In depth interview with the LA based artist, MC and activist
Washington D.C., preparense! Los Angeles based MC, producer and activist Olmeca is coming back to the district for an epic night of hip hop, movement, cultura y baile. If that wasn't enough reason to come and check out a visionary performer, we are also premiering his newest music vidoe, "Hasta Que Te Encontre" exlusively at this concert!
Growing up in the US with migrant parents, Olmeca’s reality of living between two distinct cultures reflects in his lyrics and sounds, which blend hip hop, Latin alternative and indigenous influences. Olmeca’s music and activism is a celebration of culture and unity while simultaneously providing an intelligent analysis of history and social, political and cultural struggles. If you haven't heard of Olmeca, don't let that stop you from coming out to see him. He is one of the most versatile artists out there and has something for everyone. His shows attract diversity amongst fans in all aspects and creates a safe and welcoming space for people from all walks of life to converge. Olmeca is one of the most humbe and down to earth artists I've ever worked with, and it's very refreshing to listen to someone speak with such realness and eloquence about complex social, political and cultural issues. Turn up your speakers and read on to get the scoop on his new music and more!
KH: The sound in your latest remix "Run the Joyas" and also in "Shiva" are very different from each other and what we've seen from you before- they really show your versatility as an artist. Where did you draw your inspiration for these sounds?
If I have to say I that have a particular style, I tend to lean towards a Kanye West production style with very dark, melodic and heavy production. But being Latino and Mexican, I’m also really influenced by traditional styles from my roots and more ceremonial elements. My style is defined by those 2 things, I either do one of each or a mixture. As far as Shiva, I wanted the music to back up the vocals and create a musical journey to support the message.
KH: Something I love from you is your masterful way of working hip hop into so many diverse musical styles and genres. Are you experimenting with any new sounds, instruments or beats at the moment? Is there a new album in the works?
I’m working on a new album but it’s not titled yet. I’ve been studying a lot of the nostalgic era of the 70s in Latin America and have about 5 songs that have a similar feel to Relo’. I have a feeling this album will be like that and Wu Tang. Shiva will be the first single, and the album is due out in the first 2 weeks of September.
KH: As the SXSW festival has been trying to bolster their representation of Latino artists, what has your experience been like performing at the festival?
This was my third time attending the SXSW festival but the first time performing as an official artist. They had different sectors like SXSW Americas and also SXSW World, which had musicians and also visual artists and cinematographers from all over the world. My personal take on it is that there still isn’t a space for people like me at the festival. It felt like those who invited me are the only kinds of people who are trying to make that kind of space for people who are bi-national, bilingual and who take music from here AND their roots. America as a whole doesn’t have an understanding of this growing, new demographic. It’s also difficult to navigate SXSW because it’s so focused on genres, and I don’t fit into one particular genre. I could fit into hip hop and also latin alternative, and end up as “other.”
KH: Your earth day release "Shiva" is just flat out awesome and flawlessly shows the interconnectedness between gender, feminism, social and environmental justice. In the song you mention "earth citizenship." What does that mean to you as an artist and activist?
Ultimately it really boils down to what we’ve been talking about. I’ve always functioned under the idea that I don’t believe in borders… they not only divide nations but divide people, too. So if I don’t believe in borders or nation states as they exist, why would I put limitations on something as free as music? I’m not saying something as simple as we are all “one” or a melting pot; we are in many ways but what I mean is the importance to celebrate our cultures, identities an differences because we are all part of something much bigger. This is what earth citizenship ultimately boils down to for me.
KH: “Shiva” and much of Brown is Beautiful have very ceremonial and spiritual elements. Is this a theme that you will continue with future albums and singles?
This actually started on the album Semillas Rebeldes, I wrote and recorded most of it in Zapatista territory in Chiapas and was really influenced by music as a ceremony and tradition. I don’t claim to be a practitioner or expert but I always try to respect and honor ceremonial tradition. When I look to other artists that I admire and am influenced by, like Nina Simone, they experimented musically but ultimately never left their roots and their culture. I see this continuing with my new music, so people realize that this music is an extension of something bigger.
KH: When we spoke last year you mentioned that your last album, Brown is Beautiful, was more than just an album, but also a campaign calling for self-empowerment and being assertive about one's identity by learning and embracing their roots and culture. After a year of more extensive touring and building your fan base, how do you see this vision developing?
I see that people themselves have become very empowered by this kind of identity. I hear a lot less of people saying, “I’m not from here OR there;” and more of “I’m from here AND there.” I see a lot of empowerment and also more sensitivity towards this new demographic. There are also a lot more Latinos on TV and in commercials now. They might not be the best roles but they are there and more visible now. I pay a lot of attention to commercials because they are created by multinational corporations who research demographics and target messaging to specific kinds of people. This increased representation shows that they see us and are realizing our power as consumers and also gives an idea of future trends. Ultimately, though, I’m still like, fuck this, this is about justice and not integration. This is about the rights- the right for people to identify how they want to, maintain and live with their identity however they choose.
KH: There is a lot of outcry across the country right now concerning police militarization and brutality against unarmed citizens, particularly minority youth. As someone who works with and mentors youth, what is your advice to them and people in general who feel extremely frustrated and angry and aren’t sure how to channel that energy to create change?
The first thing about the youth is that if I was sitting in a room with 100 kids, mainly black or brown, I wouldn’t say a thing. I would just listen to them. I think one of things we fail to do is listen to the youth. I would ALOT to say to the adults and to the power structure created to keep these kids from succeeding. For example with everything happening in Baltimore, why doesn’t Ray Lewis make a video addressing the violence on the part of the cops rather than the kids? This is the kind of mentality and power structure that needs to be addressed because an adult saying that this isn’t the way to handle things is only causing more conflict. We also talk a lot about violence, but what is violence? It’s deeper than cops killing people. The amount of white appropriation and white privilege that exists, even amongst the mentality of minorities, is outrageous- to the point where aggression and violence from the system in the form of things like gentrification is normalized. With Baltimore and beyond, we are talking about a systemic problem that hasn’t been addressed since slavery. We can continue to talk about justice for these victims of police brutality, deportation, whatever, but we keep asking the same system who placed them there to begin with to change. I think we have a lot to learn from this and also Ayotzinapa.
What: Kesta Happening Presents: Olmeca/Salvajes/La Salvadoreina/Leon City y mas
When: Saturday, May 30th at 9pm
Where: Judy's Restaurant 2212 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009