Interview with Somos-One of BRWN BFLO

Tell us a little about each of your backgrounds. How/when did you meet and make it official? I was born in Delano to a Campesina Striker/Organizer Mexicana-Americana (Jalisco) and American-Mexican Chicano (San Diego, Michoacán). I grew up in both the San Joaquin Valley and San Diego then went off to UC Berkeley in 96 and stayed in Oakland making art and educating ever since. I met Luke (Oye aka Giant) first right out of Cal, he was a transfer student from Chula Vista though raised a gifted Hip Hop knucklehead in Salinas. My homegirl from San Ysidro told me there was another Chicano Hip Hop artist on campus named “DJ OYE” who had just transferred into UC Berkeley from a junior college (Puente program) in San Diego. I met him as OYE (Luke) after sincerely complimenting a tight ass DJ set at a Richmond house party. We linked and immediately made a song called “Word of the Hour” to a Molemen beat when he was an active member and the singer of Entre Musicos.  At that time, aside from poetry and spirituality I got a job as a non-profit paid guidance counselor after 6 months interning at local 2850 (hotel and restaurant employees union). I left organizing to paint a mural with Juana Alicia, then taught Literary Arts and then invited to become a college career program coordinator. Oye and I brainstormed a bunch of silly border crossing names for a non-existent underground progressive Chicano Hip Hop crew and Oye was like, what about The Brown Buffalo Project?

Danny (aka Daniel Mora) Googled me as a “College Advisor in Oakland” in 01 or 02 and he brought me 12 crumpled transcripts from different institutions asking if he had completed his college requirements. He did, hustled to apply to several universities and was accepted but decided to attend Merrit college and later transferred to UC Berkeley. It turned out his homegirl mentor from fruitvale Favianna Rodriguez and I had practiced radical community awareness art campaigns together on Cal’s campus, she told him I was an artist and a poet rapper. He invited me into the studio where his east Oakland young hip hop artist homies  (and I) discussed the causes of so many homicides in 2002 and made an EP length project of our songs. We called it Project Eye 2 Eye and Estria did the CD art using a Siquieros image. Dan used the resultant songs as the score for a series of interviews he videotaped with random Oakland residents discussing violence and strategies for addressing the root causes of the problems. It was duplicated on VHS. He joined BUMP records (the sole latino) in West Oakland’s MacClymonds campus where he cleverly repped hard bout being a Chicano raised in West and East Oakland- newly dedicated to community improvement. His smash hit with BUMP was called “Mi Barrio” and he featured his homiez, Youth Movement Records (YMR)’s Panama and Filthy (LOS RAKAS). The song became a barrio banger and online sensation. The video was credited to LOS RAKAS (no mention of Dan) but his verse is still hot as fuck and he is very present in the popular video. I was even more inspired about the potential for a Brown Buffalo Project but we needed original music.

One of Jacinto’s Music teachers and I once worked together at Castlemont High School where I was often requested to share some Hip Hop poetry about the need for paying homage and paving new paths. He invited me, a chicano educator to come to his new job at Emery High, a mostly black school and share a rap or poem for black history month. I showed up and everyone asked if I was related to some kid named Jacinto. I rapped my own dope version of De La Soul’s “Da Bizness [of green thumbs]” and everyone recommended I collaborate with a gifted young man named Jacinto. A young Chicano (one of maybe 5 in the auditorium) stepped up and told me he dug my song and made beats, then he performed a catchy song with guitar and homemade beat. We spoke on the phone. He played drums and Guitar for the Jazz band, was teaching himself flute and to make beats with keyboards and software and engineer a vocal studio. I went over to his mom’s apartment in Emeryville where she basically let him turn the living room into a huge music studio with the booth in the corner closet by the front door. I heard some of his beats and almost immediately called up Luke (Oye), then Dan and we had our first meeting in 04. We remained a loose collective of individuals who barely knew each other but seen the potential. We all did our own thing, barely met maybe once a week/month? But when we did perform we made people move, our first track My People was an underground hit in the movement. In 06 we finally decided to fully focus artistically on what Brown Buffalo really should mean and we built a studio in a Berkeley office space. With renewed focus, we decided to just call ourselves Brown Buffalo, felt the need to further distance ourselves from conventionalism and decided our name looks fresh spelled BRWN BFLO. We decided the album would be self-titled and the music would define the idea. 
 
