The links between hip-hop and indigenous people aren’t obvious at first. What could pop-locking, graffiti-tagging sneaker heads possibly have in common with peoples whose cultures date back centuries in the Western hemisphere?
But as some of the artists performing at the Hip-Hop: First Peoples, New Voices event at Grand Performances explain it, the links and parallels are abundant in the music, the art, the narratives and the dances. Most important, hip-hop is a channel for these artists to reclaim their people’s culture and heritage by building up their communities with their own voices.
The Saturday, July 1, event will feature performances by Jessa Calderon (Tongva/Chumash/Mexica), Frank Waln (Sicangu Lakota), The Sampson Brothers (Mvskoke Creek/Seneca), Tanaya Winder (Southern Ute/Duckwater Shoshone/Pyramid Lake Paiute), MC RedCloud (Huichol) and Mare Advertencia Lirika (Zapoteca).
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A.Chal (aka Alejandro Salazar) is a tall dude who cuts an imposing figure, filling every room he steps into with silent intensity. His voice carries as much weight as the booming bass he produces for his music, but he’s soft-spoken during our interview, rarely speaking above a murmur. There’s an interesting duality to his persona as a singer, rapper, producer and solo artist, which continues to evolve on his latest release, On Gaz.
On Gaz, A.Chal’s third release and first mixtape, arrived on June 2, four years after his debut EP Ballroom Riots and just one year after his first full-length album, Welcome to Gazi. On the latter release, the Peruvian-American artist was the self-aware party boy who sought self-reflection and self-critique after debaucherous nights out on the town. On this new release, which features appearances by French Montana and A$AP Nast, he confronts his feelings of guilt after his insecurities convinced him to destroy numerous personal relationships in the months leading up to the release of Welcome to Gazi.
A.Chal sharpened his skills as a songwriter while living in New York, but friends urged him to head west to Los Angeles. Since moving here, he’s been better able to find inspiration and outlet for his creativity, resulting in an album, a mixtape and songwriting credits for the likes of Rita Ora, Max Martin and Jennifer Lopez.
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Would you say it’s a political record or simply a reaction to the times?
I think it’s a reaction to the times. It’s done what I’ve always done. I’ve called myself the court jester of the band. I’ll give you a bunch of fucking riddles and they’re not always going to be so immediately-in-front-of-your-face. There’s going to be a lot of word associations, there’s going to be a lot of combinations of words that will paint images that will come back to haunt you later and [you’ll] go, “Maybe he means this or maybe he doesn’t mean that.”
To this day, I still think about what an “ecto-mimed bison” could be [from The Mars Volta’s “The Haunt of Roulette Dares”].
[Laughs] I mean, I can break that down for you, but it’d be so stupid! It’s the ghost of something extinct haunting you, you know? And now that I say that, like, why didn’t I just say it that way? No, I’m not going to say it that way! I’ve had a grip of art school teachers invalidate me as a kid. If I don’t say it like I say it, it’s like coloring within the lines.
When did the band decide to write new music? You were shutting down rumors until last January’s announcement about a new tour and new music.
We just wanted to make sure that it came out right, we wanted to make sure that everyone was down to do it, and we wanted to make sure that it didn’t come off half-cocked. It takes a lot of planning to do something that you hadn’t done together in 17 years. You’re figuring out if it can be done, you’re figuring out what does the band remember that they liked, what are we trying to say, what are we trying to do, and it takes time — since 2012 actually! Some of those songs from 2012 ended up on the record. It’s a human quality that people perceive which, naively and romantically, I think that’s what people like about the band. We’re not pushing spacebars and we’re not a Las Vegas act. If we have a bad show, you’re going to see it. If we have a bad song, you’re going to fucking hear it — but you gotta let us be humans.
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