Interview by Alan Ng
Words by Amie Nguyen and Alan Ng
Photography by Alan Ng
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Drew Moore, one of the founders and directors of Concrete Roots. We founded Concrete Roots in 2008. Before that I was a seventh grade French and English teacher. I was also running afterschool b-boy programs. In 2007, the kids in the program got very serious about it and wanted to take it to the next level, so we formed a crew called the RECn Crew. In the summer of 2008, they performed at Nova Scotia Tattoo, the Jazz Festival, and the International Busker Festival. They also started entering a lot of battles. Since we had this one crew at this school and it was having so much success, we thought that there’s no reason why this can’t be happening at other schools. The b-boy community in Halifax was kind of dying down at the time and there were probably only a dozen active b-boys in Halifax. I became pretty good friends with the boys from Koala Corps and they wanted to do something to grow the scene again, so we combined forces and formed Concrete Roots to start this program at a bunch of schools. That’s when our classes and programs started in 2009.
Today, Concrete Roots has evolved to a point where you are able to gather together a lot of hip-hop enthusiasts across Halifax. Can you tell us a bit more about the organization’s mandate?
Our mandate starts with our after school classes. We were initially conducting them in 10 schools and now we have introduced these classes to about 2000 schools. From there, we started doing a lot of workshops across the province. We traveled to the more rural areas of our province, like the valley and Cape Breton, to do workshops. We also started open drop-in sessions at the community centers. They have free practice space and there are people of all different experience levels there. Then, we started doing events to promote all of our programs. The primary thing we do is our programming, but we also hold events to let people know what we have going on. Events also give our dancers a chance to go out and get some shine, not to mention the experience in performing and competing against other people.
One of the biggest events we do is called Set it Straight. It happened first in the rural areas and now it expanded to the Halifax downtown core as well. It’s currently one of the biggest dance competitions east of Montreal. We include a two-on-two b-boy battle and hip-hop show case battles. Now we have extended the categories with a one-on-one popping battle and we are looking to expand into locking and other genres of dance too. We are in our fifth year for Set it Straight now. What’s really cool about it is that we bring judges and instructors in from across Canada and even the United States. It’s turned into a great networking opportunity for breakdancers because a lot of these dancers have met each other at Set it Straight and have gone off to work together in other parts of Canada too. For example, Lenny Len came here for Set it Straight and then he started doing work in Newfound Land. Mariano of ABS Crew came here and then eventually started to do work in Calgary. It all happened because of the connections they made through this event. The biggest thing that has happened in the past few years is the Hop Scotch Festival. Halifax has a really rich history of hip-hop. There’s a list of very great emcees and DJs that have came from Halifax. Halifax deserves to have its own festival to celebrate hip-hop. We started that last year in 2010. We have our second event this year and the response has been very good. We bring all the elements together in one spot. A lot of it is free admission and we do a lot of club events too so people can go into a club environment and experience hip-hop in that way.
What’s the meaning behind the name, Concrete Roots?
We were thinking about evoking the idea of a grass roots organization, which is something that is built from the ground up. Everyone that’s part of putting this organization together are dancers as well, but we don’t dance on grass. Breakdancing is a street dance, so we just replaced grass roots with Concrete Roots and went from there. Since then, we have established very solid roots through all these communities.
What introduced you to breakdancing and when did you start?
When I saw the RUN-DMC versus Jason Nevins music video, It’s Like That, I thought it was amazing. At the
time, I was a student at the University of Waterloo. It’s funny because the university had a very good called UW Breaking Club and they were just getting started at that time, but they were practicing Friday nights and I didn’t want to go to the studio and practice. Come Friday nights, I wanted to go out and party! My roommate and I at that time were kind of messing around with it and weren’t quite serious about it, but I always had an appreciation for it. Then I lived in a bunch of different rural areas to do my education and I didn’t have anyone else to practice with and didn’t have many ways to continue being exposed to dancing because there were no YouTube. I didn’t get a chance to pursue breaking until I started teaching at a school and the principle asked me what sort of extra circular activities I can do. I told him that I was interested in breaking and I could start a club and manage it. From that, I started to learn together with the kids. Then, we started making links with the local crews in Halifax like Koala Corps and Lokdown Crew. From that, my personal training started increasing. I was also lucky enough to meet Lenny Dela Pena, the choreographer and former b-boy from Toronto. He really took me under his wing and retaught me everything about breaking. I started from the ground up with him during the year of 2006-2007 and started training as a b-boy. I was learning about everything there is to know about being a b-boy, not just in terms of dance, but also the philosophy and the culture.
