Phumlani S Langa discusses the history of the wonderous magic of South African head spins, flares and freezes. He also catches up with the maestro and co-founder of the 2on2s, DJ Switch and one of his main collaborators, Vouks Nojokes.
Before everyone and their mammas became either rappers or beat makers, South African kids were dancing. You may recall a jovial bunch of break dancers, led by DJ Switch on a popular kids programme called YoTV.
They played cartoons, had guests, and played in-studio games with a highlight that included Switch dropping a break beat and then Shorty, Versatile, Chopstix and Vouks took turns gracing the vinyl mat.The traction they garnered gave rise to an entity that existed beyond the walls of Urban Brew Studios.
The 2on2 B-boy Battles were born, and this was a moment in local hip-hop that we should have savoured. How were we to know that the game would become as plastic and as disingenuous as it is now?
“The first battles took place at Rivonia Village Hall [in Sandton] on a Saturday where you paid R10 to get in. This was in 2004,” says DJ Switch – real name Morgan van Staden – taking us down memory lane.
The 2on2 Battles couldn’t have come at a better time for him: “I was jobless as a qualified graphic designer, and I would do the normal and hit a practice session with the crew. But then my business partner Vouks [Gerald James] brought a VHS tape back from the US after a tour.”
Says Vouks: “I went on a trip with the Prophets Of Da City. Some friends and I came across a tape called Who Can Roast The Most. After I saw that I told Switch this was it.” The pair wanted to bring the art of breaking from the epicentre of local hip-hop, Cape Town, and ship it upwards. The result was nothing short of a creative dynasty that played out in this hall and on the free-to-air TV. There was a time when there were more people in dancing, breaking, than kids messing with raps.
But this changed because the commercial appeal for the sub-culture died down. Switch chuckles: “Not everyone’s willing to do the work we did. But everyone wants to be the star, and when there is no contest, you cut the lifeline for new blood to enter the scene.
“We did 2on2s, which also made it on to YoTV, as a contest. Then we introduced Solo Pros, an individual contest in search of the ultimate B-boy in South Africa. We gave them crazy cash, which evolved into a qualifier for the Red Bull BC One, and then crew battles called Bring Your Pack. I think we ran for about six years nationally.”
The Red Bull BC One is the biggest one-on-one B-Boy and B-Girl competition in the world. Vouks recalls the indescribable vibe. “It still feels like the 2on2s were yesterday. If you missed one, you missed out on a day when the community came together as more than just dancers.”
If you have had the pleasure of watching a B-boy Battle, you know it requires everyone to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. The one thing we’d most like to know is, where y’all at? Switch laughs, “Vouks has a new dance concept called Global Supreme Dance Fest. Shorty still competes, Versatile’s pursuing other ventures and Chopstix is breaking out in Ireland.”