Oakland musician fights “steady colonial catastrophe,” together with Hurricane María aftermath, with gale-force launch.
A report and interview by Joanna Ladd for 48 Hills.
In the present day, Oakland-based musician and acupuncturist MaJo Montijo releases an electrifying bomba dance single known as “Huracán.” In it, she ushers in gale-force winds of change on the eve of a historic election—nevertheless it won’t be the election you’re pondering of. With all due respect to the pure catastrophe that’s US politics, “Huracán” is about liberating MaJo’s homeland of Puerto Rico from US imperialism and financial subjugation, and it comes at a second when new political actions on the island are speaking critically about decolonization.
“Huracán” is the debut single off MaJo’s forthcoming full-length album, Esotérica Tropical. Directed by Claudia Escobar (Dear Homeland), the music video is a riot of coloration and emotion that pulls from imagery as numerous as Caribbean indigenous petroglyphs and the 2019 twerk protests in San Juan. MaJo has up thus far been recognized for accompanying herself on the ethereal Celtic harp, so this totally realized bomba hit is a serious departure. “Huracán” grew out of years of research with the Oakland bomba culture-keepers Taller Bombaléle and options collaborators from everywhere in the western hemisphere—not least the nice bomba percussionists Jesús “El Tambor Mayor” Cepeda and Denise Solis.
It’s unattainable to know a rage so nice it conjures a hurricane with no little bit of Puerto Rican historical past. MaJo supplied a primer on life below colonial rule, earlier than and after Hurricane María, and the resistance actions—from bomba itself to modern politics—which might be decided to uplift Puerto Ricans. Music this good transcends context and limits, so let “Huracán” fill your sails—no matter regimes you search to overthrow this election.
48 HILLS The title of the tune is a reference to Hurricane María, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. What was the rapid aftermath of the hurricane like for you, dwelling within the diaspora in Oakland?
MARÍA JOSÉ “MAJO” MONTIJO It was really heartbreaking and maddening. Daily was stuffed with uncertainty and grief figuring out that our folks had been on the market struggling with none authorities assist—simply their very own communities coming collectively to offer mutual assist. The disregard of human life by the federal and native governments grew to become painfully clear. 4,645 folks died within the aftermath. We’re nonetheless grieving them.
Right here within the diaspora, we fashioned networks to facilitate fundraising and different varieties of help. I’d keep up all evening, taking a look at regurgitated information, seeing who and the way I might assist, sharing data, actively watching the unfolding political catastrophe. I additionally produced a fundraising live performance with Las Sucias and Taller Bombaléle, and with the cash we raised, two volunteer vacationers crammed 10 suitcases every with water filters, photo voltaic powered lights, mosquito repellent, natural drugs, acupuncture provides, first assist kits, and even satellite tv for pc telephones to distribute to on-the-ground grassroots organizations.
48H What’s life on the island like now, three years later?
MAJO It’s sophisticated. It’s a steady colonial catastrophe. The dictatorial Fiscal Management Board and a really corrupt authorities pay themselves obscene quantities of cash in salaries and contracts whereas they make Puerto Rico much less livable for Puerto Ricans. Tax breaks entice neo-settler colonialists whereas marginalized communities nonetheless battle to get an precise roof—not a blue tarp—over their heads. Mass migration is emptying the island of Puerto Ricans. Systemic oppression, gendered violence, and PTSD cling thick within the air. The brand new yr began with 1000’s of earthquakes on the southern facet of the island. 5 thousand Puerto Ricans grew to become homeless, after which the pandemic occurred.
But there’s hope. There may be all the time hope. The folks triumphantly and ingeniously ousted [Puerto Rican Governor] Ricky Rosello within the memorable Verano del 2019. The evening Ricky give up, there was a really queer perreo combativo [twerk protest] on the steps of the Cathedral in Outdated San Juan. It was superior to look at from afar all of the methods folks confirmed as much as protest: yoga, fourtracks, horses, kayaks, bomba, scuba diving . . . a lot magnificence, power, and resistance. The persons are fed up, they’re waking as much as the truth that not the U.S. or the native authorities care about their wellbeing.
48 HILLS When did “Huracán” begin to take form for you?
MAJO The tune is the results of years of bomba dance and drum research with Taller Bombaléle, an Afro-Puerto Rican instructional and efficiency venture primarily based in Oakland. It was based by Julia Caridad Cepeda, whose household has preserved, lived, and breathed bomba tradition for seven generations, and Denise Solis, a Chicana union organizer and founding father of one of many first all-female bomba teams, Las Bomberas de la Bahía. Bomba is Puerto Rico’s oldest dwelling resistance roots music, originating as a part of the survival and fugitivity methods of African slaves on the island.
The batey [bomba song, drumming, and dance circle] is an area the place we spontaneously collect, making a ceremony that connects us with our Afro-Indigenous ancestors. Within the batey, we course of our feelings, discover therapeutic, and envision the long run we would like collectively. The tune advanced naturally within the batey, as I improvised extra lyrics talking out towards femicides: “Ni una mujer más” [not one more woman]. It is a demand that touches me deeply as a result of I do know first-hand what it feels wish to not really feel secure once you stroll down the road alone—at the same time as a younger lady—rising up in Puerto Rico.
48 HILLS How would you describe the message of this tune?
MAJO This tune is a battle cry, condemning the dangerous impacts of the federally appointed Fiscal Management Board [commonly known as La Junta] and of the colonial authorities. It expresses a collective rage on the steady extraction, injustices, and financial slavery the island is topic to by U.S. imperialism.