How has your background/cultural identity affected your music/style? Well I write on behalf of a working class english speaking Mexican boy whose relatives spoke English and Spanish, were proudly Mexican and dedicated to supporting family and community.  Many of my relatives were musicians or singers. I was surrounded by literature, TV, music and artwork and kind of knew my parents were once union organizers. I was raised on rancheras, protest songs, oldies, soul, funk, rock n roll, metal, punk, jazz, hip hop, and reggae. My poetry uses funny allusions and preexact detail-is about radical relatives, family, food and plants. I would love to write and songs like Jose Alfredo Jimenez with the presence of Zach De La Rocha and the efficiency of Barcelona Futbol, a functioning cooperative sponsored by UNICEF. I pray my music can use stories to help define priorities and make people feel like celebrating and revolting. Danny is first generation, son of immigrant parents, speaks the best Spanish of us BFLOs, takes his mom to see Vicente Fernandez, wears boots and a Tejana and loves Banda. He’s also been raised in West Oakland and East Oakland where he prefers baggy clothes and sneakers, was raised by KMEL and other local stations and was surrounded by Rap and encouraged to freestyle. By 04 he had already a couple full length albums under his belt representing his life in the streets. Danny knows a ridiculous amount of song lyrics from old soul songs to Keisha Cole and random radio songs. He speaks from the streets for the streets and represents possibility and the need to be a human and have fun.  Many of our young fans relate well to Danz style. Giant was raised in campesino counties and Chicano Meccas. He’s Peruvian Mexican but was raised by his Mexican-American mom. He can sing the hell outta a bunch of oldies but was raised by a hip hop crew. He is a huge WAR fan and knows a lot about the contributions of Raza to both Rock n Roll, soul and Hip Hop as well. His rap style is distinct from the Bay style of flow but is most definitely real ass unique Hip Hop. He has a sing songy style but kills a bar and rebuilds new structures with his versatility. I don’t really know how he does it…he spends a lot of time freestlying as well.
 
RHHR first saw you perform at Humboldt State’s Social Justice Summit. You also did an educational workshop as part of the summit. What kind of subjects do you tackle in your workshops? The subjects we tackle depend on the organization, event, venue, or audience. At St. Mary’s College, for Mexican Independence day we performed but simultaneously presented a powerpoint exploring the way that BRWN BFLO is yet another example of Mexican cultural resistance. We helped facilitate the creation of a Tongan Youth Hip Hop crew and executed a community-based mural. At Humboldt we presented a workshop entitled “Music For The Movement” where we demonstrated how music has invigorated social justice movements then taught skills necessary for creating their own chants and musical improvisation into protest activities. We have various curricula that address various elements of the personal and communal growth required for artistic expression. Our collective goal is to enable young people to collaboratively create their own social change using music and artwork to define a new vision.
 
I know education is important & you currently go to school. How has your schooling influenced your music and careers? I truly believe we would all have been making music regardless but one thing for certain is that we would not have met each other were it not for UC Berkeley, Life Academy & Emery High School. Personally speaking I think schooling has enabled us to investigate and explore solutions for particularly problematic elements of society. We have seen the benefit of scientific inquiry, the precision of university discourse & the absolute elitism created to perpetuate inequality. We have decided to enter our music as articulate evidence of an amputated section of US History & current policy design. We are using our music & workshops to bridge the psychological gap caused by a lack of access to higher education.
 
You recently performed in Stockton at Delta College, how was being in the Central Valley? Well, I gotta say it was hot BUT I grew up around Earlimart, Delano and Bakersfield so Im glad to be able to come back and rock the valley. We LOVED it even though Big Dan was stuck in Berkeley taking a final and we were greeted with crossed arm stern glares from Chicanos and Africanos giving us the customary doubt and disbelief that Mexicans can Rap. But we had a blast in that hot sun and the crowd gathered as we sang old and new songs, praised MEChA and Hip Hop and told jokes, played otis redding as a sing-along and even played some of our solo works. We eventually turned the stage into the place to be and sold a bunch of records. The sound crew were of a slightly older generation but they made sure sound was clean- they loved the show as well and the groundskeepers even came over to participate!

