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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.
Patadas al Kraneo kicks off the new PA’ PICAR [link: pa-picar.com] series with a mixtape featuring original music from their albums Entre el Odio y la Ternura and La Fuerza Elite, and unreleased tracks from their forthcoming album Los Días Antes del Fin. PA’ PICAR is a cross-genre mixtape and interview series dedicated to showcasing Colombian digital producers utilizing low-barrier, Internet-powered production tools and distribution networks for new levels of artistic agency and self-representation.
Check the full interview below where the group discusses their vision for political consciousness through hip hop, the necessity of strengthening the underground movement in Bogotá and digital connectivity.
Sara: What does the term “protest music” mean for you?
Cerebro: It’s always been the essence of hip hop and rap. It’s the power to protest, because hip hop in itself is a weapon we use to express many things that the majority of people can’t or don’t want to say, or abstain from saying; so much oppression, many ideologies of the system that in reality contrast the society we live in. It’s to have the power to express and denounce all of the things that never come to the public light in the media. We make the truth public through our music and we can reach a lot of people through these lyrics. Protest is disagreeing with what happens where you live or the things that you know that shouldn’t be the way they are– exploitation, tyranny, the police always abusing their authority. It’s always been this way. In front of a dark reality, the only weapon is protest. It’s an alternative to taking up a handgun or a leftist guerilla ideology. It’s simply believing in freedom, from one point to another. In the studio we have the right to make things however we want with freedom of expression, to say what we think. Here no one is oppressed, repressed; this is the synthesis of protest with rap.
Sara: How has hip hop culture been transformative for you?
Mortero: For us, hip hop as a culture and as life is the same; it’s our culture and our lives and our way of living, our means of bringing awareness to people through art. It’s making hip hop for well-being; for taking the guys that are doing things they don’t have to do, to guys on the corner, stealing, dealing since they were very little. Making hip hop is a new lifestyle that we’ve adopted a long time ago.
Cerebro: It’s our way of involving ourselves in what’s around us, in society, with everything we have to confront day-to-day in the street; political oppression, how have people value the rights of someone like an artist that isn’t respected here. Here there aren’t rights for artists, nor are there laws, or security, or a real sense of government for an artist. This is our whole life. Hip hop is more than a culture, it’s a way of living in the world, and it’s what we dedicate ourselves to.
Sara: How have you seen the scene grow in Bogotá?
Cerebro: The scene’s had significant growth more or less since ‘99. For awhile [hip hop] wasn’t considered music by many musicians and bourgeois, then it started to be more accepted and to get into places that no one ever thought it would be. It became really commercial in the upper classes and the highest estratos [social strata]. The youth began to listen to and make hip hop, to start groups and mix. Hip hop jumps a lot of boundaries, from the most hardcore or underground to the most mainstream and commercial there is here in Colombia. Of course it’s still a minority of people but it’s growing little by little.
Sara: Does this change make hip hop more sustainable for artists’ survival?
Cerebro: In reality, there’s still not a strong industry because the groups and the people that make hip hop dedicate themselves to producing events, and haven’t realized that we have to forge an industry and think in unity; in doing business for hip hop and not just for ourselves. Up until now there’s people working and moving forward, not giving up fighting. We continue trying to raise up Colombian rap and support other industries. We ourselves have to strengthen the industry here.
Sara: How have you been able to continue producing in an industry with little economic support?
Cerebro: Little by little we’ve been perfecting many techniques, now we’re at the point of starting to work with more modern sequencers that you can download. With pirated programs from the Internet and with a crack of an original program, now you don’t have to buy anything for a thousand dollars. We make all of the beats and loops with Fruity Loops, always recording with samplers and playing with real instruments, mixing all of it together. We use the Mercury and Platinum Waves plugins for mixing and mastering, various editing programs.
Cerebro: I think that that we’ve developed a style between all of these programs and little by little we keep learning day to day what’s coming out next. All of the history of Patadas al Kraneo is giving ourselves the ability to make music, because without that we wouldn’t be able to record for economic reasons. We’ve done the homework of learning production to have the ability to record our own music because, as many producers understand, the studios are really expensive or producers wanted to go toward another beat. This is how we make music, with our fingernails.
Sara: How do you incorporate sounds specifically from Colombia?
Cerebro: Here in Colombia we’ve all grown up with vallenato, música ranchera, cumbia. There are many things in our music that are influences for us as Colombians that we can’t deny. Such as also bambuco, joropo, music of the Caribbean, of the Atlantic, such as porro, currulao. There’s a lot happening here right now with currulao, a sort of boom making it more commercial with groups like Chocquib Town. We’re also musicians that have other sorts of global influences. Since we were little we’ve listened to rock, metal, Colombian music, classical music, trip hop.
Sara: What plans do you have for the future?
Cerebro: Above all is to keep working. To keep working hard. To maintain that, to always have consistency. I believe that it’s a long journey that’s forged every day and continues, continues and continues because it’s not a fad, or passing music that lasts six or seven years and that’s it. This is music that you work at all of your life; it’s spiritual nourishment. It’s a lesson of doing what you want to do most in the world. It’s music, it’s teaching, and it’s doing what feels good for your spirit, no? It’s that. We feel good making music and I know that until I leave for alta gracia, we’ll be doing it.
Click below to see a live session from Patadas al Kraneo at Beat Trafficker Records studios: