Kamau Abayomi has been working with Bali hip-hop dancer outfit Aerial Crew for close to a decade. Today they’re Indonesia’s hippest dance champions.
NAME, rank and serial number please . . .
Name: Kamau Bakari Abayomi, a.k.a. PitchBlackGold, a.k.a Ka Mau, a.k.a. Hitam Manis
Rank: Poetical Paradigm Shifter
Where are you from sir?
San Francisco & Oakland, California.
When did you first arrive on Bali?
In July of 2003 – it was the second stop on a five-country journey. I resonated with Bali the most on that trip and returned two months later. I did a lot of traveling over the following months and returned to Bali in September 2004.
I’ve been based here ever since.
You’re a Hip-Hop man, and involved with Bali’s Aerial Crew – tell us about that.
Well, as someone who understands Hip-Hop as a culture that is far deeper than just rap culture, I can recognise and connect with others who are of the same vibration. Globally and historically people gravitated toward the dance aspect of Hip-Hop culture first.
Here in Bali, Aerial Crew embodies the fundamental principles of Hip-Hop in their way of expressing and being, and for the most part they are the only ones that get it.
They had the energy when I first met them, and it has just intensified as they’ve learned more about it through our connection . . . and they’ve grown. I feel that my destiny and the destiny of Aerial Crew are intertwined.
They are my nephews and nieces here, so I care if they are eating well and have shelter, and I feel stress at the times when they have hardships in those areas.
Is the scene thriving here?
The scene in Bali is very small in comparison to the rock scene, but there are good numbers of people dedicated to the culture and more taking interest.
How did you meet the Crew?
I met Eko, a.k.a. EC-Spicy, the founder of Aerial Crew, on my second trip to Bali in September of 2003. I was on a late afternoon beach walk when I came upon a parked Kuta Radio van blaring Hip-Hop music out of its speakers.
There was an MC speaking in rapid-fire Indonesian next to a DJ playing music. Alongside the van, on the streetside of the curb, was a linoleum mat where some teenaged kids were break-dancing. Eko was one of them. A couple of the kids were pretty good, but most were beginners. After about five minutes or so, the MC asked me if I could rap . . . I guess he just felt I could do something. He gave me the microphone, I did what I do and it was the beginning of a fun-filled night.
After sunset the session was finished. Eko invited me to go with them to a local fashion event in Denpasar where they would be breaking again. I hopped on the back of a motorbike and about 10 of us travelled to Denpasar.
We arrived to a crowd of about 100 young Indonesian kids in this outdoor parking lot with a makeshift runway stage going through the middle. Everyone was crazy energetic. The mat was rolled out and the break-dancing started in front of the stage.
I loved the vibe. I had long stopped practicing and performing as a dancer, so it really took me back to when I was a teen when my crew and I would go from one party to the next just to rock the dance floor.
I hadn’t experienced this in a long while.
Bali was indeed a special place that night. When I returned to stay in 2004 Eko had formed Aerial Crew with the best dancers I’d had met on my last trip.
They didn’t have a consistent place to practice. They were always dancing on cement and had the scars and bruises to prove it. They needed a place where they could develop their skill without distractions, so I found a studio space in Seminyak where they could come two days a week and practice. They practiced hard and began progressing steadily.
I started to work as a DJ and MC in venues on the island, and wherever I went I would talk with management about having the crew come in and perform. The venue manager would usually agree and they would come in during the course of the night and entertain the crowds for five or ten minutes.
They were happy to be getting some exposure and some respect, and for the first time a little bit of money in their pockets for dancing. But, ironically, the main nightclubs playing Hip-Hop music were not showing any respect to them. Whenever they would begin dancing in those clubs they would be harassed, and sometimes physically assaulted by the security guards!
This would change somewhat after I booked their first big show, for an Indonesian Independence Day celebration at MBarGo – the most popular new club at the time. They performed their first choreographed routine excellently, wearing the Indonesian colours red and white.
They ended their routine with a flag waving salute to their country and the crowd went bananas!
They were finally getting some respect.
Since that first show, Aerial Crew has been at the forefront of representing true Hip-Hop culture in Bali and throughout Indonesia – never failing to entertain the crowd with their energetic dance character and soul/funk-based musical backdrop.
The Bali-raised crew continue to light up the crowd, showing mastery of the beat, and incorporating acrobatic power moves in flow with top dancing groove.
Having won seven first-place titles in dance battles from Jakarta, to Surabaya, to Yogyakarta, they have gained the respect of the Indonesian Hip-Hop world.
But here in Bali they continue their struggle to be seen as more than just kids throwing themselves down on the floor. They still seek to have Bali – their home – fully respect them as the artists they are.
How did you first get into Hip-Hop?
I was born into it – even before I knew what it was. . . even before Hip-Hop knew what Hip-Hop was. Hip-Hop comes out of the soul, funk and R&B music that came before it – the music that my parents danced to.
Seeing the movie Beat Street; getting my first mix-tape from a famous neighbourhood DJ; going down to the tourist spots to watch the street dance shows and do a little freestyle dance myself . . . these were events that just activated and structured my DNA codes with Hip-Hop sensibilities.
What does it mean to you?
I have a philosophy of striving to express myself in a way that is truly unique; yet not separate from the whole – in a manner that is fun and meaningful, with style and with substance, and within the cultural elements of rapping, dancing, speaking, dressing and such.
Hip-Hop is probably the most misunderstood sub-culture on the planet. Almost 40-years-old, with countless innovations and billions of dollars, and millions of albums, and dance routines, and artwork, and fashion and language, and pop culture additions . . . it’s still misunderstood.
There are kids rapping in hundreds of languages, dancing and expressing themselves in ways that are truly liberating on a personal and collective level. From Iraq to Japan, Columbia to Myanmar, youths are using Hip-Hop expression as a means of empowerment.
So for me, Hip-Hop means to shatter paradigms . . . to lift the veils, to bring the dark to light so the light can heal . . . and do this with a whole lot of style and flavour.
What does it mean to the world?
As I see it, Hip-Hop is the ultimate tool for teaching a child to respect and discipline him- or herself – how to create and learn from within while building self confidence.
There were no Hip-Hop classes back in the day. We taught ourselves, and learned from our friends by just doing it from the heart.
It’s all about accepting who you are, learning and creating from that space.
Aerial Crew have all grown up in Bali – some from poor families, some middle class, and some from rich families, all brought together in the spirit of Hip-Hop. They are the embodiment of Indonesia’s Pancasila ideal. This is the understanding driving what I do with youth and why I have the goal of opening a youth centre here in Bali.
Is it relevant to Bali?
Bali now is no longer the romanticised paradise of 20 years ago. It has modernised and opened itself up to globalisation. With that come many options . . . constructive and destructive.
Real Hip-Hop culture is a holistically constructive force, especially for youths who need creative outlets to express themselves fully. Aerial Crew – the 2011 Indonesian champion dancers – are proof of that.
Now is (their) next level of becoming . . . not just being champion break-dancers . . . the next level is becoming individuals and a collective of successful contributors to the community.