Pho­to­graphy by PRECIAUX-Ceělita

On Fri­day April 29, Breakin’ Con­ven­tion wel­come award-win­ning French hip hop crew Com­pag­nie Niya with the full length work Gueules Noires. The title refers to the miners who cho­reo­graph­er Rachid Hedli pays a heart­felt trib­ute to. These migrant work­ers of the Nord-Pas de Cal­ais Min­ing Basin, include his late fath­er. Retra­cing life in the mines, Com­pag­nie Niya’s super­i­or break­ing and pop­ping skills illus­trate heart­felt stor­ies drawn from authen­t­ic nar­rat­ives. Rachid Hedli tells us more.

This full-length work has been cre­ated using the stor­ies and his­tor­ies of your fath­er and grandfather’s gen­er­a­tions, the migrant work­ers who came to France from oth­er coun­tries to find employ­ment and worked in the mines. Can you tell us about the people who inspired this piece and when and why you decided to cre­ate it?

My fath­er was my inspir­a­tion. I wanted to pay trib­ute to him.

In 2004, when he became sick­er and weak, this idea developed. Dur­ing tidy­ing my par­ents’ cel­lar, I came across old min­ing objects belong­ing to my fath­er. His pick­axe, lamp, hel­met, lunch­box and bag. He told me some stor­ies about his work, his former work­mates, com­ing to France with a small suit­case to find a job in the mines before bring­ing his fam­ily too, hop­ing for a bet­ter life. He always spoke to me about this past focus­ing on pos­it­ive things, stay­ing evas­ive about the rest.

I wanted to talk about these stor­ies that he and I shared with many people here and wanted to share them with young people, with a new generation.

Tell us about your hip hop jour­ney. When you star­ted dan­cing and how you went on to form Com­pag­nie Niya. Who are the dan­cers mak­ing up the crew

I wanted to become a dan­cer after see­ing a per­form­ance by Mourad Merzouki at Douai (a city on the north of France). There were no stud­ies for this, so I began in the streets with oth­er dan­cers. I did many battles around the world (South Korea, Thai­l­and, Alger­ia, Taiwan, Morocco, Greece etc) and par­ti­cip­ated at events like Battle Peace, Battle of the Year, le Juste Debout (pres­ti­gi­ous French hip hop events). It was a really good training!

I con­tin­ued to par­ti­cip­ate in these battles and at the same time, began with some dance com­pan­ies. Farid’O was the first and also at the Nation­al Cho­reo­graph­ic Centre of Roubaix with Car­o­lyn Carlson (A cel­eb­rated Amer­ic­an dan­cer, cho­reo­graph­er and poet now res­id­ent in France) etc.

Some years ago, after these exper­i­ences in 2011, I wanted to express myself and my ideas. With dan­cers who I met, danced and par­ti­cip­ated with in com­pet­i­tions and battles a long time ago, we cre­ated a little per­form­ance titled Cen­sure which won awards and was selec­ted for hip hop dance fest­iv­al in San Fran­cisco; this was the begin­ning of our company.

Pho­to­graphy by PRECIAUX-Ceělita

Have indi­vidu­al dan­cers added to the nar­rat­ive of Gueules Noires?

At the begin­ning, I wanted to cre­ate a solo because that was my father­’s story. But the most import­ant thing for him was solid­ar­ity, fra­tern­ity, camarader­ie and mutu­al assist­ance. The back­grounds of the miners were all dif­fer­ent — Pol­ish, Algeri­an, Ger­man… but all “Gueules Noires”. It made no dif­fer­ence wheth­er all men had black faces..

It was impossible to express the fra­tern­ity, solid­ar­ity etc with a solo show, so I cre­ated Gueules Noires with dan­cers from my com­pany and chose a com­poser who I knew. He accep­ted because this min­ing story is also his story. He grew up in a min­ing city. His fam­ily were also miners and he star­ted the music in this place with an accordion.
It was per­fect to work and to cre­ate together

How have audi­ences in France and inter­na­tion­ally reacted to the piece?

Really really well. We received many nice testi­mon­ies, really good feed­back and a nice sens­it­iv­ity. There have always been a mix of gen­er­a­tions and inter­na­tion­al feed­back was really good too with many pos­it­ive feel­ings expressed. This piece is really under­stand­able for people, even if they have no idea about mining.
Dance is a uni­ver­sal lan­guage to share a story, we hope to build more oppor­tun­it­ies to present this show internationally.

It seems like Hip Hop dance has been an ideal medi­um to cre­ate Gueules Noires, why do you think this is?

Hip hop dance is my way of express­ing myself I think! But more ser­i­ously, I think because hip hop dance is a really sens­it­ive dance form and a very cur­rent cul­ture par­tic­u­larly for young people. I wanted to share this story with them, without for­get­ting older gen­er­a­tions. Hip hop per­mits that: shar­ing this story with everybody.

Also, break­dan­cing is really per­fect to express this work about mines and mining…on the floor, in nar­row spaces. Lastly, It’s import­ant for me to use hip hop dance as a way of expres­sion. Bey­ond this work and achieve­ment, it is deeply per­son­al to me

What are you look­ing for­ward to about per­form­ing at Breakin’ Con­ven­tion this year?
I want to see and to feel the pub­lic reaction.
They have some mines in UK too, not around Lon­don I know but across the coun­try . It’s also a close story for the UK. I’m espe­cially grate­ful to present Gueules Noires dur­ing Breakin’ Con­ven­tion in memory of these workers.

I’m really impa­tient too off course! I want to be part of this fest­iv­al, to dis­cov­er it, to meet oth­er dan­cers, to present Gueules Noires, to dis­cov­er Lon­don — Such a rich and var­ied city. We are really lucky and happy!

Catch Com­pag­nie Niya at Breakin’ Con­ven­tion on April 29th 2022. 

For more inform­a­tion and tick­ets vis­it 

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.