Monday, June 14, 2010

Hip-Hop on the Rise: Cuidad Emergente

We in here! Taggers left their mark on all of the Festival Signs

While just two years ago, it seemed that most Porteños only recognized the word hip-hop as a weird new style on the show So You Think You Can Dance, lately the culture is gaining some visibility on the mainstream stage.

June 2-6 more than 130 thousand people attended the third annual La Festival Cuidad Emergente in Buenos Aires! This government funded festival an outlet for emerging yet often neglected alternative youth cultures. True it's name, "The Festival of the Emerging City" lends a legitimating stage to up and coming musicians, dancers, artists, and fashion designers who capture urban youth movements and sensibilities. The past 2 years were dominated by indie rock bands and electronica djs, but in 2010 a new flavor is moving in on the spotlight.

Hip-hop definitely had the crowd saying "haay!" or at the very least "hmmm" every day of the festival. Each of the elements of hip-hop were well-represented with showcases of two different live hip-hop bands, four groups of bboys, numerous turntabilist, and an entire 30 foot wall of the Recoleta Cultural Center transformed by a team of graffiti artists. The young hip-hop heads came in crews often rocking their hoodies and addidas snap-ups as silent unifiers. Meanwhile, large crowds of families, often without prior exposure to hip-hop, would stop dead in their tracks, mouth agape to capture the phenomenon.

The Graff crew posing in front of their work

The festival goers were witnessing one of the first times that Buenos Aires hip-hop culture had peeked its head up above the waves of the underground. Due to a dominating culture of rock, cumbia, and electronica, Buenos Aires is not yet an epicenter of hip-hop like it's neighboring capital cities. Montevideo is much more accepting of any music that comes from the "Afro" tradition, and Santiago undoubtedly has one of the biggest hip-hop scenes in America Latina. These norms look to be changing in Buenos Aires as local hip-hop artists continue to unify more comfortable local sounds with the new and the disparate. The fan base is growing as young music aficionados cross the borders from popular genres such as reggaeton, electronica, and cumbia villera, into the land of hip-hop

The most popular hip-hop performers in Buenos Aires (and much of Latin America) have found impressive ways to localize the globally imported concept that is hip-hop culture, by transforming it with local flavors, and reclaiming it as their own. Groups such as Columbia's Bomba Estereo pay homage to their local music traditions by rhyming over psychedelic cumbia samples, and spitting out clave rhythms with ease. Uruguay's Contra de Las Cuerdas have been successful rapping over their own local popular forms of music like Tango and Candombe, (the traditional Afro-Argentine/Uruguayan form of drum and dance).

The band of five, Marcelo (mc), Cesar Gamboa "Sapo" (Dj) Gerardo (teclados, acordeon etc) Eduardo (bajo,guitarras) and Ferna (Percusiones) played on June 4th to a crowd of around 300 people. Their hardcore fans sung along with the words, often rich with political rhetoric, while the rest of the crowd was hooked in by the group's diverse grooves. Some moved their hips with the latin groove of their Candombe tambores, others bobbed their heads to their melodious rock guitar riffs, while others still swayed nostalgically to the dramatic tango accordion. What's not to like?

As the keyboardist grabbed an accordion, and the mc grabbed a guitar, I understood why they had been jamming all around Latin America together for the last eight years. Each of the members of Contra Las Cuerdas is a true musician who plays to constantly stretch musical boundaries. Uninterested in attempting to conform along boundaries of genre or image, Contra Las Cuerdas basist Eduardo describes their form of hip-hop as their " way to be honest, a way to not go around copying what's already out."

Perhaps just as important as their musicianship was their consciousness of the importance and possibilities of hip-hop culture as it grows in Latin America and in the rest of the world.

"We know that there were hundreds of people in the audience who had never seen us before. And by the end, you could see, they were dancing. Hip-hop isn't just a music, it's a language. It's a language that gives every pueblo in the world an opportunity to speak. It's truly an intersections of urban productions. I grew up with my dad listening to tango, but for someone else it might have been Brazilian music, or a murga. We come from various intersections and with hip-hop we all come together." continued Eduardo

Andrea Senera, the curadora del Festival de Danza Contemporánea corroborates this sentiment as she talked about the dance portion of the festival named "danza callajera" or street dances. This year featured three purely bboy crews and four more dance troupes who incorporated hip-hop in their dance routines. "La idea es mezclar lenguajes," she said in reference to her desire to display both dancers who had been "formally" trained in dance schools with those who have been trained on the street and "viven su arte".

