TALKING MUSICA, POLITICS, AFRO-LATINIDAD Y MAS WITH BOCAFLOJA (INTERVIEW)

Written by: Devyn Springer

He exists within a space that is hard to name, because he is currently at the forefront of carving it into the side of the world. His work transgresses various mediums -- musical genres, films, art, poetry, fashion design -- and various languages, as well. Bocafloja is one of hip-hop’s prolific creatives constantly pushing the boundaries and reminding us what anti-capitalist, intellectual, and poetic expression can look like.

With recent Album Cumbé garnering positive reviews from fans and critics alike, as well as a documentary on Black identity in Latinoamerica that has been out for a year now without waning support, it is no surprise that Bocafloja is hard to place in any specific category. I first came across Boca years ago, attracted to his hip-hop that stood out to me. The things he talked about and the ways he talked about those things felt like a refreshing kind of freshness to hip-hop. A few years ago I read his essay “Collective Amnesia” in which he discusses Ice Cube, Walter Rodney, colonialism, and cultural appropriation, and I was certain that the man behind the music had so much to tell the world.

Now, a few years later, interviewing him feels tricky. Crafting the questions in my head to ask a man who is able to exist with ease between the lines of artist, academic, intellectual, and social critic is no easy feat, and he always answers a question leaving you thinking deeply. I got the chance to talk with Boca and wanted to explore the idea of a bilingual interview, because it is important to subvert whatever forms of respectability have been placed in the journalism world. We talked about upcoming projects, Trump, documentaries, and a bunch more, and the conversation is sure to excite you.

Hola Boca, gracias por darme la oportunidad de entrevistarte. Siempre me da gusto poder amplificar las voces y trabajo de mis amigos.

"Gracias a ti por la oportunidad! Lo aprecio mucho."

A little over a year ago you dropped Cumbé an album that, to me, feels timeless. How has the reaction to the album from fans and music critics alike been in the past year?

"It’s been good in general, I feel Cumbé allowed me to expand my followers beyond the borders of “Hip Hop” or even “conscious music” scenes, which is good because I was very tired of those constructions. I believe that the most relevant contribution of Cumbé is making clear that the body of the historically oppressed has a relevant discourse that is expressed in more ways than just words."

Recientemente has estado viajando muy frecuentemente! Has estado dando lecturas ydemostraciones de tu documental, 'Nana Dijo', en varias universidades y festivales de cine. Cuentame sobre esa experiencia y sobre las reacciones de la audiencia hacia 'Nana Dijo'.

"Si, he estado haciendo screenings con el documental en muchas universidades, centros culturales e instituciones. Lo hemos presentado en varios países. La realidad es que se trata de un movimiento estratégico, en el que trato de capitalizar y obtener recursos de esas instituciones académicas con dinero de modo que pueda pagar mis cuentas de todos los días y seguir produciendo ya que no tengo el beneficio de ningún grant grande ni auspicio de ninguna corporación. Las audiencias en los espacios académicos a veces se convierten en un círculo de auto-consumo o se encapsulan en circuitos de elites intelectuales inaccesibles a mucha gente, por lo que no es propiamente el tipo de comunidad por la cual está motivado mi arte, pero es a través de esos gigs que yo puedo financiar otras de las iniciativas de producción cultural  que constantemente hacemos en espacios y comunidades accesibles y relevantes para nuestra gente."

'Nana Dijo' explora anti-Blackness en Latino America, y honestamente es una pelicula documental muy personal y bella. Tengo curiosidad, has notado que el contexto politico, ambamente dentro de los Estados Unidos e internacionalmente durante los pasados meses a cambiado las conversaciones alrededor de Nana Dijo?

"Si, un poco. Hay un trend de la “afro-latinidad” como una ola que está motivada por las agendas liberales que promueven el “multiculturalismo” de una forma muy despolitizada y descontextualizada de las relaciones historia-poder.
La “afro-latinidad” inserta a la experiencia Negra dentro del marco de la latinidad como un valor cultural añadido, subordinado a las construcciones hegemónicas de lo “Latino,” sin cuestionar el hecho de que los dos pilares fundacionales de la Latinidad históricamente son irrevocablemente tóxicos; anti-blackness y anti-indigeneity. Muchas de estas narrativas que promueven lo “afro-latino” no están dispuestas a dialogar sobre Negritud o políticas anti-coloniales, lo cual es absurdo. Mi intención es crear otras plataformas de diálogo y trabajo al respecto y pienso que el documental Nana Dijo ofrece un approach completamente diferente en términos estéticos y discursivos al frecuentemente utilizado en este tema."

Which leads me to my next question. The last time we spoke, you talked a lot on Cumbé being a project to bring ‘emancipatory joy’ back to ‘historically colonized bodies,’ which I find important and powerful. What are some new ways you’re finding to give emancipatory joy, or joy in general, to yourself and others?

