On Saturday 3rd October 2015, Barcelona was witness to the 12th edition of Hipnotik: a day-long festival dedicated to the culture of hip hop, including performances, street dance and mc battles and a live debate. With its steadily increasing success, relating to a genre not often associated with Spanish culture, I was very curious to see how the festival would pan out.

The setting was the CCCB,Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, an artistic and urban space in the Raval: an historic barrio teaming with the cliches and enchantments of Barcelona, and everything in between.

On entering the venue my first action of the night came from the Puma stage; the final of the MC Battle, which unfortunately for the performers, was coupled with technical issues. Once resolved, however, the show continued with high passion and audience-attendance – something that clearly enthused the participants, as it well should. Despite some moments of clever lyricism and showmanship in the battle, and there were some, I was left with the feeling of wanting more, wanting something more outstanding in terms of grace, poetry, delivery and individualism. Perhaps it is just a matter of time however, as many of the emcees competing were relatively young. Being sincere about pursuing this craft will hopefully lead them to engage head-on with the pillars of this culture – an important branch of black american music – practise, improvisation, call and response (always involve the audience!), and your elders (listen to who came before you).

Next I found my way to the Teatre CCCB to check out the break dancing, and what an ambience I found! The room was full of spectators and participants sitting and standing in a circle shape – eyes on the middle where the action was taking place. The standard of dancing, alongside the fusion of competitiveness and bravado, made this an exciting part of the festival. Again, enthusiasm and passion were rife, as was what I gathered to be a genuine respect for one another in this seemingly close-knit breakin’ community.

The energy changed, however, moving over to the Pati Dones stage where I found the self-assured reggae singer Lasai, singing soulfully to the crowd – backed up by his dj, adding a maturity to the event I had not yet seen. He was followed by the, likewise experienced and melodic, Little Pepe from Malaga, and Tosko, who also gave fluid, musically-mature performances of, what appears to be, Spanish reggae at its best. This manifested perfectly during their closure, a fun and danceable joint-session which saw them share the stage and mic.

And then the final act  presented itself who were, without a doubt, the highlight of the night; the Cypha Sessions. This collective, formed by Barcelona-based drummer Marc Ayza and singer Marga Mbande, had already made their mark on the hip hop scene with their unique live approach to hip hop jam sessions, but after this performance I think Barcelona will hear much more of them.  The band, including Marga as lead vocal, Marc on drums, Al Pachyño on guitar and DJ Helios, as well as bass guitar, percussion and keyboards, played an explosive fresh and sublime intro, which set up the tone for the whole show. What continued next was a fluent musical journey where a collection of emcees – amongst others Mr. Sutra and Niño Maldito – joined the musicians on stage, hosted by the generously-spirited and talented Marga Mbande.

The two female emcees of the crew , Lauren IX and Zeidah, both had good flow – Lauren reminding me a little of Monie Love – and gave strong yet fun deliveries.  Enes Suleman had great stage presence and rhyming skills, seen at their best in the excellent ‘I’m a Good Man’, performed alongside the outstanding BluRum 13. This New York-born emcee mixed humour, philosophy and style with a performance that reminded us of the social and historic element to all this.

And it matters, because black music and culture is all about the sharing of knowledge and taking what you know to a new level, or b-boyism. Marc insists that the purpose of the cypha sessions, apart from having a good jam, is to get a cultural exchange happening, and to see how cultures work together, hence the international mix of artists.

Hands up to the Hipnotik festival organisers for the work, but whilst the hip hop community here definitely needs representation, Hipnotik can only represent what is actually happening on the scene. The scene has support and passion – I hope that knowledge of hip hop’s roots is also abundant – as it may need to be passed on one day.

Photo: Carla Step