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Tulengua: Cross-border Hip-Hop

A group has transformed the reality of the border between Mexico and the United States into songs that speak directly of what the news only manages to outline.

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From popular folk music, pop, rock and the infinite possible fusions with Caribbean music, the Hispanic musical culture is one of the most important treasures of the Americas.

When it comes to protest music, history reminds us of the Trova Cubana and the Latino punk of the late twentieth century. That is why hip-hop integrates perfectly the variety of Latino musical languages and genres, especially considering the influence of Anglo-Saxon music in the border regions of the United States.

The current political situation in the country has given rise to new forms of manifestation, protest and expression in general, used by young people as the perfect medium to talk about their personal stories, which, in one way or another, are the stories of everyone in the country.

AL DÍA had the opportunity to talk with a new group emerged in San Diego, California, whose members cross the border with their lyrics, making it disappear in the process.

Making music ‘on both sides’

Tulengua emerges as a collaborative project between three young people based in Tijuana, according to member Alan Lilienthal, and their experiences living "on both sides."

"Living in this region is to be on both sides, if you can cross, obviously," says Lilienthal, and his proposal speaks precisely of the possibility of a “borderless” humanity.

"The idea came about around the time Trump was chosen," he recalls. "We were talking with friends about how important it is to live in one of the busiest borders in the world, and what that means for each one of us."

Lilienthal has had first-hand experience of the reality of the border, doing community work outside of his work as a rapper, promoting collaboration and cooperation across the border.

"That's when we decided to make music that would speak of the borderless ideal," he says.

Rapping on "your tongue"

Lilienthal agrees that hip-hop has always been "a perfect vehicle for political commentary," which is why his project mixes Spanish and English in songs that not only talk about politics but draw the human experiences of each one of the band members in the region.

The creation process took place just a few months ago, where several members went through the home recording studio to shape the final product that is now available on all platforms.

The idea of calling the project "Tulengua" favored the idea of the band's bilingualism, making a nod to the English expression "Two Tongues," and illustrating in an implicit way the idiomatic bifurcation that happens when crossing the border.

"If you look at the members of the band, we are too diverse," explains Lilienthal. "White, black, brown, woman, man, with a beard, without a beard ... we didn’t plan it that way, it arose naturally and, precisely, it demonstrates the diversity we are talking about.”

Music and activism

Tulengua already released two videos, one of them titled "Selva" in collaboration with the non-profit organization Border Angels, also based in San Diego. Border Angels focuses on immigrant rights activism, immigration reform in the United States and the prevention of deaths along the border.

The first few seconds of the video include racist phone messages full of insults that the organization receives almost daily because of the work they have decided to carry out, and is one of the fundamental reasons why the band has decided to use their voices to fight back.

The funds raised by Tulengua thanks to the reproduction of their music through digital platforms will be donated in its entirety to Border Angels.

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