"I’ve been really interested in finding other forms of discourse that could be more effective politically and still joyful. I’m done with the elaboration of “The beautiful struggle” as some sort of placebo for our pain. Yes, we make the struggle beautiful as an act of survival expressed through our beautiful beings, but fuck it, there is nothing beautiful in the struggle itself. Recently I’ve been very impressed by how comedy or fashion can be very useful and powerful in order to connect more efficiently with wider audiences and transgressing more structures while making people feel good emotionally."

As a Mexico native who also spends a lot of time in the US as well, especially Brooklyn, what do you make of the current political climate? We’re often surrounded by US-centered reactions to Trump’s politics, but rarely get to hear commentary from those international voices that are so important.

"I’ve been living in the Bronx for ten years actually, but as you mentioned I travel constantly to Mexico City where I was born and raised. Unfortunately the whole Trump circus has been utilized as a political distractor to the equally problematic current series of crisis happening in Mexico, in which the government and the oligarchs are fully responsible. Peña Nieto, Mexico’s president, uses the image of Trump as an analogy of the absurd as a way to minimize his own failures and responsibilities. As we all know, remittances are Mexico’s main source of foreign income, so the political status of immigration laws imposed by the U.S is always impactful in Mexican society."


Y en un mundo post-Trump, que papel jugara el arte? Que papel, tu como artista tienes?

"Pienso que el arte debe seguir siendo un vehículo de transgresión frente a las estructuras de poder. La producción cultural que parte de las experiencias periféricas no se refiere unicamente al aspecto territorial sino al propio cuerpo como un espacio político que está creando nuevos centros de poder en base a epistemología y estéticas relevantes a nosotros. Ya no creo en el arte “de la resistencia,” tenemos que buscar el arte de la transgresión, de la ruptura frontal."

As we’ve discussed before, capitalism has underdeveloped hip-hop in many different ways. Hip-hop, like most cultural and artistic outlets, has integrated into this system of exploitation and hyperproduction. However, it seems that there has been a rise in carefully cultivated and political production going into the mainstream, with projects like Lemonade and A Tribe Called Quest’s first album in 15 years dominating the US soundwaves. What do you make of all this?

"I believe that those two cases are good examples on how the “aesthetics of dissent” reach a climactic moment when presented by artists with mainstream visibility. There were hundreds of “relatively unknown” artists creating and leading those aesthetics and discourses for years.  When a narrative and aesthetic becomes massively exposed, the gestation of new ones is already in curse. I am not delegitimizing Bey or Tribe at all, on the contrary, I believe it’s very strategic that highly influential and popular artists like them are bringing those discussions to their platforms.
The issue with capitalism and commodification will be there at any level, mainstream and even underground at a different scale,  therefore the question would be how are we reading and interpreting those narratives? When I see Beyonce on those videos I applaud and celebrate Black womanhood, I’m not even thinking for a minute on the industry white liberals behind the business, I’d rather be focused on the real value of the cultural product. In any case I believe it’s also important to decentralize not only cultural production but cultural consumption, take a look at the production that is coming out of the margins."

Tu y tu colectiva, Quilomboarte, parecen estar tomando control sobre el panorama creativo en muchas maneras. Con libros (‘Prognosis’ esta en mi anaquel a un lado de poesia de Langston Hughes y la autobiografia de Assata) documentales, arte, ropa, y por supuesto musica, como le haces para poder producir tanta media de alta calidad, que no es solo unica e inovadora, pero al mismo tiempo politica e importante?

"Gracias! Realmente me queda bastante claro que la producción artística debe ser un círculo completo, no es suficiente con tener un discurso relevante, también es importante la forma en la que se presenta estéticamente ya que es por ahí que la comunidad puede interesarse o no en el. Queremos seguir ejecutando proyectos relevantes en todos los frentes, los cuales abran nuevas rutas que generen cambios culturales y nuevas formas de participación política."

Por cierto, cuentame de tu experiencia en el escenario con Sa-Roc recientemente?

"Muy bien! Sa-Roc es una tremenda artista y aún mejor persona. Hicimos un showcase multidisciplinario en la Ciudad de México en donde Sa-Roc fue la invitada especial. Compartimos con la comunidad y dimos un concierto bien bueno!"

Tienes proyectos nuevos o colaboraciones de las que nos puedas contar?

"Si, vamos a tener la versión online gratuita del documental Nana Dijo en Youtube a final de Abril de modo que pueda socializarse el documental y ser accesible a toda la gente. Estoy también trabajando en un nuevo EP que debe salir este año.
Y quizá mi proyecto nuevo más importante se llama “Bravado Magenta”, un nuevo documental que vamos a filmar este año que está enfocado en Black and Brown Masculinity y los efectos del colonialismo en relación con las políticas de género."

Damn; that new doc sounds exciting, Boca. Again, thanks for taking the time to talk to me! Hopefully one day soon we can get you back in Atlanta to do some work together.

"Definitely my Brother! Thank you for the opportunity. Peace!"

Twitter: @bocaquilombo