Olmeca: The foundation of hip hop has to be the voice of the people
Away from bling bling, sexism and aspirational materialism of hip hop, a Chicano artist from L.A., under the name of Olmeca, is making his way in the Latin Alternative scene with his latest album “Brown is Beautiful,” a reflection of his social consciousness and his work as an activist.
Thought he may be better known in the West Coast, where he has collaborated with other similar artists like Irene Diaz, Chicano Batman or ‘La Marisoul’ of La Santa Cecilia, his participation last month in the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC) in New York opened the doors to a wider audience and earned him the recognition of NPR’s Alt.Latino as one of this year’s musical discoveries.
His real name is David Barragan but even his family calls him Olmeca. The son of Mexican immigrants, he has a long history working with community organizations on human rights issue, which has earned him the respect of figures like Dolores Huerta.
“For me, the music and content is the most important thing as an MC,” Olmeca said to AL DÍA. “The foundation of hip hop has to be the voice of the people and what is happening all around us.”
That is why he considers this genre to be a reflection of our times and himself as a Latino griot.
Some of the highlights in the album that he is currently promoting include “Browning of America,” in which he celebrates the struggle and contributions of Mexican-Americans and Latinos, as well as their culture:
Who crossed the desert? Who came to school?
Who is the employee? Who opened a business?
Who is unafraid to reach the sky?
Who knows how to fight?
Who protests and knows how to march?
He who protects his rights knows how to win
He who knows how to live, knows how to share, how to coexist, us, us, us
We are no longer the “other,” we are the reason for the “browning of America”
On the other hand, there’s “Relo”, a song in which he samples the hit ‘70s Peruvian band “Los Pasteles Verdes,” which talks about the difficult situation of people who migrate to the United States and leave their family behind:
Although the music of Olmeca is considered hip hop, his shows bring together a diverse audience since he mixes genres.
In his shows, you can spot “hip hoppers” as well as “punk rockers,” and listen to electronic music or samples from Mercedes Sosa, Los Bukis, Los Temerarios, Bronco or Los Tigres del Norte.
There is no doubt Olmeca’s music is made for a new generation but it has a bit of nostalgia mixed in, a bit of traditional Latin American music along with today’s music trends — like much of the music currently produced by young Latino artists in L.A., and which is also characterized by an activist tone.
“What happens in L.A. is very distinct. The roots of the music often comes from the same community,” Olmeca said. “It is a cultural concern that has always existed, and once you start talking about culture, you’ve got to talk politics and activism.”