You briefly mentioned about your involvement with One Nation. Can you tell us a bit more about the project?
It’s not much of an event. It’s essentially a collaboration between the leaders of hip-hop festivals across Canada. The director of Manifesto in Toronto, Che Kothari, started making links with all the different hip-hop festivals across Canada. He brought up the idea that if we work together, we could do a lot more for the Canadian hip-hop community. We started having a lot of conversations and online conferences. Because there’s so many of us and we are all so busy with our own stuff, it’s been a bit of a slow process. We feel that if we want to do it right, we should take our time with it. From our conversations, we started talking about things like, how we could export our local artists across Canada to attend all these festivals, how we could leverage our strength in unity to bring some big name artists from all over the world to tour across Canada, and how we could build more awareness of what’s going on in hip-hop through this union. The members of the collaboration, as it stands now are the reps from Halifax’s Hopscotch, Montreal’s Underpressure, Ottawa’s House of Paint, and Calgary’s LiveStyle. We started bringing some reps from New York too. We just started talking about all the things we can do and one nation was formed from that. We had our first official meet-up together at Manifesto Toronto this year. We had a panel discussion of everything that’s going on at each of our festivals and how we are going to move forward as a national committee.
How do you rate or view Halifax’s current state of hip-hop?
I am kind of a new comer to Halifax because I didn’t really move here until 2006. Halifax has such a long history of hip-hop that began long before I got here. However, I was kind of always aware of Halifax’s hip-hop scene, even before I lived here. I always had the perception that the Halifax hip-hop scene was pretty fragmented, that there were always subsections of the hip-hop community, and how it’s rare that they all come together. One of those times when they would come together was the DJ Olympics, which has been going on for 13 years now. Now, with Hopscotch, we have taken community building within the scene to another level. The scene is still very fragmented in a lot of ways and it’s probably because Halifax is so spread out and there are so many of these smaller communities in Halifax. Every individual community has their own sense of appreciation for hip-hop. You have the downtown area, you have Sackville, and you have Cole Harbour and other rural areas. There are also a lot of kids who come here for university from far away places, like Ontario for example, and they love hip-hop too. There are a lot of clubs here with a lot of strong hip-hop nights. We have Doom and Damage, and Famous Players. We just lost one of our big hip-hop venues, the Paragon, so there’s a little bit of a void there that we are trying to fill. But, Halifax goes through these changes all the time, where we have these really strong hip-hop venues where you can come together and meet other people and then we will lose that venue and another one will pop up and take its place. I think we are going through that again, that process where we are looking for that next central club venue where people can come together. I think this search for hip-hop hotspots are starting more conversations within the community regarding hip-hop and it’s influences. I feel that a lot of the emcees and DJs before weren’t necessary aware of what’s going on in the b-boy community, and vice versa. I mean, we were only familiar with some of the emcees and we haven’t done a lot of outreach to get to know more about the rappers. I think there’s still a lot of work to be done to bridge those gaps and it’s coming along.
With everything you have achieved through Concrete Roots and your current career, what are your plans for the future?
We are very big on the idea, “Each One, Teach One” From the jump-off, when we started teaching kids how to dance, we were also teaching them how to teach. Most of our instructors were original students from two or three years ago who started teaching. A lot of them are also taking over a lot of the administrative side of things. We partnered with some of the high schools here to become a host-company for the co-op program. Our kids from high school can come do their co-op placement with us and they can learn the admin side of business, because the goal is that in the future, they will start taking the Concrete Roots project over.
I broke my collarbone two months ago and it made me realize that I can keep going with this and I am going to keep going, but I have to have other things to work on. In my immediate future, I am going to keep battling, keep going to events, and I am definitely going to get down to cyphers. Looking forward, we have a municipal election coming up in the Fall of next year and I am planning to put my name in for city council. That’s kind of the next step for me, personally. I have a lot of things that I want to branch off to but I am not going to let go of the fact that I am a b-boy. When it comes to Concrete Roots, it’s more than one person. We are a family unit and we are constantly growing.
What is HYPE?
Kids are HYPE man! If you come up to any of our jams, it’s our kids that are making the most noise. In fact, it’s our kids that are making the most noise across Canada as well. I am not even going to say any names right now because they are getting too much HYPE on themselves. Just pay attention if you hear anything about Concrete Roots around. If you are hearing anything coming out of the East Coast or Halifax, it’s our young dancers that you are going to hear the most about.