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Cypher kicks off Black History Month

Guest performers dance in the center of the circle of attendees during the cypher. (Anna Guiles)

The dimly lit Student Union smelled of sweat and spray paint – the smell of a lifestyle. The attendees ranged from novice to experienced hip-hoppers, Mills students to community members, all eager to learn and to share. The entertainment was heavily booked with performers showcasing one after the other. It was the night the Mills’ Black Women’s Collective (BWC) had been planning for weeks. It was the night of the Cypher.

Originating from the African game of Capoeta, the cypher has developed into a free style support system. Participants stood in a circle as they watched performers dance, speak and rap in the center.

Such a culture is exactly what the BWC wanted to replicate on Friday, Feb. 4 with their exhibition of graffiti artists, break-dancers, rappers and emcees.

“Cypher today talks about stand’n in a circle. Hip-hop is usually standing in a circle free styling,” explained Davey D, renowned hip-hop emcee. “We feel from the energy from the circle.”

The BWC hoped that the modern take on the traditional African sport would get students excited about this month’s celebration of black culture.

“(The cypher) is our mainstream event for BWC. It’s the first one open to the public and it’s really starting off our celebration of Black History month,” said sophomore Noni Thomas, BWC treasure.

Golden State Breakers took the floor with the first performance of the evening, break-dancing to a remix of James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing.” Guests watched the duo show off their fancy foot work, head spins and flips, in awe of their talent.

“I like (the performances). It’s really interactive and pumped,” said freshman and attendee Audre Mowry.

As the Golden State Breakers completed their dance the room filled with applause.

“In a cypher you are suppose to dance with the free-stylers so they can feed from your energy. Hip-hop is not a spectator sport,” announced Davey D as the applause died down.

As Davey D suggested, the BWC got the audience to participate with a variety of hip-hop performers and pieces, all with different messages.

Coon and Trouble Sin, the E-Legal Tag Team duo, delivered their performance with soulful spoken word, inspired by struggles and strength. Dropping lines such as, “love don’t cost a thing, but some how she made a profit…you gave that girl the world and now your world is crashing,” and “I’m sleeping in garages because I don’t have a family, mamma kicked me out ‘cause I resemble daddy.”

E-Legal Tag Team’s inspiration comes from God, life and their environment.

“We speak mostly for the youth, but also adults. Because who else raises the youth, but the adults,” Coon said.

As far as their participation in the hip-hop culture they place themselves in their own category, inspired by hip-hop but influenced by life experiences they find their style varies depending on where they are in their life journey.

The impromptu freestyle ended and transitioned into an interpretive dance from a member of the Golden Gate Breakers. Performed to Natalie King Cole’s “Smile,” the three minute dance offered an alternative approach to the clichéd gangster life associated with hip-hop.

Throughout the evening’s entertainment, graffiti artists worked outside to complete a four-panel piece spelling out “BWC.” One of the artists, Alberto Azurdia, began his trademark graffiti in the tenth grade.

“First it (graffiti) was just because everyone else was doing it, but then I started to want to perfect it,” Azurdia said. “I started on paper then walls, mostly in my backyard to practice.”

Despite the growing appreciation of graffiti art there are still risks to the trade. According to Azurdia, it can take three to four hours to complete a detailed piece, while a simple one takes 10 to
30 minutes.

“When starting off my first time, I had to worry about cops and going to jail. I always kept cautious,” Azurdia said.

The evening ended with a set from DJ Sane and many of the performers introducing themselves and interacting with the group. With future events planned throughout the month of February including the BWC dance on the 18th and the “Art of Living Black” on the 26th, the cypher introduced the community to an important part of the black culture and the month.

“All of the performances were amazing,” said Mariah Taylor, first year BWC member. “Some of them have been really powerful because we can relate to them as women.”

Future events include the Black History Month Dance and the Art of Living Black.