The Hiphop Scene in Bali

If you think that hiphop break dancing is not a form of serious art go take in a performance of Aerial Crew, Bali’s champion B-boy dance troupe that was formed and nurtured by Tru Karya Cipta, a Bali hiphop community group located in Ubud. In terms of dance techniques, mastery of body movements, gymnastic aptitude, choreography, and all-out creativity they can vie with other major forms of the art of dance. In fact, Aerial Crew is so good they won the Indonesian national B-Boy battle in 2008 and they topped that achievement by winning the Indonesian B-Boy National Championship in 2011.

Break dancing is a product of the hiphop movement. According to Wikipedia, hiphop is an artistic subculture including a form of musical expression that originated in African-American and Hispanic-American communities during the 1970s in New York City, specifically the Bronx. The term often refers to hiphop music, which consists of poetry that is spoken – rather than sung – over instrumental recordings mixed with new original sounds from drum machines or other instruments. Having its roots in reggae, disco and funk, the culture has expanded far beyond its origins. Other ethnic groups began to contribute to the development of the movement and hiphop has now gone global with each country infusing its own cultural, social and political elements. It has become a worldwide subculture comprising rapping, Djing, hiphop or break dance, and graffiti art – the so-called four pillars of hiphop. The hiphop movement also developed its own clothing fashion and language.

Break dancing, also called breaking or B-boying (BB), is one of the major elements of hiphop culture. It is a dynamic style of dance which, like other aspects of hiphop culture, borrows heavily from many cultures and styles, including 1930s-era street dancing, Afro-Brazilian and Asian martial arts, Russian folk dance, and the dance moves of James Brown, Michael Jackson, and California funk styles. Break dancing involves a number of basic moves, shows off technical skills, displays a good dose of bravado and is ultimately enhanced by the performer’s individual style, creativity and imagination. It started as an impromptu performance during musical interludes called breaks. Break is an instrumental or percussion section like a drum solo. It was the part of a song that was favored by hiphop dancers to show off their dancing skills in front of a crowd.

The entire hiphop movement’s philosophy was a scream to be original, be creative, be noticed and get respect from peers. Break-dancing, hiphop poetry & rapping, DJing and graffiti art all took to the waves and have enjoyed genuine popularity since the movement’s inception. Hiphop graffiti art is a form of satirical commentary on political and societal shortcomings and has emerged from the shadows of ghetto and gang turf areas to become mainstream. Originally practiced by poor artists who had no money for canvas, brushes or paint but had plenty to protest against, it was a way to express their creativity and their angst using blank walls as their canvas. Some of these artists were so creative and original they became famous, like Britain based Banksy, a political activist, and David Choe whose “Hope” portrait of Barack Obama went viral in the US. In Indonesia, the cities of Jakarta, Bandung and especially Yogyakarta are recognized by the high caliber of their talented street artists.

In Bali, the pillars of the hiphop movement are represented by an Ubud based organization called Tru Karya Cipta (True Creative Activity). The creator and art director is Kamau Abayomi, an American poet and multidisciplinary artist. He modeled the Bali hiphop community on similar groups in his native San Francisco. The group in Ubud is a gathering place for youngsters who want to express and develop their creativity and skills in any artistic way through poetry, rap, music, dance, visual and performing arts. The name Tru Karya Cipta is a mix of English (Tru or True) and Indonesian (Karya Cipta means creative activity). It is an organization dedicated to personal and community empowerment through youth arts, entrepreneurial education and activism built on a foundation of urban culture. Its mission is to foster creative arts expression in Bali youth or as it is eloquently summarized on the Tru Karya Cipta website: Unleashing the limitless flow of creative arts expression in Bali youth, producing socially aware & responsible artists in the Bali community.

Tru Karya Cipta encapsulates the power of art and the effects it can have on society at large. According to Kamau Abayomi art is the most honest form of communication. It holds the greatest potential to change individuals, communities and societies. Art celebrates uniqueness and strives for truth. It sparks thought and expands the possibilities and challenges the status quo. Art speaks on multiple levels. It taps both hemispheres of the brain and stimulates mind, body and spirit. That is why art has always been such an important component in ancient and traditional cultures and an integral part of socio-political movements. Creative activities such as visual art, music production, singing or rapping, poetry, creative writing and dance positively engage the mind, body and spirit of artist and audience alike.