I caught The Fuera de Limite Crew and was definitely impressed by their acrobatic skills, old school poppin, and one of the dopest b-girls that I've seen in a long time. The patio was filled to the brim with teenagers, yes, but also families, little young ones all privy to the visual development of this form of expression.

B-girl GET IT!

Fuera de Limite Crew gettin it in.

Even the fashion design portion was called the Fashion show "Dancehall Dmode" and was emceed by a local rapper Ms. Boliva.

And here emerges the next generation of hip-hoppers: B-babies watching the show

Though many of the hip-hop events didn't attract as many people as the headlining rock bands, the crowds were still robust and energetic. There is not much mainstream attention for hip-hop in Buenos Aires, yet the many youth that participate sure as hell aren't sitting around waiting to make the news. They've continued to live the culture of hip-hop despite it's current lack of lucrative outlets, lack of available spaces, and disinterest from the mainstream. Behind these peripheral cultures, you'll often find the marginalized youth that also live in the peripheries of society. Those who don't have a voice on a formal stage, those who don't have the opportunity to take dance lessons at a "formal" institution, and those who aren't handed these alternative spaces of expression--they have to work to build their own. Hip-hop culture has captured the hearts of many of these youth, and for this reason it was truly the cornerstone of this years Festival Cuidad Emergente.

Director of the festival Viviana Carter spoke a bit about these marginalized cultures in particular,
"This Festival is a space for us to begin to create. Many from this generation had to learn how to take care of themselves and they are just looking for spaces to express themselves." As more of these legitimate spaces and opportunities are presented for these youth to take on their own identities, the more they will feel justified in spending their time in energy in dance and hip-hop. "I think it's healthy that they are putting this much intense energy into dance and constructive things instead of stealing, robbing, and taking paco, [a very popular street drug similar to crack,]" says Silvina Szperling, another dance curator for the festival.

One thing is for sure, the hip-hop community may be just emerging but is poised for an explosion. As Andrea Servera, the festivals curator of dance confirms, "levantás un adoquín y sale un bboy. Eso es algo que no pasa con otras danzas." (You turn over a rock, and out comes a bboy. This is something that isn't happening with other forms of dance).

And judging by the incredible amounts of taggers who left their mark on just about every Cuidad Emergente sign in the festival, the heads are letting people know that, "We're in here, you'll notice us, and we're not goin anywhere."

Saturday, May 15, 2010




Saturday, May 8, 2010

Negro Tango: Exposing the black roots of the white facade

Every guide book that you pick up on Buenos Aires will undoubtedly show you a few things.

1.) A tango picture.

You’ll always see the pale faced, dark haired couple dancing gracefully across the cover of most books on Argentina. Tango is the undoubted symbolic gesture that Buenos Aires gladly accepts to top the front of it’s national mythology.

yup. just go ahead and google Buenos Aires Tango. It all looks like this...

2.) The second thing that they’ll always tell you is that all of the black people are dead and gone. Of course, the language is more flowerly, but there will be a basic explanation that, dammit, this ain’t Brazil, if you were lookin for brown or black, you’ll have to go back to Africa.

Although there is some truth to both of these images, and statements, they are both indicative of the national mythology of Argentine whiteness that is exported in mass proportion.

As I wrote in my thesis:

"The reality is that tango started as a slave dance. It was danced in brothels, in the depths and dark crevices of the society that the Europhile elite of Buenos Aires didn’t want to accept. The dance had a wily percolacion upward through Cuba, and even ended up on tour in France, and other parts of Europe. It was only this contact with European hands that the dirty dance of slaves, and the lower class Italians who cohabitated with them, became the image of Argentine tango that we now see. This tango that glistens among chandeliers and fancy tacones that do flippant twists over waxed parquet--this tango is a complicit conversation between the throngs of tangoing tourists, and the few Portenos that actually DO the tango."

There were two events this month that focused on the African roots of Tango as musicologist Nestor Ordigo released his book about just this topic. The first took place at the annual Feria de Libros…which is toted to be one of the most important gatherings of literature, authors, academics, blabbity blabbity blah…

Maybe I’m missed all of the rich cultural exchange but I just saw it as an excuse to charge people entrance to pay exorbitant prices for books they can find more easily on mercardolibre (Argentine ebay).

Or perhaps it was just my general discomfort and discontentment with the presentation that I went to about Afro-Argentines.

Now, admittedly I walked in a bit late, but I was advised that I hadn’t missed anything. I grabbed a seat next to a few recognizable faces in the community. When I arrived, Pablo Cirio, a well known Afro-Argentine musicologist here was in a slide show that appeared to be describing each setting, and story of each black face.

