UCI Culture Shock: ‘Back to the Roots’

Perhaps it was the hypnotizing singing of a traditional Native American folksong or the successions of succinct beats that reverberated from the DJ’s table, but whatever it was on that chilly Thursday night, UC Irvine’s first Cultural Shock Camp evoked a sense of spiritually that touched its audience through a marriage of hip-hop and art. On Nov. 16, the American Indian Student Association, in collaboration with Hip Hop Congress, introduced Native American cultural activist art to the UCI student body.
”Back to the Roots: Natives and Hip Hop’ is meant to be a gathering of indigenous peoples through art, music and progressive thought,’ said co-coordinator and AISA Chair Jenna Sant.
The event featured artwork by students and local artists that focused on Native American identity. Displays ranged from a triple-canvas mural to sets of individual pencil-drawn profiles of various Native American subjects. Though the display of artwork was minimal, the images remained thought provoking and they blended harmoniously with the spiritual atmosphere. The night’s small audience consisted of curious students and fellow AISA and Hip Hop Congress members who gathered to watch the live performance from the Native American hip-hop group Culture Shock Camp.
CSC is composed of various cultural activist artists who collaborate to spread hip-hop traditions from their community. Using a variety of media, the CSC family consists of hip hop performers such as Marcus ‘Quese IMC’ Little Eagle and Meta to painter/poets such as Bunky Echo-Hawk, who had a live painting session while Quese IMC unleashed a flurry of political lyrics on stage.
In celebration of their heritage, Both Quese IMC and Bunky Echo-Hawk opened the night’s ceremony with two traditional native songs and a grass dance meant to capture the essence of their indigenous tribes. The first song by the duo was a traditional Pawnee melody called ‘My Brother is Good,’ which was selected to engender a sense of intimacy between their Native American culture and the youth of today.
According to Sant, the objective of celebrating Native American Heritage Month through hosting events like this one was to establish an awareness of an often stereotyped and misunderstood group of people.
‘By unifying so many cultures in this event,’ Sant said, ‘we are following the way of our people; we are reaching out and respecting all indigenous culture and honoring our past in the process.’
For CSC, the mix of hip-hop, live performances and visual art, or ‘cultural activist art,’ is a powerful tool to promote their message. ‘I feel like hip-hop is a medium that reaches out to people and gives them a fresh cultural outlook,’ Quese IMC said.
As a cultural activist artist, he channels inspirations for his poetry from an internal force that he believes comes from a shared spirituality with his people. Quese defines cultural activist art as a way of understanding the historical context behind what is not taught in formal education. Quese’s goal as an activist artist is to use what he has to empower the unconscious with knowledge, and what better way than through the medium of music?
As the night continued, CSC member Meta began with a couple of hard-hitting beats that, at first, seemed to scare the conservative UCI crowd, who seemed unprepared for the full force of cultural activist hip-hop. With a quick change of performer and pace, Quese IMC and Bunky Echo-Hawk revived the lost ambiance and relaxed the crowd into soothing rhythms.
The idea of combining art, hip-hop and Native American culture proved to be a success for AISA and Hip Hop Congress. Attending audience members left with greater cultural awareness.
‘So little is truly understood about Native people and Heritage Month is a means to invite the campus to take part in learning about and honoring [their] unity, strength and power,’ Sant said.