Bocafloja – a pioneer in Mexico City’s hip-hop scene
Bocafloja (Aldo Villegas) is regarded as one of the pioneer’s of Mexico City’s “conscious” hip-hop scene. “Somehow,” Bocafloja says, “we built a platform that developed into a community.”
The poet, educator, social activist, and MC began his career as a musician in the 1990s with the groups Lifestyle and Microphonk. Since 2002, Bocafloja has released 6 albums and one demo EP as a solo artist. He was one of the first hip-hop artists in the city to utilize his art as a platform to create awareness and develop an alternative to mainstream political participation, one that resonates more closely with Mexico’s marginalized youth.
Amanda Macchia had a chance to talk to Bocafloja in the lead up to his performance at World Hip Hop Market’s second annual A3C Hip Hop Festival showcase Planet Hip-Hop.
By Amanda Macchia (for World Hip Hop Market)
In 2005, Bocafloja founded Quilombo: Arte en Resistencia. The organization is dedicated to producing cultural events where hip-hop operates as a “unorthodox educational tool” attaching itself to “social and political movements in the processes of transformation throughout the Americas.”
The word “Quilombo” is said to have come from an African world “kilombo,” and evolved to mean a hideout for slaves during colonialism in the Americas. Besides slaves, quilombos also included rebels of the state, and indigenous populations that formed independent, self-sustaining communities that rejected the oppressive nature of colonial governments.
“I believe that our people have to unlearn a lot of imposed knowledge in order to start a process of decolonization.” says Bocafloja. “Then we have to learn again, find different paths to access knowledge that is actually relevant to our experiences, knowledge that has been denied to us.”
Bocafloja has worked and performed for various communities in more than 13 countries – in many cases under the auspices of QuilomboArte. “The Diaspora is part of my essence,” Bocafloja says, “from before my physical existence. I don’t embrace any nation or state. Everywhere I go, I surround myself with communities that embrace similar values as me. There’s a lot of work to be done in our communities everywhere.”
The nomadic artist and community advocate lives and works between New York, Mexico, and the San Francisco Bay Area. His recently released Patologias del Invisible Incomodo can be found at bocafloja.bandcamp.com It’s an impressive 16-track concept album that “narrates the experience of the body of the oppressed as a vehicle of transgression to hegemonic structures.”
World Hip Hop Market: You’ve been releasing videos like crazy lately, and each one is for a track off of your recently released album Patologias del Invisible Incomodo. What inspired you to pair your album with a complete set of visuals?
Bocafloja: I think nowadays the visual element is really important. We have to take advantage of platforms like YouTube that are accessible and popular among a wide range of people all over the world. We thought having a video for each track off the album would be a good idea, artistically, and a powerful strategy of promotion.
WHHM: Each song on your album has a distinct message. I know they’re all heavy, but can you unpack some of the things you talk about in specific tracks that you’ve released videos for like “Memoria,” “Segundos,” and “Agonia.”
BF: “Segundos” is a tribute to the signification of the oppressed body; it is a redefinition of celebration as an affirmative act. It is a historical representation of a constant position of disadvantage, the legalized allocation of second-place priorities in terms of social, political, cultural and even biological experiences within the majority of state structures.
“Memoria” narrates a journey of more than fifteen years in which Bocafloja has utilized spoken word and rap music as an alternative platform to communicate and build with communities all over the world.
“Agonia” is about food politics; a historical revision from colonial times until today.
WHHM: I notice that you and your crew subtitle much of what is put out. In fact when I get news updates from you, or even status updates on Facebook, oftentimes those have translations as well. What’s the importance of this?
BF: We believe that our project is relevant in different communities all over the world, and we think it’s fundamental to express in all of the languages of the Diasporic experience that black and brown people inherited.. we would love to add subtitles in more than one language!
WHHM: You’re always traveling.. I really can’t keep track. Where are you at now and what are some of the projects that you and QuilomboArte are working on?
BF: I’m currently in NYC. October will be pretty busy since we go to Atlanta, Seattle, New Orleans, California. I’m working on new videos and mainly developing a theater project that will be released in 2013.
WHHM: I’ve heard you say and have read in interviews that you believe in advocating and fighting for all of the communities of the world, not just the one you were born in. Part of your migrant lifestyle is in dedication to this principle. How do you represent both Mexico City and this nomadic identity?
BF: We represent the body of the oppressed all over the world, that’s why people can relate to our project in different communities. I was born in Mexico City, and that fact shaped certain elements of my social condition of existence, but also the Diasporic element in me defined lots of paths in my personal and professional life.
WHHM: Do you ever find any differences between the communities that you work with around the world?
BF: Each community has its own specific and unique elements, but almost everywhere its a similar historical process. That’s why even when we speak different languages we can identify with others, using hip-hop as a solid bond to build transnational interactions through art.
WHHM: To be honest, I don’t know how you manage to accomplish all that you do. Do you have any tricks?
BF: Work ethics, and a well defined mission to reach with my art.
WHHM: Does it ever get hard being on the road so much?
BF: Yes, sometimes your body gets a little tired of being on the road all the time, but it’s part of the struggle and I enjoy it.
WHHM: What do you think of yourself as first, an artist or an activist?
BF: I think those are complementary titles and functions for me. One cannot work fine without the other. I wouldn’t [make an] impact and be relevant in the community if I come with mediocre art… and I could not be longterm-relevant to social struggles by presenting art without substance.
WHHM: You’re called one of the pioneers of the hip-hop culture in Mexico City that took the music and used it as a vehicle for social and political awareness and organization. How did you begin to get involved and active in Mexico City?
BF: Rap has always been the only music I related to. Rap music crossed the south border with a lot of immigrants that came back to Mexico to visit family or friends, so I’m familiar with it since the late 80s. At the beginning I was just a listener, but little by little I started to mess around with my writing skills until I finally decided to do it in front of a couple of friends. Then, those little audiences turned into professional performances.
I’m part of one the first generations of MCs in the country, so we didn’t actually plan to become rappers. It was the circumstances that somehow pushed us towards that direction.
WHHM: What were the some of the obstacles you faced when organizing in Mexico City back then? What about today?
BF: Back in the days no one really trusted hip-hop artists, so it was super hard to book venues. Plus, there were not enough fans. All of the enthusiastic hip-hop heads were active participants in the culture. Social prejudices against marginalized youth’s artistic expressions…
Nowadays you can have packed venues for hip-hop shows and it’s recognized as an alternative culture, whatever that means. But we face similar problems [on] a different scale. The best venues don’t want our audience, the radio doesn’t wanna play certain tracks for its content, etcetera.
WHHM: How has the hip-hop scene in Mexico city changed?
BF: It changed a lot. Even when mainstream culture hasn’t fully impregnated or co-opted the movement, there is an incipient industry developing. So, nowadays, you have small stores, clothing brands, promoters, labels, etcetera.