Kamau grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. Encouraged by artistic parents – his mother was a high school drama teacher and heavily involved in the Black dramatic arts in San Francisco – he became immersed in theatre performance, poetry, rapping, dancing and the Bay hiphop scene. A vacation in Bali in 2003 proved to be the turning point in his life. That is where he met a group of Ubud B-boys who called themselves Aerial Crew. Being intimately familiar with American hiphop culture, Kamau recognized the raw talent of the group. By late 2004 he was definitely settled in Ubud and became a mentor to the young developing hiphop scene in Bali. He started working with Aerial Crew, rented a studio space for them to practice, gave them the proper B-boy videos to watch and nurtured their skills. Under the guidance of Kamau’s professional background and talented choreography the group’s dance routines became increasingly sophisticated. Kamau secured some break-thru performance gigs and the boys became more widely known and in demand. At the same time, Kamau also started to train a girl group called Beautiful Game. When Aerial Crew won the “Let’s Dance” national B-boy battle in 2008, it earned them a lot of respect in the dance scene in Indonesia, especially since Bali had not previously registered on the radar of the Indo hiphop community. Aerial Crew currently is composed of 12 dancers, all Balinese or Bali based Indonesians, and includes one female member. Some of their performances are fusions of break dancing with Balinese cultural elements, dance moves and props.

Tru Karya Cipta was initially set up as a nucleus for the break dance group but due to Kamau’s other artistic, activist and community focused interests it quickly morphed into a broader organization that includes other creative arts and focuses on artistic and entrepreneurial education of youth. As an award winning poet himself, Kamau teaches the art of poetry, creative writing and rapping as an expression of the inner voice. He fervently believes in channeling youthful energy and enthusiasm in positive ways and encourages youngsters to express their unease and disenchantment with life, or the way the world is progressing and the impact it has on themselves, their family and their community. By making available education and nurturing of talents in the 4 pillars of hiphop culture to include visual art, music production, singing, rapping, poetry, song writing, djing, mcing, dance and performance, children, teens and young adults are given an avenue to develop their artistic talents and strengthen their ability to focus, think creatively and discipline their mind, body and spirit. Through this channeling of artistic focus, young people become more informed about the many social, environmental and economic issues affecting them and their communities – pollution, waste management, energy shortages, increasing drug usage and crime rates – and learn how they can address these issues through artistic projects. By engaging in the process of self discovery and spirit evolution they expand their possibilities and potential. With a stronger sense of self and new found confidence, they are better able to contribute to their own well being, the well being of their family, the Bali community and by extension to global society.

If you ask Kamau about the reasons for setting up the hiphop community, he will tell you of his deep-seated conviction that all artists have the potential to change individuals, communities and the world for the better. He believes that every child should be provided with an opportunity to explore the full range of their creative potential. Young artists who are aware of the issues affecting them and their community become an active force in creating and implementing solutions. He will talk about the many bored and uninspired youngsters and homeless street children in Bali who are increasingly becoming involved in drugs, alcoholism, violence and crime. Without positive outlets to express themselves creatively and without role models and mentors to guide them in a positive direction, many Bali youngsters have taken turns toward the negative. He points out that Bali has a large community of young urban contemporary performance artists who do not have any youth arts education centers or facilities dedicated to their artistic development and education. The few dance studios that do exist, have classes and/or rental fees that are out of the price range of many Bali youth. There are no professional recording studios that poor young aspiring producers and engineers can use to develop their abilities. There are no cool modern youth centers to just hangout and stay out of trouble.

In order to mitigate those many negatives surrounding Bali’s youth, Tru Karya Cipta’s goal is to provide a place for young people to spend their time creatively and productively and to provide a community of support. The organization encourages them to embrace and preserve their indigenous traditions, while shunning the negative aspects of imported lifestyles. Tru Karya Cipta wants to provide a safe space and inspiring environment where young people have the necessary tools to cultivate their talents and artistic expression, increase their knowledge of their own potential and the means to explore that potential. To that end it wants to energize the limitless flow of creative thought, action and manifestation in the young individual to contribute socially and economically to the community through his/her artistic expression, to develop a new generation of professional, socially aware and responsible artists and to produce high level artistic projects that bring awareness to the issues affecting youth in local, national and international communities. There are examples all over the world of young people embracing and using the hiphop culture as a means to inform, educate, inspire action and bring about positive change. Hiphop culture embodies the independent business spirit and creates innovative ways to start and operate a business. It is this entrepreneurial bent that helps to fund the Tru Karya Cipta activities. Since no governmental, community or private funding is currently available to the group, they rely on event ticket sales, performance fees, merchandising and donations for economic sustenance.

As for catching Aerial Crew in action, the group recently performed at the last Bali Spirit Festival and is participating in the monthly Uplift events staged at Betelnut restaurant in Ubud. Uplift is an all ages evening of community inspiration thru music, dance, song, poetry and visual arts. Go check out the next event. Aerial Crew can be booked for special events and private parties. For more information contact Kamau Abayomi at or check the Tru Karya Cipta website

Story by Ines Wynn
Photographs courtesy of Tru Karya Cipta

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