DJ CaveM: Saving lives one healthy beat, and bite, at a time

by John Moore | Oct 31, 2017

Recording artist and organic gardener DJ CaveM Moetavation explains Food Justice in this Ted Talk.

Hip-hop crusader for culinary wellness brings his healthy green message to Breakin' Convention this weekend

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

When DJ CaveM Moetavation is introduced as “The Father of Eco Hip-Hop,” he still draws the occasional blank stare. After 16 globetrotting years, the Five Points native is still helping people reconcile what they think they know about hip-hop music with the international healthy food movement he started as a high-schooler in 2002. But the way CaveM puts it, it’s really pretty simple:

“More people die from heart disease than police brutality,” he said. “Why not start there?” Or how about this: African-American adults are 80 percent more likely than white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes.

DJ CaveM QuoteFood Justice matters. That's what it's all about, bro,” said CaveM, a featured local artist at this weekend’s Breakin' Convention festival of hip-hop dance theatre to be held in and around the Buell Theatre. The food-justice movement, he said, is communities exercising their right to grow, sell and eat healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate and locally grown food.

DJ CaveM, at just 31 years old, is an educator, emcee, chef, gardener, midwife, father, urban farmer, graffiti artist, yogi and environmental activist. He goes by the name Ietef Vita when he is not on stage, but both adopted monikers reflect a lifetime dedicated to living, promoting and teaching a vegan lifestyle through his music. CaveM is an acronym for “Communicating Awareness Victoriously Educating the Masses.”

“If we can teach kids how to wear their pants below their waist and how to wear their hat backward through hip-hop, we can definitely show them how to grow food,” said CaveM, who was nominated for a 2014 Grammy Music Educator Award. “We can reprogram the industry to think differently. We are redefining the image of what hip-hop is.”

Until recently, the experts said hip-hop had nine separate elements, only four of which actually have to do with music — rapping, DJing, beatboxing and breakdancing. Other elements relate to the genre’s subculture: Graffiti art, street fashion, language, knowledge and entrepreneurship. But at last year’s Earth Day in New York, “health and wellness” was officially introduced as the 10th element of hip-hip at a ceremony honoring CaveM and others for their pioneering efforts to intersect hip-hop music with healthy living.

“It was only after Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest had passed away from diabetes that we really started to notice that there are a lot of food-related illnesses in hip-hop,” CaveM said. “My b-boys (breakdancers) represent the healthiest and the purest element in the hip-hop culture.” 

Growing up hungry

CaveM’s story is worthy of a movie — and it is one. In the documentary From Gangs to Gardens, he talks about growing up as a member of the Eastside Gangstas in Five Points. He is the son of social justice activist Ashara Ekundayo, one of the founders of both Café Nuba and the GrowHaus in Denver. She has been credited with bringing the poetry scene back to Denver in the mid-1990s. His father, Michael Walker II, is a musician.

Click here for the complete roster of Breakin Convention performers

“I grew up around poets, graffiti writers, gangsters and healers,” said CaveM. “I grew up around the ideas of holistic health and community development and social change through art. That's what my whole vibration is about.”

What he didn’t grow up around was money. He saw his gang life leading to a literal dead end at 14, when he chose the vegan lifestyle for himself. By then he already had attended “all the schools,” he said, before landing at Denver Public Schools’ PS1 Charter in the Golden Triangle. It was there in 2002 he began organizing his life around the ideas of environmental hip-hop and culinary wellness.

He founded the annual Brown Suga Youth Festival when he was a senior in high school, which still thrives. “I invited all the b-boys, the graffiti writers, the emcees, the DJs, the homeopathic wellness physicians, the acupuncturists and the tai-chi masters to come and talk about how we can redefine the image of hip-hop culture,” he said.

DJ CaveM QuoteHe organized a panel discussion called “Going Green Living Bling” — and that, he said, “was the start of it all.” He founded an organization of the same name that develops school workshops, summer-camp programs and even gang interventions that teach kids how to grow their own food. He has taught at schools or spoken from Tuskegee to Uganda, where he studied indigenous agriculture. He has been featured in Oprah and Fortune Magazines and traveled to the White House. He was a 2013 winner of Westword's Mastermind Awards. Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock declared June 14 “Keep It Fresh Day” (a designation that has since been replicated by the city of Baltimore) to honor CaveM “for finding exciting ways to galvanize young people into taking action and transforming their environment,” Hancock wrote. He received a PhD in Urban Ecology from the Denver Institute of Urban Studies.

Plans for Breakin’ Convention

CaveM says it is amazing that British hip-hop pioneer Jonzi-D has chosen Denver as one of the first five North American cities to host a Breakin’ Convention weekend. And well-chosen.

“Denver is the home of Environmental Hip-Hop,” CaveM said. “We put it on the map. And the fact that's happening in November, which is Hip-Hop History Month, makes it even more powerful.”

(Story continues after the video)

British dancer, spoken-word artist and director Jonzi D is the most influential advocate for hip-hop theatre in the world. In the video above, he talks with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore about 'Breakin' Convention,' coming to the Denver Center from Nov. 4-5. Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and intern Avery Anderson.

CaveM will be part of two free Breakin’ Convention events this weekend, though he will be making additional personal appearances throughout the weekend. His primary appearances take place from 1-5 as part of the free 303 Jam. At 1 p.m. CaveM takes to the stage outside the Buell Theatre for a brief demonstration of International Environmental Hip-Hop. And from 1:30 to 5, he will host a music-infused cooking class in the Wolf Room inside The Buell Theatre.