You’ve said the inspiration for your name is from the Oscar Zeta Acosta book “Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo,” did you know he was raised in Riverbank, which is just outside of Modesto? Well I heard that but knew more about his being a lawyer in Oakland and his involvement with the Chicano Movement.  I know his pops was an Indio from Durango, Mexico but dont know much about Riverbank. We hope that our music video The Reappearance will add to his legend and incorporate the idea that he was resurrected in the music or four Oakland Based hip hop artists. 
Your first album just dropped, how does that feel? How was working with Zion I, Ise Lyfe, and the others you worked with? Why did you choose them in particular to work with? BRWN BFLO has produced so many great songs it was a long difficult process to decide the song list and sequence and create smoother transitions.  We finished the bulk of the album last summer so it felt kinda drawn out for me…im always eager to move on but we wanted the album to be a masterpiece we were all proud of.  This is when I realized even more how different we all are from each other.  I thought itd feel like a relief but now I see the need for grassroots publicity which is a lot of work.  Its kinda hard to explain to relatives that just because your CD is in stores that it doesn’t mean we have amassed any kind of fortune…at all.  I get shit from them for asking to support us by buying the album and encouraging them to ask their friends to buy it too. We been working with Ise for years so it was pretty natural and a cool extension from our summer “The Beat Goes On Tour feat. BRWN BFLO and Ise Lyfe” last year.   Bambu was hella cool and really seems to be down with us as artist homies, our music and movement which was a welcome embrace into this cramped world of progressive underground hip hop. He and DJ Phattrick brought us down to perform in LA this spring.  Zumbi has co-signed our record’s online distribution and is a supportive fan, now colleague of BRWN BFLO Music Group.  We chose these artists because they have proven to be consistently proactive members of this genre of underground, intellectual, street saavy somewhat RBG style Hip Hop.  The biggest plus is that we first reached out simply because they have shown incredible talent and posess a slick style we all acknowledge as unique.  Our compatibility as artist educators and homies was an amazing coincidence.
 
What do you think of the overall state of revolutionary Hip-Hop right now? How do you see Hip-Hop being important and being used and turned into action? As a group, we rarely talk about our music so deliberately like how is revolutionary Hip Hop doing?  But we do know everyone is struggling and trying to come up with creative ways to maintain a buzz and legitimacy in the movement.   In terms of politics, personally speaking, I never trust bureaucrats.  I am nervous thinking that perhaps the powers that be ALLOWED Obama to win so that he could be blamed for the state of the economy and world affairs.  Regardless of the fact that this administration just allowed the Bush Administration’s Guest Worker program to become reinstated, Obama to me does represent an important element of change: he represents the overwhelming majority of people wanting change and a genuine improvement.  His election made me say “See! I told you people aren’t as dumb as the news makes us and told me that we are mostly in favor of positive change”.  As an artist educator in the trenches of public education I believe there truly IS a market for quality, progressive, positive Hip Hop created by a non-descript multifaceted group of Chicano scholars.  Everytime we visit a new town and eventually expose them to our quality performance and dedication to arts in education, we win over hella fans and I am reminded of our role in helping guide a new strategy in the movement. As a group, I would like to share that we are developing “the Corazon project”for working with immigrant rights, day laborer organizations and unions to educate the public about immigrant struggles and quite possibly help them fight unjust legislation like the guestworker program. We would like to create an educational docu-video to accompany our song “Corazon” and offer this as a tool for organizers.
 
Anything you want to add, how to learn more about you, where to get the album, etc…? The Album is a 17 song masterpiece that has received critical acclaim and is available at Best Buy, Rasputin’s, Amoeba’s, Amazon, Itunes and any of our shows.  The physical copy has all kinds of bonuses. The Album was preceded by an incredible music Video named “The Reappearance” [of BRWN BFLO] which comes packaged with our physical album and is online as well.  Youtube.com/brwnbflo .  Please stay tuned for the release of our second dope video. For more info visit: http://myspace.com/brwnbflo, Facebook.com/brwnbflo, Brwnbflo.com To Book us for a performance and/or multimedia workshop please call us at 510-355-0356 or email info@brnbflo.com

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Categories: Bay Area Hip-Hop, Chicano/Latino

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