Remember the awesome multilingual rappers from Wayna Tambo radio, Ukamau y Ke? Yes you do. They were the ones putting an Aymara spin on hip hop (pun fully intended).
I was saddened to find out today that Abraham Bohorquez, one of their key rappers, died recently after being run over on the road – although the causes of his death are still unclear. La Mala Palabra blog has a great post about his all-too-short life here. He was born and brought up in El Alto, but emigrated to Sao Paolo in search of work at the age of 11, and when labouring in the textile sweatshops there got hooked into the hip-hop scene of the favelas, where kids rapped in Portuguese about racism, struggle, work and life on the streets. He brought hip-hop back with him to El Alto and started off rapping at open mikes, becoming one of the first people to throw down rhymes in his native language, Aymara, and the group went on to garner significant acclaim and interest from all over the world – for example this NYT article . There’s even a piece that he himself wrote here. In his own words:
We can’t, and don’t want to, talk about the same things as American rappers -sex, cars, gold jewellery. We talk about our poverty, our people and our fight against imperialism. We want to wake up young Bolivians. Politics got too corrupt and it needs to be talked about in a fresh way so that young people are interested.
In the same article, he mentions opening up for Manu Chao in 2006. I was there, and I can tell you, they were great. Politically-attuned indigenous hip-hop is one of the freshest and most exciting indicators of a class of young, urban indigenous people proud of their roots but also engaging with other currents of culture from around the globe. It’s a sad day for hiphoppas in La Paz, El Alto and all around the world. QEPD.
Edited to add: after my last post here pondering the bad side to the Bolivian press and the way the government has chosen to deal with them, a colleague emailed me to point out that the newspapers aren’t always bad, but that the media includes TV and in Bolivia the TV is terrible, hysterical, counter-productive and racist. This turns out to be precisely the message of Ukamau y Ke’s latest track. Check it out, it’s really very good. What a horrible unfair shame to have lost such a sharp, talented young guy.