“When did you last hear soul on the radio?” and “Does south Wales have a hip hop scene?”. Both of these questions were asked at the Wales Millennium Centre during the Festival of Voice.
I’d answer “not often enough” to the first question as evidenced by the fact that this Saturday night show was my first encounter with those posing it, soulful hip hop duo Konny Kon and Tyler Daley, aka Children of Zeus.
Fortunately Gwyl y Llais, Cardiff’s 10 day Festival of Voice, booked the pair as headliners for a Saturday night celebration of hip hop at the Wales Millennium Centre, a venue better known for West End shows and opera than the sound of the streets.
Whether south Wales has a hip hop scene is a question, I’d say, that went unanswered despite a lengthy discussion event preceding the show.
Hosted by Cookie Price, one half of legendary UK hip hop outfit the Cookie Crew, the event consisted of a panel of hip hop figures from the area, with an open invitation for anyone with an opinion to join in.
Sadly the debate never seemed to move past a divided opinion on the value of social media. Cardiff-based rapper Magugu praised the various platforms as a way to showcase his music instantly, across the world. But many in the audience of around 20 people were unwilling to look beyond what they considered the negatives of Facebook and Twitter.
Cardiff hip hop stalwart DJ Jaffa credited city centre youth project Grassroots as being at the centre of the scene when he and his mates began experimenting in what was a relatively new genre in the 80s. Some, it seemed, though refused to accept the online world can also be a meeting place where interactions can happen.
There were still interesting contributions during the discussion, such as the comment that when Cardiff had a regular hip hop night Higher Learning (which Jaffa and event organiser Jason Camilleri and panelist Dan Lloyd were all a part of) it gave the scene a focus and continuity. One audience member said for local MCs who performed at Higher Learning events, in the same venues that hosted international acts such as Razzle or Arrested Development, it made them and Cardiff feel a part of hip hop’s global scene.Others on the panel and in the audience insisted there are still good hip hop nights staged in Cardiff and one man noted how there seems to be little co-ordination between promoters, with October 2017 cited as a month when various shows were staged within days of each other all competing for the same crowds and pounds.
A focus on those sort of practical issues is what I felt was missing from the discussion. Those issues only seemed to get a passing mention which is probably why I felt the talk never moved on to a point where I felt it would be worthwhile contributing myself.
Most involved acknowledged the danger of talking about the good old days but from my perspective when Higher Learning had healthy competition from the Hustler Showcase nights at Clwb Ifor Bach it helped progress the music and scene in Cardiff.
But if you want to discuss a south Wales hip hop scene I think the first thing to question is does south Wales or Cardiff hip hop have a distinct sound, or at least attitude? If not, and I don’t think there is a Cardiff hip hop sound, why not?
For me it’s a question that fits into the wider debate about life in Wales and whether there are support systems in place to nurture a distinct Welsh identity or so that events and movements can take place in a Welsh context.
Football’s Welsh Premier League and even political debates and decisions in the National Assembly for Wales struggle to gain a foothold in the public consciousness. A limited Welsh media isn’t able to, or simply doesn’t, reflect all the wide and varied aspects of life in a diverse country.
Therefore it was good that Radio Cardiff presenter Ffion Wyn attended and plugged her Boodikah’s Basement show. Sadly Cardiff’s only community radio station, or any other traditional media outlet, otherwise didn’t get a mention, even when discussing how artists can take their music to the public.
Which is a shame and suggests artists are missing an opportunity. Ffion uses her Sunday afternoon slot to showcase female MCs including local talent such No Name Disciple. The up and coming MC had been due to take part in the discussion but illness forced her to pull out and of that evening, June 9 show.
In truth she hadn’t missed much at the hip hop forum but I was keen to see her on stage at the Millennium Centre’s Weston Studio, which I think is usually a rehearsal space, and with a temporary bar in one corner and a powerful sound system was an ideal venue for a night celebrating the diversity of hip hop.
Veteran UK MC Chester P, from the group Task Force, had the hardest task opening the show in the large hall that still felt a little empty. Chester ran through his standard cuts and at least broke the ice.
He was followed by another UK veteran Ty who was accompanied by a tight live band to play tracks from his latest LP A Work of Heart and, of course, his classic Wait a Minute.
The festival was apparently the only one, anywhere this year, to book Ty with his live band who extend the songs to jazz and Afrobeat like workouts while singer Dionne Reid provides the soul and spell-binding back and forths with the main man.
Lyrically Ty takes in everything from depression to date rape “a subject men need to hear about right now”.
After Ty the night turned in an unexpected direction with the arrival of Reykjavikurdaetur, officially the second, or co-headliners, with Children of Zeus, who as a 10-woman-strong outfit couldn’t help but fill the stage.
The Daughters of Reykjavik were a riot of noise and movement rapping mostly in Icelandic and perhaps it didn’t help that their first lyrics in English were “girl power golden shower” as I couldn’t really figure out what to make of them. Most of the crowd didn’t seem to have any doubts and even joined the girls on stage at their invitation.
Their energetic performance appeared to leave the room a little deflated afterwards as the crowd dispersed and sadly there were less people present than there should have been when Children of Zeus entered the stage. Ideally Ty would have peformed immediately before the headliners – who it would be really interesting to see with a live band too.
Here they were backed by their DJ, they are as much hip hop heads as they are soul boys after all, and Daley’s powerful, soulful voice was soon drawing attention back towards the stage.
The pair, who said they were from a “small village near Liverpool”, showed there is more to Manchester’s music scene than the tiresome Oasis brothers and their songs have a definite UK street soul influence. There is a 90s quality to their music and while Children of Zeus have been making tracks together for eight years their first “proper” album Travel Light is due out in July and I really can’t figure out how old the pair are, I think they may be older than they look.
Their lyrics reflect maturity beyond the simple braggadocio of hip hop, and offer an uplifting perspective with a rounded view of life.
Apparently Children of Zeus performed in a small bar in Cardiff just six months ago which certainly suggests the south Wales hip hop scene still has promoters ready and able to bring some of the best underground acts to Cardiff. How we make the most of that and help our own artists to grow and develop is another question.
* “When did you last hear soul on the radio?” – is from Rock You Internally by Children of Zeus but I don’t think they actually performed the track on the night.