Rebel Diaz: Music for the 99%

Interview by Yvonne, Carlos, and Andrew at the Sol Collective in Sacramento

Yvonne: Ok gentlemen, can I get your names please? G1: My name is G1. Rod Starz: My name is Rod Starz. Dj Illanoiz: My name is DJ Illanoiz.

Y: What was your childhood like and what was the family environment like? How did it mold you? G1: We grew up in Chicago. Our parents were political refugees from Chile, so that was a big context for us growing up. It was the 80s and 90s in Chicago, there was refugees in Chicago from all across Latin America – El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala – and the activities our parents were involved in invloved solidarity work with all these different refugee communities. So, we grew up in that context we also grew under, you know, the context of hip hop in the streets of Chicago. So, the worlds come together to form Rebel Diaz and what we do.

Y: So your music is described as Dirty South born and South American folk. How would you guys describe yourself? RS: When we say that we say from the dirty south of America to the boom bap with global impact. We really try to encompass our sound which is again influenced by the 90s boom bat, influenced by the Nueva Cancion, which is a folk protest movement of the 60s and 70s in Latin America. We’re influenced heavily by that both in terms of its content and the asthetic of the guitars, violins. And again we also are influenced by the new era of music. We still relevant, we still young, so we listen to what the young people are listening to as well. We know that hip hop is a global culture, we’ve been blessed to travel in different areas like Greece and Venzuela and being able to gather sounds in those contexts and from those places that are also integrated in our music.

Y: Who have been your guys’ music idols? RS: Wooooowww…(turns to Illanoiz) what DJ you look up to? DJI: DJ…? I think just music in general. I mean, there’s a lot of DJs I look up to, you know, like, I have a lot of friends that DJ all the time and they always inspire me ‘cuz they keep doin’ it. That’s the main thing but I like music…when I was younger I used to listen to my parents’ 70s soul Spanish music, which I thought was like “Oh, there from Mexico,” but they’re not. They were from South America, you know? To me, knowing the fact that they played music like that and all out other friends that knew Spanish, it was also the same thing. That’s what makes it very spiritual to me. RS: I’m inspired by artists’ who music had meaning, you know what I mean? I’m inspired by music that Calle Trese does. I’m inspired by music that Public Enemy does, Ded Prez, Common. I’m a big fan of Common – I’m from Chicago. On the MC tip, I always give shout outs to MC Juice. That’s who i was trying to be when I was in high school. So, you know what i mean, I love hip hop. I can go on and on. Wu Tang Clan,  you know what I’m sayin’, A Tribe Called Quest, all that. Even like west coast groups like, man, the whole Hieroglyhphics crew to me was just raw. Pharcyde. G1: Defintely Pharcyde. RS: You know what I’m saying? The Beatnuts, The Bucks, even Tha Alkaholiks from the Latinos were raw, you know what I’m saying? Like, so much music! I think that’s the beautiful thing. When you’re a fan of the music you’re gonna be inspired by different – G1: I like Outkast. RS: Yeah, G’s a big Andre fan. G1: I like Manu Chao, too. RS: Yeah, like we fans of this artist named Nneka, who’s from, you know, she’s new, she’s from Germany. She’s actually from…G1: Nigeria. RS: From Nigeria but she’s out in Hamburg. Ana Tijoux from Chile. That’s our sista, super dope MC. Or even the brothas rockin’ with us tonight, Subverso, he’s an inspiration on a music tip and on an organizing tip. So you know, I could say it’s good to be inspired.

Y: So you guys have opened up a collective, can you explain some of the initial struggles to get funding end participation? RS:I mean, for us, we didn’t really have like a plan like, ‘okay within the next five years.’ The energy was there, we had a community, and that what I stress to people. We gotta start building locally, if you can’t organize five people on your block, ten people on your block, what are you really doing? What are you really organizing, you know what I’m saying? And activists, organizers, artists, gotta get their hands a little dirty; pick up a broom the same way you pick up your romanticized idea of a rifle for the revolution. There’s some steps to take before you get to that. Some of those steps aren’t going to be as romantic.