“Que me falto…de que esta hablando?”


he whispered to me simply.

“Mostrando fotos de gente negra?”


And there it was, Afro-Argentine academia often decomposes into the primary process of just explaining to others that black people EXIST. Here is one, here is another, I’m friends with this one, oh and that one too.

The perfect way to end a presentation about the Afro-Argentine roots of tango that had nothing to do with the Afro-Argentine roots of tango with a tango done by an afro-BRASILIERA, and afro-URUGUAYO. Maybe it makes sense in some post-modern way somewhere?

To be a bit less critical, the European mythology of Argentine is a pretty brick wall to try to navigate. It shows a lot about the current pervasive ideology of invisibilization that exists in Buenos Aires, especially. Though in America we don’t see very many American Indians, and our national history is just a euphemized story of their massacre, you will hear very few people deny that there was ever a population of Indians. Most people won’t tell you that they just don’t exist anymore. That we just “don’t really have that problem”...

Perhaps a slide-show of black faces is the first political step that the Afro community has to make…but I’m inclined to say….so what??

Anyways, the second event I was initially very excited about:

In a tango museum, a small charla about the Afro roots in tango, then Rosa Montero, a middle-class black Portena was going to sing some of the “negro tangos”.

The museum was very interesting, especially in it’s inclusion of afro-argentine history, but the event left a bit to be desired. First of all, I had dragged along a friend and my roommate Emilse ( a tango lover) with the promise of an Afro-Argentine tango. We arrived to a small and packed room with two speakers set up and a pasty faced red head reeking of adolescent rebellion at the helm of the laptop.

Next, who grabbed the mic but our silly musicology professor with the black-faced-slide-show.

His introductions showed that he could switch around the words negro-and tango quite apty.

“So llegamos a este evento para hablar sobre los tangos negros. Si estamos aca para todo que ver con los negros en tango. Si, los Afro-tangeros if you will”

I must admit I was a bit volanda at the time, but I was confused when an older white gentlemen with an admitted “cara de orto”. Who is this apartato??

As it seems, he must have some type of pact with the academics who planned the event, or a pact with the devil to be able to keep a straight face through the largest JOKE of a song that I’ve ever heard.

With his ill timed, flat, silly-faced, no feelinged, stiff arm (I can go on and on) delivery, I literally had to put my camera on my lap so as not to waste my arm strength. May I say it again,Who is this tool??

At one point, about half way through the eternity of this horrid spectacle, mid-breath, before this chavon was about to let out another limp and languid sound


The man angrily and bitterly looked at the adolescent who was surfing the web to pass the time (oh I wish I had a web to surf too…) and they decided that they would move onto the next song as that one had “a glitch”. In my trying my very hardest to suppress laughter…I noticed my roommate out wandering the hallways of the museum. I couldn’t blame her.

After a few more songs, and a pitifully staged shout for an encore (why is that TWO people clapped and shouted for the SAME song) I smell a set up here, and I was ready to protest….

Rosa Montenero…this middle classed Afro-Argentine who in all of her 70 something years was fabbed out in a very middle classy way. No cleavage, but happy patterns. Jewelry glittery enough without being hookerish? I dunno.

She explained that as all singers were, that pronounce and pronounce that they are singer and despues cuando nos toque ya estamos resfriadas…

She was sick, and losing her voice, but she would make the concert happen.

After four songs, she called in quits in her tango esque style

“No puedo mas” she whispered, gently cradling her throat….

I asked my roommate, the tango lovah for her recap of the event. I asked her to tell me in English so that we could talk about the event freely. (If the poor chavon happened to understand English, well, perhaps it was only right that he was brought down by a yanqui imperialist)

“That…” Emi started empathetically (and remember you have to picture all of this happening in her accent from a very specific part of Liverpool) “was the most terrible….awful…”

she started fishing for adjectives so I started to turn it into an English synonym lesson

“piss poor…embarrassing…pice of crap...ugly...undesirable...offensive” I offered

“excuse for a tango that I have ever seen. I had to leave to stop myself from laughing at this man”

For some laughs….check out some outtakes from the show. Well, actually, they are really just clips from the event, but they should be outtakes because of my shaky cam, and his shaky voice.

At least the museum had an impressive display of Afro-Argentine representation in thier story of the tango:

Argentina: Land of the Vanishing Blacks. An article written by Ebony in the 70's.

Various books on display on the Afro roots of the tango.