Remembering one of hip hop's fallen
Posted Aug 8 2009
Although I don’t keep up with it like I used to, I’m hardly one to deny the power of hip hop. In fact, a key reason that I became an educator was because I listened to it. Still, after 25 years of listening, it takes a lot to hold my attention. However, I was recently turned on to Abraham Borhóquez Sánchez of the Bolivian-based group Ukamau y Ké and spent hours listening to his music and reading about his career. Unfortunately, he passed away this past May. Yet I was so impressed that I felt the need to help promote his legacy.
Firstly, as an MC he addressed many social justice related issues, included giving voice to the Indigenous community of Bolivia, critiquing the government, and addressing topics such as alcoholism and the criminalization of youth. He was able to connect these local issues with larger global ones and connect with the youth, which most adults don’t seem to do. Although he was making a name for himself in hip hop, he wasn’t above critiquing it, particularly in the context of Bolivian youth placing the U.S. on a pedestal regarding pop culture. At the same time, he recognized hip hop as a tool that young people often more readily accept. As a social activist Sanchez brought a wealth of experience, including time as a sweatshop worker in Brazil and as a soldier in the Bolivian army.
Secondly, he apparently was humble enough to collaborate with many other artists and as a result I was turned on to others in the Bolivian hip-hop scene, a scene of which I know nothing about. There are emcees who do songs in Indigenous languages to help instill pride in Indigenous youth and others addressing topics such as HIV and sexism. To top it off, many of these emcees have serious skills, something not to be taken lightly along the more conscious crowd. Although these topics have been addressed before, it was powerful to hear it from a South American context, from a country that gets little coverage in the United States.
If you consider yourself a hip-hop fan, someone concerned with issues of social justice, or simply broadening your horizons, please take some time to check out the links below, of which the first two address the efforts of Afro-Bolivians to earn some basic civil rights. Although Sanchez was not of African descent, he recognized the common thread in all oppressed communities and was instrumental in helping get a documentary about the Afro-Brazilian civil rights struggle off the ground.
It’s a truly a tragedy that his life ended at such a young age of 26, but it’s safe to say that his legacy will live on. Within a short time he’s certainly changed my world view and from what I’ve come across I certainly am not the only one. He was one of those talents who keeps jaded hip hop fans such as myself coming back and appreciative that the revolutionary aspects of hip hop are still in effect. He will certainly be missed!