Performing on the sound truck at Occupy Oakland

That’s the everyday work build up that leads to that. We’re so far from that it’s not even, you know. But for us the collective was the idea of for one. Of providing solutions to problems we felt were big in our community. and we live in country that has more than 3 million people incarcerated. We live in a country and a community that supports congressional distracting in the united states. We live in a community that suffers from police brutality that also going through gentrification with the rents going up. We don’t have after school programs or you know, arts funding in education in New York, so we provided a space. In New York everything is about space; everything’s on top of each other. It ain’t like out here, in Cali, where people got their yards and cribs – and everybody’s like the concrete jungle [in New York]. So, we wanted a space, an autonomous space, ‘cuz we also feel that in the non-profit world there’s like a non-profit industry within itself in which organizers are responsible and their work is driven by the funds they are given. We wanted to have an autonomous space in the spirit of the Black Panther party – young folks that were not professional organizers. You couldn’t, in the 60’s, go to college to become a community organizer, get

Performing on the sound truck at Occupy Oakland

paid $30,000 a year, get paid health benefits and call it a day. We’re trying to keep it local, keep it Bronx, keep it uptown in a sense but do work! Do work and provide a space that folks can practice and take in and learn alternative culture. hip hop.,you know what i mean? Political education, ideas of resistance against the system, and learn, also, technology, media, you know what I’m sayin’? We just opened up the Neustra America Media Center. Now just because we’re not down with non-profits doesn’t mean we don’t get funding. We get funding from Citgo, the Venzuelan oil company. Bolivarian Revolution? I’ll take funding! ‘Cuz we’re practicing the ideals of the Bolivarian Revolution in he belly of the beast. We got the Union Sqaure Award, $30,000! It was an award for the work that was already going on. See our thing is we’re not going to sit here and wait to get funded to do the work, the work’s gonna get done. If you wanna fund us, holla! Bring it on, ya know? I’ll take your money. We don’t pay each other, we don’t have salary. Everybody volunteers. Whatever funding we get goes towards infastructure, sound system, our multi-media lab. Like I said, we opened up Neustra America Media center – a full studio! Through the Nuestra America Media Center we’re Chile: each one teach one. He’s teaching Pro Tools, Reason, MC workshops. Some of the assistants in the collective, Claudia, they’re holding it down with education workshops, MC workshops. So, the idea is that, like, for example, we love a lot of [hip hop] groups but at the same time we feel like there should have been more. There should have been ten more Dead Prez’s and ten Public Enemies, you know what I’m sayin’? It’s not a knock to those groups or individuals on why there weren’t many more, but the idea is that we gotta spread the resources and spread the skill sharing, so that like – you know just ‘cuz you’re a dope MC don’t mean there can’t be 20 more that have skills too that you help share that skill with. So, you know, we just trying to build real community through arts.

Y: I also read that you guys get your inspiration from resiliency. What are some of the examples of resiliency with the people that you’ve grown up with in the city, that you have grown up with? RS: There’s a bro in our community named Victor Torro. Victor Torro is the founder of the revolutionary left movement, the MIR is the acronym. He’s the founder of La Pena del Bronx. Out here in Cali there’s a La Penya. The borther’s involved in that ,too. Now, he’s out in New York with the La Penya Del Bronx. But there are so many elders whose revolutionary spirit had never given up, you know? And I look at those people and those are my inspirations. Even my parents, they struggled a lifetime. My mom’s still going to Occupy Chicago holding up the sign and she’s like 60-somethin’-years-old. So, for us, a brother like Panama Alba from the Young Lords who constantly show love. G1: Iris Morales. RS: Iris Morales, who gave us the Union Square Award and showed love – who made the Palante, Siempre Palante documentary to share the story of the Young Lords. We feel that we’re held up on the shoulders of those who have made this path for us; what we’re talking about isn’t new, we’ve BEEN oppressed – we’re just mixing it with hip hop but at the end of the day it’s community that has been puttin’ in work and paving the way for us. We’re from Chicago which is a very structure oriented city from anything from gangs to politics. Think about it, it’s the birthplace of a lot of movements …so, I definitely think that there’s elders who inspire us. You know, Victor Torro right now to this day is still being persecuted. You know, he’s facing a deportation case which is a political case against his history as a revolutionary in Chile and as a community activist in the South Bronx. These are our elders that are still being attacked. We look at Mumia Abul Jamal, who is on death row, and we’ve already seen what they did to Troy Davis, so we gotta fight to get that man free. Political prisoners like Leonard Peltier, the American Indian Movement. American Indian land, for their right to be free. There’s so much that inspires us on a local level, on a global level. Look at the students in Chile – you wanna talk about occupy?! The students in Chile are in high school occupying buildings, their schools, “I’m gonna occupy the high school for three months until you give us free education.” You want to talk about inspiration – high school kids, you know what I’m saying? We need to get that over here but its a process, you know?

