Interview with hip hop crew Salvajes in anticipation of DC debut
Coming at us from Santa Ana, CA, Salvajes represents a conscious hip-hop movement in Santa Ana and beyond. The group is comprised of emcees, breakers and DJs with a core group in Santa Ana and other members located throughout the US, all united by the collective vision of fighting for change and reclaiming what has been taken through colonization, genocide, gentrification and cultural appropriation. Salvajes music is as real as it gets. Cranking up the bass and bumping their beats transports you straight to the west coast and encompasses the heart and soul of classic hip hop, while their lyrics cut to the core of social, political and cultural issues and present an alternative viewpoint. The flow from Salvajes’ emcees shows strength in its bilingualism and delivery, and manages to effortlessly weave together issues as varied as racism to environmental destruction to the prison industrial complex, while analyzing the intersection between these issues and more. Make no mistake- this isn’t preachy music that leaves you with the hollow and hopeless feeling of “we’re totally screwed.” Rather, their music leaves you feeling clear about the struggle and the enemy and empowered to take action, learn more and reflect.
I had a chance to catch up with Nestor from Salvajes in anticipation for their DC debut and learn more about their activism and organizing efforts at El Centro Cultural de Mexico in Santa Ana, musical influences and thoughts on the movement and organizing. Along with Olmeca, Salvajes will be performing at Judy’s Restaurant on Saturday, May 30th for an unforgettable night of hip hop, movement, cultura y baile. More than just awesome music, this show will give us the chance to see and interact with two dynamic artists who use hip hop as a tool for revolution and liberation in their own, unique ways; as well as witness firsthand how important music and culture are to grassroots organizing and movement building. Read on, listen and get ready to declare with pride, "Si, Soy Salvaje!" on May 30th!
KH: Salvajes seems to be a very dynamic group. How did you all come together with the vision of a conscious hip hop movement?
We came together in Santa Ana but were already involved in the movement as individuals. We all had a collective vision and were already kind of doing it, but we came together and gave it a name. The name Salvajes is significant to us in that we take strength from a word that was used by the colonial structure to call us savages, uncivilized- but we know that we are civilized, and the real savages came across the ocean. We use this word to describe our passion and tenacity. Anyways, we started around 4 years ago and have been building up ever since.
KH: What is Salvajes connection to son jarocho and bomba music? Where you guys into these styles prior to becoming involved in El Centro Cultural de Mexico or did your interest in those styles develop after getting more involved there?
We were into these styles before but have gotten more into it because we’ve been involved in that space. Our priority is the development of Centro, promoting them and our work as well. The thing is that hip-hop is universal, and the only culture in the world that incorporates every other culture into it, so with sin jarocho at Centro, we can reach people through that who might not be into hip hop.
KH: You make the distinction that colonization is much more than just the theft of lands and culture; it’s also the theft of your minds and future. For Salvajes, how does music and language function as a tool of liberation and decolonization?
We saturate our music with messages, and some people might see it as negative. We promote what we are for, but in reality sometimes you have to recognize the enemy that exists and that you have to fight it. Some people don’t even know who the enemy is. You need to know who you’re fighting and why. As far as the music and lyrics, we try to keep it classic hip-hop with political commentary. Even with the concert we throw at Centro we explore how music and the movement interact and how both help each other.
KH: I love the tracks “Stay Awake” and “Soundtrack for the Movement” because they touch on so many different issues and show how they are all connected, while simultaneously calling for organization and consciousness. How do you think people can “stay awake” in a literal sense and work towards real change?
To me personally, it’s trying to understand the balance between the world we live in and the world we want to live in. A lot of what we do at Centro is based in Zapatista theory. One big one with Zapatista theory is not trying to change people or show them that they are asleep- rather showing someone the alternative and letting them take initiative on their own. The point is not to force someone, but to give someone information so a change came from within. Our music is so thick with real issue because we want people to see the enemy and seek the alternative. We will say why we don’t do this or don’t do that, but don’t tell people why they shouldn’t. It’s a thin line. For example, how can I tell someone not to drink Coke because its bad for you and I don’t agree with the company’s ethics, but once in awhile I drink a Coke, too? We aren’t here to tell people to change; we just want to show them the alternative.
KH: Your sound is really consistent with classic hip hop; do you see the group experimenting in the future with incorporating others or influences with the hip hop, or keeping it classic and gritty?
We’ve evolved organically to where we are now and what our sounds is like. It wasn’t planned, its just happening and we are trying to stay on the surfboard! I think eventually we might do something with different sounds and instrumentation, like son jarocho or salsa to describe who we are and where we come from, but whatever happens organically.
KH: What is your fanbase like? What can DC expect from Salvajes?
Our fanbase is really diverse. People who speak Spanish and who are into the cultura thing are into us, and also people of Mexican descent because they can relate to the language and bilingualism. We have lots of reviews from people from all walks of life. We also kind of cater our performances based on what we see in the audience. We have songs where we might highlight things with more hardcore rappers in the audience, or for example when we performed in Chicano Park in San Diego, we did all of our regular stuff because the crowd was super into it. We stand true to the belief that we can only show you a door or window, or even show you that a door or window exists. We aren’t here to preach. As far as our shows, you can expect an explosive performance where you will have no choice but to feel and experience what is happening. Take it and apply it to your personal life, listen to what we are saying and ask yourself how you can change. Go forward and learn!
What: Kesta Happening Presents: Olmeca/Salvajes/La Salvadoreina/Leon City y mas
When: Saturday, May 30th at 9pm
Where: Judy's Restaurant 2212 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009