Next Level: Ecuador

From May 6 - May 22, 2022, five Hip Hop artists traveled to Ecuador as part of the Next Level program. Lisa Vazquez (Beatmaker), Nilo Zamiri (Popper), Austin Dean Ashford (MC), and Black Rhythm (Beatboxing) joined site manager Phes to perform for audiences and collaborate with local artists to promote cross-cultural creative exchange and conflict transformation. Team Ecuador is part of a larger Next Level cohort of American MCs, DJs, beatmakers, and Hip Hop dancers seeking to create a global community through Hip Hop culture.

Next Level, a cultural diplomacy program that uses Hip Hop to create connections is an initiative of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Meridian International Center that promotes conflict transformation, entrepreneurship and artistic and professional development among younger and under-served audiences around the world.

The Next Level Academy was held at Parque Urbano Cumanda, a cultural arts center which is open to the public in the center of Quito. They provided separate spaces for the 4 workshops to be held. There was adequate space but some challenges were presented due to the layout and locations for some of the workshop spaces. For example, there were times when the sounds from one class would bleed into the next one simply because of their proximity to each other. But we fixed this issue by shifting some of the spaces around and the hosts were most then willing to work with us and accommodate as needed. The main theater was used as the space where all classes could meet together in the beginning as well as for our focus days. The workshops went well and each class had their own momentum and rapport which only grew as they got closer to the final performance.

The Jam Session / Collaboration was held on Sunday May 10th at a local venue in Otavalo. The venue would usually hold an open mic style night where local musicians would come and jam together. We arrived early to help setup as our local partners, Mafia Andina, were also taking care of the sound for that night. The presentation started with Taki singing some traditional Andina music with musicians using different traditional instruments such as the Andina flute, 12 string guitar, and Arpa Andina. Some of the people danced traditional Andina dances to the music, including some of the participants from our program. After they played, some of our team went up to do their own presentation. It eventually turned into a jam with various different instruments and people improvising in various languages from English to Spanish to Quichua.

The Final Concert was held at Parque Urbano Cumanda in their main lobby space. The area is a big open indoor location that can fit up to 400 people. The performances featured presentations from each ext Level artist along with each of their classes. We also invited 3 local groups to perform in between each one of the ext Level classes. The 3 other groups that performed were La Mafia Andina, our local partner and Hip Hop group led by Taki who raps in Quichua; Runa Rap, a Hip Hop group from Otavalo that also uses Quichua and Andina influence in their music; and Mugre Sur, a local group from Quito with a big underground following.

Overall, the artists showed a passion for their artforms and enjoyed sharing it with students no matter how experienced they were. Students who participated in the workshops were left inspired by the artists and excited to continue learning.

Explore and watch the program here.


Project summary

Next Level: Ecuador
Regions: Western Hemisphere
Countries: Ecuador
Impact Areas: Cultural Diplomacy
Program Areas: Culture
Partners: Public Sector