A Sweatshop education 

Sweatshop Union steps up to soapbox with West Coast
conscious hip hop

Sweatshop play Friday, July 28, 5 p.m., Skiers Plaza
  • Sweatshop play Friday, July 28, 5 p.m., Skiers Plaza

What: Crankworx Concert Mainstage

Who: Sweatshop Union

When: Friday, July 28, 5 p.m.

Where: Skier’s Plaza

Admission: Free

The soapbox is all theirs Friday, and if Sweatshop Union’s Moses were to get up and preach one thing to the masses, the 11th commandment if you will, it would be the need for spiritual education – a different parting of the sea, a universal search for the capital T of truth with no religious boundaries.

"I feel that as a human race we were never given the proper guidance of what is actually going on spiritually," Moses explained. "What is making all these issues (poverty, war, environmental degragation) is because people don’t have a mind set and perspective not to act in a certain way. You can blame it on the system and politicians and they are definitely at fault, but it comes down to what you feel is purposely wrong or right."

How might President George Bush’s rule be different if he followed the same practices as in Bhutan, where the king must enter a monastery for two years before ruling his people.

"There should be no separation between the spiritual and state," Moses said. "To rule people, you should have to be spiritually evolved, otherwise you don’t guide people the right way."

Although not politicians, Sweatshop Union spark the masses with their socially-aware music that speaks out against senseless consumerism, racism, poverty and other social ills, using a collective voice.

The Juno-nominated seven-member Union is comprised of four separate crews from Victoria and Vancouver, including Creative Minds, Dirty Circus, Innocent Bystanders and MC Kyrios. The artist collective has toured with Black Eyed Peas, Jurassic 5, Abstract Rude, Blackalicious and most recently with fellow Battle Axe Records labelmates Swollen Members on the Union’s first U.S. tour. After receiving an incredible response from the newly built fan base, the group heads south of the Canadian border again in September.

All of the group’s messages are intertwined in the fine-tuned, infectious beats of hip hop heavily laced with instrumentalization.

Not simply satisfied with making beats over a drum machine, Sweatshop Union dials up the melodic hip hop the West Coast is famous for. The sounds of big band jazz weave in and out of the hit single Broken Record from Sweatshop Union’s newest album, United We Fall . The standup bass takes centre stage in Come Back and the guitar brings beauty to the lyrics about homelessness and starvation in The Thing About It.

"Hip hop music is desconstructive," Moses said. "It takes snippets from all pop culture and puts it into something new."

In the music video for The Thing About It, images of oppression and destruction flood the screen, including everything from logged forests to starving children and barren crop fields. But within the judgments, a solution is offered: nothing outside of the people other than the individuals themselves. Lyrics self empower: "Think for yourself… Realize that the system can’t exist without belief."

"That is the hardest part of being so called conscious artists," Moses said. "We are expected to have a solution, but we are just regular people that have concerns about the state of the world. Our music challenges you to come up with your own ways, be better and contribute positively. A lot of people are so caught up in the everyday tribulations they don’t take time to contribute and make things better. I think it all begins with giving people the option. The idea that other people feel the same way helps…. Alone, you can feel crazy if you have all these problems with the world. You feel something is wrong with you. The first step is to bring up these issues and talk about them."

There will be plenty of conversation at the concert with Sweatshop Union drawing from three albums worth of material. The group’s debut album, Local 604, was released in 2002 via indie label Battle Axe Records. Their second album, 2004’s Natural Progression , was awarded a Juno nomination for Best Rap Recording only a day after its official release. United We Fall continues to build the Sweatshop Union’s empire, leading to tens of thousands of albums selling worldwide. The group is currently working on its fourth album.

Check out Union tracks at www.myspace.com/sweatshopunion7

"In all reality, you don’t make it for money," Moses said of music making. "We’ve all got to live, but we don’t make it for that express purpose. If I have a fridge full of food, and someone wants to borrow a cracker, go ahead and have that. We are not going to run out of music. It is never going to stop."

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