Adisa Banjoko deserves to be very famous, if only because he’s diligently spreading so many good ideas. As the CEO of the Hip-hop Chess Federation, which stands tough with The RZA and WuChess, he fuses and uses chess, Hip-hop, and martial arts to teach the youth strong life-strategy skills. Author of the essential essay/interview collections Lyrical Swords, Vol. 1 and 2, Adisa is pushing positive on all fronts.
Roy Christopher: Tell me about The Hip-hop Chess Federation. What are your aims with this project?
Adisa Banjoko: The HHCF fuses music, chess, and martial arts to promote unity, strategy, and non-violence to American youth. We host celebrity chess tournaments, and we have a pilot program where we help kids see their own lives on the boards. It’s a powerful union. We have hosted events with RZA and GZA, Immortal Technique, Rakaa from Dilated Peoples, Sann Quinn, Balance, DJ QBert, Paris, Casual, T-KASH, Amir Sulaiman, Sunspot Jonz, MMA fighter Ralek Gracie (he raps too), Okwerdz, DJ Disk… So many folks really… I feel bad, ’cause I know I’m leaving some major cats out, but it’s a beautiful thing.
RC: What do you see as the overlap between chess, martial arts, and Hip-hop?
AB: They all lead youth toward presence. By that, I mean being completely aware about the beauty and opportunity of right now. They are three paths to the same place. The other part of it is about helping American youth become more physically and mentally balanced. Our kids are grossly out of shape physically. They are also often lacking in consistent moral judgment. Chess gives them morals free from dogma. Martial arts and the art of Hip-Hop give them freedom of expression and courage under pressure. It’s much deeper than what I’ve explained right now. But I have spoken on this and written about these connections since the late 1980’s (yes, I’m maturing finally).
RC: What does the phrase “Hip-hop theory” mean to you?
AB: I’m not sure. On one hand, it could mean a silly rapper trying to make a cult out of a beautiful art. It could mean that one is applying African American/Latino/Poor White urban ideas into the mainstream. You know, I actually remember when people said rap was not music. I remember when people said graffiti was not art. I remember when they said Hip-Hop was a psychological phase. How insulting! To think they were fit to judge our collective genius. To think they could assess our political prowess or our spiritual sincerity (even if we may have lacked a refined ideology).
So, to me, the Hip-Hop theory could be all or none of the above. It could be, something we have not even truly discovered yet. What if all of the people today essentially are like the pre-socratic philosophers of our time… Maybe one hundred years from now, something beyond our comprehension may be born from Hip-Hop. I doubt that will happen. It’s all equally possible and impossible in my eyes. Overall, I think Hip-Hop is overused and over relied on as a source for political, social, and spiritual upliftment. I believe Hip-Hop introduces you to uplifting things, but it is not the root of the upliftment. It’s all really done by The One.
RC: Is there a Lyrical Swords, Vol. 3 in the works?
AB: Yes and no. It’s supposed to be out, but life (that beautiful thing) got all in the way. I drifted away from studying non-violence, left jiu jitsu almost completely, and stopped listening to just about any rap made after 1993. So, this created a void for me, and I felt it’d be insincere to write Vol. 3 from such a nebulous place. I’ve been studying a lot more and I’m closer to finding the root of my inspiration, but for now, it’s all in the ether.
RC: Anything else I missed that you want to bring up here?
AB: I’d like to bring up the idea that non-violence is the path humanity should seek to embrace as a universal law. I do not believe Muhammad, Moses, or Jesus (peace be upon them all) would ever sanction the way those professing love for them abuse one another. I believe that the family structure of America has been almost completely destroyed. I fear that America may be almost doomed because of it. Any man out there reading this who has abandoned their child needs to pick up the phone, get on line, find your children and be the father you never had. No excuses.
Thanks for taking the time to interview me. It’s a real honor.
RC: Mad thanks for your time, Brother Adisa.
AB: Anyone wishing to learn more about the HHCF can find me at www.hiphopchessfederation.org.
Here’s a video clip featuring HHCF Life Strategies Pilot Program at O’Connell in San Francisco, Mission District graffiti photos by Adisa, and a poem called “82nd & Macarthur” by Amir Sulaiman [runtime: 4:14]. “This is my day, to and from the trains in SF,” Adisa said of the clip. “The conversations in this poem reflect many of the conversations I have with these kids…”