Three weeks ago, Denmar McKie was at a yoga class when he received a rather strange message from his friend Troy Bacon. It read, “Do you want to go to India?”
Not knowing what it meant but curious, he responded to the message in the affirmative. It turns out that Bacon was putting together an American team to compete at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup. Soon he found himself training with the USA team which was to head to India.
“It was a real quick turnaround,” he admits, knowing fully well how surreal the narrative of a Miami-based rapper becoming interested in a sport as foreign as kabaddi is.
Only earlier this year, he released an album, Black 2 Reality. He says his songs are a reflection of the struggles African Americans go through back in USA.
“My music reflects life, realities and experiences. It is a direct reflection of what my people experience in America.
“I believe music was a path which was chosen for me. Having been born in Jamaica, I saw a lot of the poverty and oppression there first hand. A lot of people need to hear about those things. If I don’t do it, who will? I want to wake people up,” says McKie, who likes to be called Pharoh D.
Once he had bought into this improbable dream, McKie convinced others like him to take up kabaddi. David Ritchey, who plays as a defender in the USA kabaddi team, is a rapper and a bass guitarist in a band back in USA.
“Pharoh D spoke to me about joining the kabaddi team at an art festival few weeks ago. Once I saw how the sport was played, I was hooked,” says Ritchey, who also has a Bachelor of Sociology degree from Florida State University. Like McKie, Ritchey, or Kip as he likes to be called, likes his songs to focus on raising social awareness. His latest single ‘Ain’t no script’ released a few months ago.
Ritchey says there are as many as eight rappers in the 14-member American team.
One of them is Ronald Fields a.k.a Ronnie Eriic, a hip hop artist who also has a Masters in entertainment business.
Fields admits to being caught completely by surprise by the offer to represent USA.
“The opportunity caught me off guard. But I’m a risk taker. This is a remarkable opportunity, after all, coming to India meant we were making history,” he asserts.
And so it was that Team USA, a hastily assembled unit filled with rappers and musicians, made its way to India, with a rhyme on their lips and history on their minds.
These guys were not just musicians, they were chosen because of their sports background. Most of the players had played sports like basketball and American football back in their college days. But they’ve had a harsh initiation to the sport in Ahmedabad. Their dream is unraveling rather quickly. Off-balance players fall out of bounds. Opposition raiders are allowed to waltz into the bonus zone. Raiders forget they’re doing a do-or-die raid. Raiders forget to cant. Rookie mistakes.
They lost 52-15 to Iran and then 45-19 to Japan. Then they come up against Poland.
The match is one of the quirks of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup, even by its regular standards considering pharmacists and engineers are competing against monks and fishermen.
USA, perpetual Goliaths on any sports field, are being taught a lesson by Poland, perpetual sporting minnows. For context, consider this: At the recent 2016 Rio Olympics, Poland bagged 11 medals, just two of them gold. USA, with 121 medals, were on top of the list having bagged 46 golds. But on Friday, USA lost 75-29.
Heavy defeats notwithstanding, the Americans stand out. Just as with their music, the Americans make a statement while playing.
Their dreadlocked players take to the kabaddi mats with their nicknames on their backs. McKie wears his rap name “Pharoh D” on the back of his shirt. Kevin Caldwell, an all rounder, wears “Hustle” on his jersey. Fields’s shirt also has his rap name “Ronnie Eriic”. Another teammate is called “Swag”.
McKie admits their beginning to history is not ideal. The last week has been their steepest learning curve.
“It’s like having an Indian learn to play basketball and then facing the San Antonio Spurs a month later,” he observes with a chuckle.
The road has been bumpy for American kabaddi but the song on the players’ lips is still intact.