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Mortero hopped onto the buseta seconds before the driver pressed on the gas to leave the center of Bogotá, and without much warning he pressed play on a battery-powered stereo, rapping indignant in his baritone voice. His lyricism spoke to many Colombians’ almost-impossible struggle for upward mobility and the agrarian paro (strike) outside of the city, soon to beat on the doors of government in Bogotá. He moved quickly throughout the bus to collect a few hundred pesos, we spoke briefly about his work, exchanged numbers, and a few days later I found myself in the studio he shares with his Beat Trafficker Records collaborators in one of the city’s southernmost neighborhoods.
Mortero is a member of protest hip hop crew Patadas al Kraneo alongside emcee Cerebro and collaborator DJ Crizpy, representing their neighorhoods Zona 5 (Usme) and Zona 17 (La Candelaria). The group’s spent eleven years building their own home studio piece by piece, self-teaching production techniques as more information and programs have become available online. Invested in their local hip hop community and having collaborated at a distance with artists as far as Ukraine, Ecuador and Spain, the group seeks to strengthen the underground Colombian movement and bring political injustices at home to light on a worldwide level through their lyrics.
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Gabriel Rasenyai is a Motswana artist with as many names as he has personas. Most of the time he goes by the name Quaint, but is also known as The Faceless Artist and Spirit Strength the Savvy Savage. When he is not working as an IT specialist at the University of Botswana, he seamlessly transitions between disseminating socially conscious messages in his poetry and hip-hop, and burying other emcees in mountains of perfectly crafted insults as one of the country’s most promising battle rappers. But above all, whatever he is calling himself at the time, he seems set on a singular mission—to bring back the spontaneity, purity and competition of old school hip hop.
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From fruit vendors chanting their maracuyeah-hawking anthem, to el maestro Rubén Blades opening a set in Plaza Simon Bolívar with the classic “Chica Plástica” to a cross-generation crowd of thousands, to street performers dancing puppets to reggaetón, or outdoor salsa classes on Sundays for all sorts of urban fauna (see video below): music often appears in unpredictable, public moments to build an uninterrupted, buzzing soundscape across Bogotá.
Take an auto rickshaw up the Eastern Freeway to Vikhroli, a semi-industrial Mumbai suburb that receives virtually no “cred” from the city’s cultural elite. There, beneath the smoke stacks of Godrej’s industrial compound, you’ll find a beautiful, green campus of office buildings. Inside the campus nonchalantly stands a state-of-the-art “Lab” and performance space that has, in the two years of its existence, quickly become one of Mumbai’s foremost destinations for art, music, and culture.
The Godrej India Culture Lab, as it is called, curates events of all shapes and sizes, most of which are free and open to the general public. The events include a monthly “Friday Funda” speaker and performer series, Film and Book Clubs with filmmakers and authors, as well as “PopUp” mini conferences featuring INK and film festivals like the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. On July 19th, 2013, I had the fortune of being able to present my first “Work-In-Progress” screening of my Fulbright-mtvU documentary. You check out the video of my presentation on the following Fulbright-mtvU blog entry. But, for now, take a closer look at the Lab through a video I made featuring Parmesh Shahani, the Lab’s founder/director, and Frazan Kotwal, one of the Lab’s featured guests:
The first thing you notice about Old Naledi, a neighborhood in Gaborone, is the sheer number of children. Everywhere you look, kids sprint carelessly across the street, play with makeshift toys or sit on corners watching the day go by.
While the artistic team worked around the neighborhood to paint tuck shops (see previous blog post), Arts for Change was also working directly with the youth of Old Naledi to impart artistic skills and to show how the arts can be used in sustainable careers.
All the emcees, poets and artists I have interviewed share one sentiment in common: the powers that be—government agencies, schools, parents—do not give the arts the attention and respect they deserve. As a result, children tend to regard the arts as a hobby and pursue careers in more “respectable” fields like accounting or law.
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