3 Questions

3 Questions with Artist Randy L. Barton

Diné creator celebrates the intersection of music, dance and Indigenous arts for hip-hop’s 50th

(Courtesy Randy L. Barton)

If you thought the world was done celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, you were wrong, and an upcoming Indigenous Peoples Day event at Canyon Road artwear boutique 4KINSHIP featuring Diné artist Randy L. Barton means we’re keeping the party going. At The Sacred Cypher (3 pm-7 pm Monday, Oct. 9. 4KINSHIP, 812 Canyon Road, 4kinship.com), Barton will become Randy Boogie to DJ a series of breakdance workshops and movement performances from dancers Allyssa Trujillo and B-Boy Bamm, plus traditional drumming and singing from Edwin Felter (Nambe Pueblo Tewa), a screening of Diné filmmaker Raven Bright’s We Belong Here, a friendly freestyle cypher and more—and kids are more than welcome. We spoke with Barton ahead of the event to get the scoop on what hip-hop means to him and why it’s still worth celebrating. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. (Alex De Vore)

Can you talk about your own practice’s relationship with hip-hop? Has it been a long running thing for you?

Yes, definitely it has, and especially with dance. It’s kind of amazing, y’know, because breaking itself was started by kids, and I learned about it when I was 6 and moved from the reservation. When I was moving to my border town in Winslow, Arizona, I noticed this circle full of people, and that was my first time seeing the dance. And I didn’t speak English at the time, only Navajo, but my babysitter’s boyfriend taught me graffiti—I learned my ABCs through graffiti.

And that was it. I’ve been part of this culture and breakdancing since 1985, and to this day I can’t seem to stop doing it. That’s the motto, right? Can’t stop, won’t stop? It’s beautiful because everyone thought hip-hop was just a fad, but 50 years later, we’re celebrating hip-hop. I always loved the spiritual components, the expressions. It just keeps elevating and you keep coming back to it. It’s like a present-day spiritual practice for people...the voice, the dance, the music, the vibration, the energy of it all is that everyone gets to bring something to the table and everyone gets to bring their roots. It’s almost like a fountain of youth.

There’s a term in the press materials, and it’s something I’ve seen more and more lately: ‘Indigenous futurism.’ What does this term mean to you?

For me, it’s just about whenever you combine culture with technology, you’re getting a disruption, and that disruption is what creates the movements, the ideas. That’s what shocks the world, right? That’s how it comes off to me—culture and tech collide.

It’s definitely about breaking ground. And Native arts are very big now. I love talking to people who are like, ‘Native art is big now,” and I’m like, ‘Hell yeah! You got caught up!’ And I always knew this is what The Sacred Cypher could be, I just never forced it. It’s in the Zia, right? The cycles of life—everything within hip-hop is made from those cycles: the circle, aka the cypher; you come together and share who you really are. You dance your truth. What is your truth? What are you going to bring to the fire? It reminds me the circle, the cycles of life and bringing people who could not see what the culture was about to witness and to dance. You know there’s gotta be Native B-Boys, and sure enough, it’s ‘Let’s dance, let’s connect.’

What can people expect at 4Kinship?

The Santa Fe Breaking Academy is bringing their students and Dancing Turtle out of Albuquerque is bringing their students. These are my contemporaries doing their due diligence and giving back. What do they say? ‘Each one teach one,’ right?

Raven [Bright] is doing stuff, and B-Boy Bamm, who spent a lot of time in New Mexico. He’s just this prolific dancer, and he loves to give back. And then there’s Allyssa Trujillo who, when someone says ‘all styles of dance,’ I think of her. Dance is in us if you think about it. If you watch a kid in the backseat when you turn the music on, they naturally tap in and start bobbing. Anywhere you go, if you watch the kids, they’re responding to sound. So what I’m doing when I’m DJing is, I’m bringing everything and anything—every genre of music as long as it has that frequency. Breakbeat bass, drums, African drums. And Edwin [Felter’s] going to bring his hand drum. We’ve got powwow drum samples and I’m even going to play a little Coolio, I think. 4KINSHIP is an artique, so we’re going to make it where you have to walk in and experience it. Oh! And for the first hour, the kids will get a chance to learn from the practitioners.

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