NYW2014: Cypher in the City

This article was first published on Youth Central, March 2014.

5 April 2014, Docklands, Melbourne.

The Cypher in the City Festival was held on Saturday 5 April in Docklands as part of National Youth Week 2014. It celebrated the phenomenal performance talents, event management and creativity of Melbourne’s young people.

This festival was organised by Cultural Infusion, a social enterprise dedicated to building cultural harmony and encouraging creative expression. Cultural Infusion works nationally with schools and communities to promote social cohesion and intercultural understanding.

Upbeat hip-hop music blared through the speakers as a crowd of about 100 gathered at New Quay Piazza at noon. Soon after, the young African MC for the day enthusiastically announced into the microphone, “Don’t be shy! Come closer!” to the attendees and upcoming performers,who were all standing back from the main performance mat with timid looks!

Educational Workshops

The afternoon kicked off with a dance workshop led by three dancers from youth community hip-hop group Limbs2Riddims (L2R). The trio slowly busted out a range of moves including the Harlem Shake and the Bart Simpson so that participants could follow along.

At the end of the workshop, all participants confidently showed off their new dance moves together as one to the beat of up-tempo music. Race was no barrier for anyone who wanted to learn dancing, and L2R’s energy was infectious.

“All our events and youth projects always have educational components and opportunities for audience members,” said event organiser Cat Pwiti about the festival and Cultural Infusion’s educational activities. “Participants can walk away having learned something new and [with] a broader understanding of culture in relation to our everyday lives.”

Expression Through Creative Arts

The live performances that afternoon showed just how talented Melbourne’s young people are. Twenty young women from the Brimbank Youth Services B-Breaks dance crew danced hip-hop style in perfect sync to the awe of the crowd, which had now doubled in size.

The Hold Up, an all-female dance crew formed out of YMCA and Maribyrnong Youth services’ Big Bang program, gingerly showed off their dancehall/Afro-beats-inspired modern dance performance. Their faces lit up with broad grins as smiling onlookers gave them a rapturous round of applause.

Away from the dance mat, young stallholders cheerily explained the process of hand-painting glasses and tiles to interested attendees.

There’s no doubt that performance and the creative arts provide Victoria’s young people with opportunities to develop their confidence.

“These young artists have been asked to create songs and dances that represent them and look at how they can use their artform to send a positive message and give themselves and their community a voice, to make an impact through their art form and talents,” said Cat.

“Hip-hop and street culture are powerful tools to reduce at-risk behavior and provide people with a platform to excel within their artform, which then has a ripple effect on all aspects of their lives.”

Shared Experiences

Friendly breakdancing competitions were held during the last hour of the festival. Young people from Asian, African and Anglo-Celtic backgrounds squared off against one another in groups. Each participant showed off their best moves that included spinning on their heads and performing handstands.

Cat reckons young people find comfort in meeting like-minded peers. She says the event allows people to take part “in a cultural exchange of artforms”, encouraging them to bond over memorable shared experiences.

This seemed to be the case for the breakdancing participants. After the battles were over, every member of each group hugged and shook hands with one another. There was no sign of jealously or resentment towards their opponents, just friendliness and admiration for each other’s skills.

A Multicultural Affair

Towards the tail end of Cypher in the City, attendees and performers chatted and laughed amongst themselves. There was a cheery, inclusive atmosphere all round. No one was shy anymore.

Respect for diverse cultures was definitely in the air too. As a middle-aged Caucasian man finished his African food, served by the festival’s Afro Feast food truck, he turned to the young African cook in the truck, gave a thumbs up and said, “Thank you!”

Cat believes many of us have a fondness for the arts. She says that art “…brings members of the community together through their love of dance, music, and live entertainment and breaks down stereotypes they may have held about each other prior to the event.”

Cypher in the City was put together wholeheartedly by culturally and linguistically diverse young people as part of NYW2014, and was enjoyed by Melburnians of all ages and backgrounds. It was a triumph of a multicultural festival indeed.