The talented entrepreneur is well known for his photography of hip-hop’s finest. From Common to Ice-Cube, Kothari has snapped them.
There was an opportunity for young entrepreneurs in art, film or music to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts to win prizes.
“I’m learning every day. I value more and more the beautiful process of teaching. We hope people will get beyond the surface level of hip-hop,” said Kothari.
On the last day, Nathan Phillips Square was transformed into an urban music and arts playground. The square was full with a live stage show, art tents, a graffiti wall and a workshop area educating people on the roots of hip-hop.
“So many different people fall under the umbrella of hip hop. You have everybody from every part of city, every sexual orientation, every class and every colour. It’s just love here,” said Mohammed, a second year Radio and Arts Television student.
Mohammed also a youth activist and a Toronto Youth Cabinet member, said the community pooled its resources. Other Canadian hip-hop organizations such as Style in Progress and FOUR1SIX joined in as well.
“There is a strong sense of community here; of people that share something in common. That something is their love for hip-hop,” said Mohammed.
Manifesto is defined as a grassroots non-profit organization that “works to unite and energize Toronto’s urban music and arts community by finding ways to work toward common goals.”
Manifesto has projects in the works throughout the year and looking for enthusiastic volunteers.
As for Kothari, he is already planning future Manifesto festivals.. “Who knows, next year we might come up with something new.”