Borikén, because the Taínos [indigenous people of the Caribbean] named the island, is among the oldest colonies on this planet. 5 hundred and twenty-eight years of colonization—but we, the folks of Puerto Rico, are obligated to pay an unlawful and unjust debt? Boricuas [Puerto Ricans] undergo by an austerity agenda in order that this debt may be “restructured.” The authorities shut a whole lot of faculties, attempt to promote our most treasured pure sources, attempt to reduce folks’s pensions, attempt to dismantle the general public universities, promote land for reasonable to Monsanto to allow them to maintain experimenting on us, and maintain polluting the island. It’s insane.
For my part, the empire owes us—we don’t owe it shit. After I sing “y no la vamos a pagar” [we are not going to pay the debt] the coro singers [chorus] wave their fingers within the air signaling “no” as they sing it on the prime of their lungs, the drummers velocity up, and we really feel a religious and electrical air of joyful and fierce resistance.
This tune emerges from a private exploration of decolonial practices: how is it to behave from a spot of freedom as a colonized being? How can we act as disruptors of methods of oppression in our each day life? It affirms that, for a colonized particular person, self-love, cultivating our desires, envisioning the long run that we would like, and stewarding the land is political.
48 HILLS The refrain builds and builds to the place I might nearly really feel the winds choosing up right into a hurricane of rage and righteousness. What did it really feel like to attract from that damaging imagery to think about a special future?
MAJO The power of the tune is impressed by spirits of wind and storms such because the Yoruban orisha Oya and the Taíno deity Guabancex, who each symbolize the destruction we typically want with the intention to filter the previous and begin anew. You possibly can see Guabancex represented within the “Huracán” video, personified by the character within the blue masks. Our ancestors communicate to us, have our again, and wish us to shake issues up in order that future generations may be free. Wind is an awe-inspiring, genuinely damaging power, however may also be a life power and an impetus for motion. Within the lyrics of the tune, I discuss wind blowing away the Fiscal Management Board, liberating us from colonial oversight and oppression.
48 HILLS The imagery of the music video is gorgeous. What are all of the references you’re weaving collectively?
MAJO The bomba rhythm calinda is the basis of this protest tune. Julia Caridad Cepeda and Lío Villahermosa each transmit the depth of our rage, our dignity, our battle, and our ache by their improvised dance performances. I’d additionally wish to level out the radicalism of Lío Villahermosa dancing with a skirt, a type of bomba dance historically reserved for girls. By subverting gender norms, he factors in direction of new types of inner liberation and sociopolitical resistance inside a conservative island society.
The director, Claudia Escobar, needed to painting a human rebellion supported by the ancestors and the spirit world. She introduced within the thought of creating masks resembling Taíno petroglyphs. The masks had been handmade by the artwork administrators, Tara D. and Tuesday Cohen, and me. Atabey is the spirit of nature, and represents water and fertility. Huracán is impressed by Guabancex, the storm deity. Boynayel is the spirit of El Sol [the sun]. Lissy Pedroza who performed Atabey, shared with me the facility and power she felt whereas embodying the spirit of nature. The protestors within the video put on white to symbolize that protesting is a religious apply.
We filmed round an altar constructed by Raheni Gonzalez, who teaches altar-making lessons and two-spirit drugs practices. Raheni commented to me after capturing that they felt the spirit of Huracán taking up for the video shoot guiding their actions.
48 HILLS You had an entire solid of worldwide collaborators on “Huracán.” How had been you in a position to pull that off throughout quarantine?
MAJO The coro of the tune was a compilation of residence recordings throughout the quarantine by very gifted Puerto Rican musicians that reside each within the diaspora and the island: Sandy of Las Sucias, Amarilys Ríos of Emina, sound healer and DJ Mariana Sofía Lima, and singer-songwriter Dizzy Jenkins. Lío Villahermosa was filmed in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico by my expensive buddy and collaborator Karla Claudio, so there’s a true diaspora-island connection within the video.
I’d additionally like to say that this tune was produced by Argentinian digital musician Luis Maurette. I’m a giant fan of his former group Lulacruza, which was primarily based right here within the Bay Space earlier than returning to South America. To be very trustworthy, it has been a strategy of turning down the fangirl dial so we will successfully work collectively.
48 HILLS Why did you wish to launch this tune proper earlier than the election?
MAJO I wrote this tune to help our Puerto Rican resistance actions. With out taking something away from the significance of the nationwide U.S. elections, particularly this yr, I’m centered on the scenario on the island. There’s a want to interrupt by Puerto Rican bipartidism, non secular fundamentalism, and the outcomes of the erasure of our personal historical past. Puerto Ricans are sad with the federal government however vote for a similar two events which have destroyed our financial system and infrastructure.
This yr, there are some new alternate options within the political panorama: now we have Victoria Ciudadana, a brand new political occasion which is operating on an anti-colonial platform. There are additionally nice candidates from the Independentista [Independence] Celebration. It’s vital to encourage folks to vote in another way, to be brave and select authorities officers that can assist construct a greater, extra simply nation.
48 HILLS I do know that you’re additionally an acupuncturist. What a part of the island’s historical past would you heal, should you might?
MAJO I’m engaged on therapeutic the wound of colonization, each individually and collectively. As Puerto Ricans, that is a part of our current day-to-day expertise. I don’t must time journey, to succeed in again into historical past, to heal this. A giant a part of this decolonizing course of is studying to like ourselves—trusting that we’re in a position to reside our desires and envision completely different realities. It’s a strategy of coming to phrases with the near-total genocide of the island’s indigenous folks and with the enslavement of Africans on our island. My most fervent want is that we keep current to our innate mobile energy connecting us to the cosmos, to our ancestors, and to the potential for a special world. Hopefully we will come to see clearly that we live in a reciprocal relationship with the earth, and with one another.