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Fidel Screens at New York Film Festival

by Adam Lovinus

Milwaukee hip-hop entrepreneur and emcee Fidel brings Milwaukee underground hip-hop to the global stage as the subject of the short film documentary Fidel, which will be screened at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival November 10.

Directed by local anthropologist Ise Olatunji, Fidel is a gritty 13- minute portrait of an artist on a mission. His goal is to restore the original culture and aesthetic of hiphop godfathers Afrika Bambaata and DJ Kool Herc, pioneers of the highly political and socially conscious art movement that unified South Bronx neighborhoods torn apart by gang violence in the mid-1970s.

“Hip-hop is a way of life that is the most important cultural phenomenon on the planet,” Fidel says in the opening dialogue of the film. “To emcee is to move people with your word; Dr. Martin Luther King was one, Malcolm X was one, Bob Marley was one.”

Fidel features raw footage of interviews and live performance. Originally conceptualized as a promotional DVD to supplement for his 2006 solo release Viva Fidel Mix Tape, it is a well-crafted promotional tool produced by Gorilla Promotions International, the company Fidel co-founded with fellow artist and brother, Gideon, better known as Armagideon to those familiar with Milwaukee hip-hop.

Fidel’s tremendous contributions to Milwaukee’s blossoming hip-hop community elevates Fidel beyond a mere promotional piece. The film shows real progress in bringing together an artistic community in Milwaukee that is true to the old-school aesthetic. Given Milwaukee’s reputation that Fidel expresses lyrically as “an untapped market with no deals,” this has been no easy task.

Adding to the challenge is the corporate mainstream paradigm that has taken over hip-hop. Mainstream hip-hop has abandoned the activist and consciousness vibe of the old school. Hip-hop has become the music of frivolous violence, crime and materialism. In artists like Fidel, the original aesthetic still exists in the underground, beneath the phony glam of corporate rap.

The exposure that the Milwaukee underground gains with the screening of Fidel at the world’s largest independent film festival is hugely important for all Milwaukee hip-hop artists. Fidel has the potential to put Milwaukee on the national hip-hop radar.

It is difficult to imagine someone better qualified to represent the Milwaukee hip-hop scene.

As a performer, Fidel and Taste Emcees have set the stage for acts like KRS-One, Common, Black Eyed Peas, and Dead Prez. He has recorded and produced a dozen or so albums over the last ten years. He is the graphic designer and promotions guru behind Gorilla Promotions International. He’s a journalist who has interviewed legends Russell Simmons, Mobb Deep, Mc Lyte, E40, Marley Marl, Mixmaster Ice, and hip-hop founding fathers Afrika Bambaata and DJ Kool Herc. In the community, Fidel assembled the annual Summer of Peace Citywide Youth Rally and the Hip-Hop Social Club. His efforts were recognized in 2005 with the Giraffe Award, given by the Wisconsin Council of Family and Children for people who put their neck out for children.

Riverwest Currents online edition – November, 2006