More than a festival: Back to the City is keeping our hip-hop culture alive

We chat to BTTC festival founder and organiser Osmic Menoe about this year's event and the local hip-hop museum that's in the works

23 April 2019 - 13:13 By Thembalethu Zulu
From left, Rockwilder, Erick Sermon, and DJ Diamond.
From left, Rockwilder, Erick Sermon, and DJ Diamond.
Image: Johnny Nunez/WireImage

April 27 is our country's birthday, but for many lovers of hip-hop (and kwaito) culture, it's also the date of the biggest event on the SA music calendar.

Each Freedom Day, Back to the City (BTTC) lights up Jozi with music, merch and food. The theme for its 13th edition is The Freedom Charter, its international headline act is EPMD (legends!), and it will feature performances from Stogie T, YoungstaCPT, Cassper Nyovest and Riky Rick, among so, so many others.

We spoke to festival founder and organiser Osmic Menoe about SA hip hop, how he's keeping the culture that many love alive, and why BTTC is more than just a music festival.

What vital role does BTTC play in our hip-hop scene?

Firstly, it shows the size of how big this culture is. I think it's also important because of the different corporate sponsors, which show that there is currency and viability within [SA hip-hop culture].

Things like BTTC and the SA Hip-Hop Awards are very integral to its growth and I think they also become very important in terms of livelihood. They serve as a blueprint for something called the hip-hop economy, where you've got a culture in its entirety — from the b-boys, graffiti artists, to the DJs, the skaters — all under one roof. There's currency involved in that.

This year's theme is the Freedom Charter - why?

We're looking at how far the country has come and how far we as SA youth have come. We're saying: "What is the Freedom Charter? Do kids understand and know its importance?"

"We're looking at our so-called 'freedom' ... and what the country has achieved.

"Do we need to update the Freedom Charter, do we need to shout it out, do we need to market it more?

"It's questioning this Freedom Charter and asking what role it's playing now.

How has the festival evolved in the 13 years it has been running?

Just outside of the numbers that it plays, the important thing is educating youth about what freedom is, getting them to start understanding our past and getting them to question our future and our present.

It's important to get the youth to start understanding our past and to question our future and our present 
BTTC festival founder and organiser Osmic Menoe

We've evolved greatly in terms of the activities that we do. For instance, we recently took some kids to the Apartheid Museum to educate them and get them to understand what this freedom thing is.

We hear there's a South African Hip-Hop Museum in the works - tell us about that.

It's in partnership with Museum Africa and the idea is it's a space that will preserve the culture. We've seen this hip-hop culture achieve a lot of amazing things, from Back to the City to hugely successful artists like Cassper Nyovest.

"It's important for us to preserve this because we've looked at genres such as jazz and kwaito to say that at some point in time they were king, that was the music of the day that was being consumed.

"But 30 or 40 years down the line, you've got kids that don't even know anything about these genres.

"We felt it was important to preserve and to capture, so that our kids' kids can understand what was happening before they came.

BTTC is taking place at Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown, Johannesburg, on April 27. Tickets, R150-R600, from Webtickets.