Carlos: What do u think, now that it’s an issue and people in the economy are like, “What do we do now?” RS: There’s a huge percent of people that don’t have the option of buying a home. They are just renting. Then there are people that lost everything, they got their homes foreclosed. I know first hand that there was predatory lending. I had homeys that were working, ballin’ with jobs like real estate. Had people cold calling and selling a false dream, [saying] “Hey, I have an undeniable deal, have a great rate.” And the next year it jumps and people can’t pay it. The folks that were affected by the housing crisis were the ones who were sold a false dream. Banks knew about it, doing trade with money that didn’t physically exist. We gotta put the housing issue into context with how it fits into other part of what’s going on in our economy. G1: You gotta begin with the idea that housing should be a human right. Shelter should be a human right. So as far as right now, there was a land grab where banks were able to repossess land from people that worked so hard to get it. RS: There’s even people who, nowadays, you can own your house but if you live in an area that’s being gentrified and you can’t afford the taxes on your house, you can loose your house, too. You’re not just done paying mortgage, you gotta pay taxes, too. Neighbors are being gentrified. An example: I live in Hunter Point in South Bronx. My neighboor has a house that he’s being constantly advised to sell. People [are] coming up to his house, giving him phone calls, trying to convince him to sell. That’s also a reality that’s going on. A large percentage of the community has not been affected by it because we’re not at a level of being able to buy a home. So I think it also has to do with the fact that there isn’t just a housing crisis, but also the issue of student debt. It’s a serious problem. It’s also another issue that’s being addressed with a lot of movements that are going on. Folks are getting out of school with a future of debt and unemployment.

C: Do u feel like there’s enough leadership in these movements right now? ‘Cuz lots of people criticize that there isn’t a list of demands. G1: People want to make that claim, but there is a lot of leadership. We feel that on our end, people who come from marginalized communities, from historically oppressed communities of color need ,to have a say because there is leadership; not to have it is a problem. We’ve encountered people that demand a new creation for the process of democracy, and the idea of building a new civic infrastructure. We support the idea of general assemblies, not just in downtown encampments but in neighborhoods, in our own block. We stole the idea of idea of participatory democracy from Iroquois. RS: For an example of leadership, look at the Zapatistas [in Mexico]. G1: There are models out there that we can look at as examples. Even in gangs there are leadership qualities. The question is what are we channeling those leadership qualities towards? So, to me, our neighborhoods are full of leaders, potentially revolutionary leaders. The question is are we doing the work to create groundwork and network to create a context for that leadership?

Andrew: You guys have talked a lot about the Occupy Movement as a whole. Occupy the Airwaves – what’s that mean to you guys? RS:To us, right now, this moment is the project of the tour we’re on. We have a distinct separation from hip hop culture, you know what I’m sayin’, which is a culture that’s alive and well and kickin’ and is globally a music of resistance.

Rebel Diaz & Minister of Information JR at a Black Panther landmark in Oakland

And then you have the rap music industry which is corporate driven, which, when you look at a lot of these media conglomerates, these are the same dudes that are in cahoots with the folks that run the prison industrial complex, you know what I’m sayin’? These are lobbyists of the republican party. DJs on te radio are playing a record eight times per hour ‘cuz someone is paying ‘em to do it! We understand that the airwaves are not controlled by the people, you know what I mean? For example, Bambaataa used to say, “Play a little fifty cents, play a little common sense.” Hip hop is always gonna evolve. We got b-boys but who’s to say a little kid Jerkin’ doesn’t have his own context? The idea of toasting to good life comes from groups of the oppressed. Now others use it as [an idea that] others can’t toast to your good life a the  level you’re doing it ‘cuz they are not “adequate” members of society. That’s pretty much what we’re being told by the system of oppression called “music” that’s on the airwaves nowadays, you know what I’m saying? Values are being imposed on young people, [values] that are not native to our communitiies, like individualism, mateiralism, consumerism, misogyny. We go to shows and see kids sayin’ they gonna “superman that ho”, “you a window shopper so you not blingin’ – you ain’t shit.” It’s representative of the state of education in our communities. We have been brainwashed in high school [thanks to] lack of education, thanks to corrupt government funding for music to play ‘cuz politicians are paying to influence. When we talking ‘bout Occupy the Airwaves, we’re talking about really changing a system of media that’s imposing nonsense into our young people. G1: And also when we say Occupy the Airwaves it’s beyond the mixtape; what we’re doing right now, that’s one aspect of it. What we’re doing with the art of South Bronx [at] Nuestra America, we’re training young people how to read media, being able to put those into context and understand why they are the way they are. On top of that, to be able to create your own film, the same way you’re doing your journalism. We can criticize it all we want but if we aren’t training the young people to be able to be the producers of the next alternative culture of the next alternative media, then we ain’t doing nothing. (edited for size by RHHR).

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Categories: Chicano/Latino, National Hip-Hop

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