Maybe it’s just me, but most of the music coming out these days is so lifeless and bland: the same ol’ instrumental, a catchy hook, inane lyrics about ‘money, clothes and hoes.’ This kind of song is good enough for a Friday night, but not every day all day. There are things going on in the world today, crucial things which demand our immediate attention, things which the music being pumped into our ears constantly wants us to forget. Some people like that kind of music; some people believe that making people forget is exactly what music is supposed to do; some people think music’s only obligation is to entertain the masses. Not me. For me music is and always will be an art, the most powerful and visceral of all art forms, and while an artist needs to grab and hold his audience’s attention, he’s also supposed to engage with the world around him, in a very profound and meaningful way. Because art (at least I think so) is meant to say something about life itself–real life–not the life on the radio or TV or social media, but the life out on the street.
Enter Rebel Diaz.
I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know much about Rebel Diaz, only a little more than what anyone can absorb from the internet in an hour. I’ve heard their name before of course: Being a politically engaged Latino writer who collaborates with Boricuas living in New York City, I would’ve had to work very hard not to know the name Rebel Diaz. As most of their audience is already aware, the brothers, Rodrigo and Gonzalo Venegas, who go by the names RodStarz and G1, came from Chile by way of Chicago and the South Bronx, where in 2009 they launched the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective in an abandoned warehouse. They also host Rebel Diaz Radio every Wednesday from 10pm-12am on WBAI 99.5 FM.
In April 2016 the duo grabbed headlines when they confronted Ted Cruz during the Texas senator’s presidential campaign stop in the Bronx. “Ted Cruz has no business being in the Bronx!” Rodrigo told the crowd gathered at the candidate’s meet-and-greet at a Dominican-Chinese restaurant. “This is an immigrant community! We deal with climate change every single day, and he wants to say that it doesn’t exist. We’re one of the poorest congressional districts in the country, and to receive this right-wing bigot is an insult to the whole community!”
This morning, my sister from another mister, Marlena Fitzpatrick, texted me a link to three new releases from Rebel Diaz titled ‘Viva Puerto Rico Libre!‘ At first I rolled my eyes; I usually hold my noise whenever I get a whiff of political art. And, as with comedians, whenever I hear of an MC or any other kind of musician injecting politics into his or her music, I prepare myself to hear something wacky and gimmicky, something not really from the heart but for the wallet. ‘Viva Puerto Rico Libre!’ isn’t that; it’s from the heart, and for the people of Puerto Rico. The first track (my favorite) features Divine RBG and is a remix of the classic song ‘Viva Puerto Rico Libre’ by Ghetto Brothers, whom Rodrigo describes to me as “a legendary Bronx band [and] street organization.” ‘Campo (Remix),’ from Tato Torres and Yerbabuena, features Flaco Navaja and Nitty Scott. ‘Palante (Plastico Remix)’ features Lester Rey and samples the voice of none other than Rosa Clemente, the black Boricua activist and journalist who ran as the Green Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 2008.
I could spend the next paragraph or two dissecting the lyrics of each of the three songs, especially the first one (my favorite) featuring Divine RBG, but who has time for that? Plus some music isn’t meant to be dissected in such a way. Some music is simply meant to be heard, and felt. Some music, the very best music, is meant to move you. I could also describe a lion to you–its mane, its tail, its teeth, its height at the withers, the deep sound of its roar–or I can just show you a lion, and then you’ll really understand.
So with that, and without further ado, I give you: a lion.