“It’s a culinary climate-action workshop using vegetables as a beat machine,” CaveM said. “We are going to teach kids how to conduct electricity as well as vegetable literacy through math, science and hip-hop — all at the same time.”

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Performing in his hometown, alongside both local crews and some of the biggest international acts in the world, is personal to CaveM.

“I believe we can change the world through hip-hop,” he said. “It's more than just yoga and breaking. It’s more than a culture. It's more than a dance. It's a lifestyle. People come to get entertained, but we're introducing a way of life that I want people to really embrace. Anyone can get involved in it.”

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Bonus: Three places for a new vegan to eat in Denver:
Inspired to try DJ CaveM’s food lifestyle? Start at his website, Meantime, we asked him his three favorite places to eat in Denver:

  1. “My very favorite place is the produce section of any grocery store, especially the ones that have organic produce. Eat it raw or don't eat it at all. Drink your salads. Mix the most bitter greens with apples and oranges. Try to keep it as local as possible.”
  2. “For late-night parties, if you are looking for a vegan pizza or snacks, City, O' City is pretty nice, located at 206 E. 13th Ave. in Denver."
  3. “You might also want to check out your kitchen, you know what I'm saying? My kitchen is the flyest place to be right now, bro.”

DJ CaveM’s weekend schedule

  • 5-8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3: Produce for the People: A pop-up juice bar, artsy film garden, open b-boy cipher with DJ CaveM and Shea Live on the Beats. This event is part of November’s monthly First Friday activities (at the Convention Center).
  • 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 4: Yoga and Meditation with Tyrone Beverly and DJ CaveM (at the Convention Center). Yoga meets hip-hop, appropriate for all levels. Bring your own mat (at the Convention Center).
  • 1-1:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4: International Environmental Hip-Hop Performance featuring DJ CaveM with Big Wheel (outside the Buell Theatre). This is part of the free 303 Jam Festival from 1-5 p.m.
  • 1:30-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4: Plant Based Records, a vegetable beat-making workshop (in the Wolf Room inside the Buell Theatre). This is part of the free 303 Jam Festival from 1-5 p.m.
  • 10 p.m. to midnight: Produce for the People afterparty with LOF crew featuring a pop-up juice bar, artsy film garden and b-boy cypher with DJ CaveM, Mike Wird and DJ MUSA showcasing collaborative art by Thomas “Detour” Evans at a new venue called “Understudy” at the 14th and Stout streets light-rail station.
  • 1:30-2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5: Recipes for Resistance: Discovering the B-Boy diet. Culinary Climate Action Activist DJ CaveM explores holistic health and hip-hop culture in this one-hour cooking class on how to stay healthy and fit on tour, with Q&A (Convention Center). Breakin’ Convention 2017 International Festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre

Breakin' Convention: Ticket Information

• Nov. 4-5
• The Buell Theatre and surrounding areas
• Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
• Groups: Call 303-446-4829
• Special student performance at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 3

Breakin' Convention: The international lineup

  • Yeah Yellow (France) - An explosive b-boy crew from France, YY brings agility, creativity and invention to the BC stage. Bodies create orifices to dive through, and reform physical shapes with muscular alchemy. Recently performed at BOTY16.
  • Protocol (U.K.) - Lanre Malouda directs as well as performs in this duet that explores racial dynamics. Popping and tutting techniques, as well as text and physical theatre is used to present ideas that reflect the tensions in our community today.
  • Salah (France) - A living legend in the world of hip-hop dance, Salah returns to the Breakin’ Convention stage after an eight year hiatus. This consummate performer is a master popper, locker, b-boy, clown and all around entertainer. Known for his amazing battle abilities, Salah will present his theatre piece The Sickness.
  • Soweto Skeleton Movers (South Africa) - From the most notorious township on the African continent comes the Soweto Skeleton Movers. The audience highlight of Breakin’ Convention 2016 returns with a brand new show. Experts in a particular form of pantsula dance developed by Skeleton Mover pioneer Jabulani, the crew use comedic contortionism, frenetic footwork, and magical hat tricks. 
  • Popin’ Pete (U.S.) - Also known as Timothy Earl Solomon, Popin' Pete is an American dancer, choreographer, innovator, one of the originators of the "popping" dance style and member of the Electric Boogaloos. His career has spanned 30 years developing funk culture as a whole.

Breakin’ Convention officially kicks off with the free 303 Jam from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov 4 at The Buell Theatre. Enjoy free activities and performances including live DJs, workshops, free demonstrations and performances by DJ Cavem, The Reminders and more. Free fun for the whole family.

Breakin' Convention
(inside the Buell Theatre) will present a special student matinee at 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 3. Contact for more information.

Previous NewsCenter coverage of Breakin' Convention:

Breakin' Convention to kick off Denver Arts Week in November
Breakin' Convention
promises to bring authenticity, local artists to DCPA 

Video: Our talk with the one and only Jonzi D of Breakin' Convention

Photo gallery: Breakin' Convention community roundtable

Breakin' Convention in Denver

Photo gallery: Last summer, about 35 members of the local artistic community attended a local community roundtable at the Denver Center to get the conversation about 'Breakin' Convention' started. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

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John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.