Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Brown Berets have solidified their presence in the community, which is almos miraculous when you consider that the Brown Berets have been almost MIA over the past 15 years or so (maybe they've been in Watson this whole time and I didn't know). The Danza Azteca group White Hawk has been holding it down for some time now as well. There have also been punk rockeros in bunches, and recent protests against immigration reform and HR 4437 have brought hundreds of young activistas into action in the strawberry town.
I was bombarded with all of this energy when I arrived at the Watsonville Veterans Hall on Monday, to check out a workshop by hip-hop artist Immortal Technique. Now, I have to admit, I was really aware of only one Tech song going into the gig, the "Bin Laden" single with Mos Def that was produced by DJ Green Lantern. But I was very much aware of his hardcore political stance, as well as his status as one of the emerging Latino hip-hop artists from the East Coast. Knowing all that made his appearance in Watsonville, a farm town with a predominantly working class Mexicano community, all the more intriguing.
The Vets Hall was bustling with young energy on Monday afternoon, hip-hop electronica in full effect. Youngsters dressed in Shady Gear and skater shoes mingled with bald-headed cholos in Raiders jerseys. A cipher broke out on the front steps. I was impressed.
The event was organized by The Brown Berets, so I made sure I identified myself at the door because I know that most grass roots are skeptical of any media coverage. My suspicions were varified by a fair-skinned women wearing a skully and a shirt that said "liberation," with a picture of what looked like Angela Davis on the front.
"We're not allowing corporate media to cover the event," she informed me with a bubbly smile. She was really nice about hating on my profession. I was fine with it, so I put my notebook away. I didn't feel it was necessary to list my activista credentials or try to give the secret Chicano activista hand shake.
And though I don't have 94 percent memory retention like Truman Capote, I am still capable of 'membering stuff. Notes would have to be taken in the head.
Immortal Technique rolled up dressed like sort of futuristic Vato Loco swat team member,replete in black garb with a black utility vest. He seemed very appreciative of being there.
A week earlier, he had headlined a large show in Watts, which was billed as a building block for Brown and Black relations in the so-cal ghettos. By all accounts, the show was a success, and Tech mentioned it several times during his speech. His workshop, "Street Politics of the Rap Industry," was incredibly true to its name.
Tech laid it down straight up for the kiddies: the record industry is a joke. Record labels exist only to push what is hot at the moment. Any artist who doesn't recoup for the label ends up as a tax write-off. He warned that the record industry is designed to keep the artists starving, while the record execs eat all the honey.
"If you're going to be a puppet," he said bluntly," don't be surprised when someone shoves a hand up your ass."
His whole workshop was a fearless exercise in how to hustle right: if you want to be successful, you better be prepared "to sleep only 2-3 hours a day." You better be ready to roll up in a record store 15 deep and demand that they put your CD on the shelf. Ditto for Radio DJ's that are programmed to play the same 10 songs 48 times a day (twice an hour, every hour).
Tech stays indy for a reason: because he refuses to be one of those sore puppets.
The workshop wasn't without its lighter moments: when asking the group what "payola" was, a young graph writer responded "a hallucenogic drug you smoke." That was pretty funny (and that graph writer-dude looked like he may have taken peyote at least once in his life). Tech also broached the subject of his prison term. At one point during his bid, he was supposed to get out on MLK's Birthday after serving a year (he didn't mention what for), but instead was locked in "the hole" for having contraband, which was an extra t-shirt and pair of pants. He also shared that his family had saved for him to go to school, and after a year away, the money they had saved for their son's education was used to fight for his freedom. Despite the obvious pain of that experience, he relayed that his term had helped him determine his life's direction.
It's sad that a systematic beat down has to be the catalyst for one man's revelation, but then again, how many freedom fighter's have been born from such injustice?
As the discussion wound down, he took questions from the crowd. One question, How can hip-hop lead to social change, was met with an interesting answer.
"Don't expect any rapper to be a leader," he deadpanned. "The rap industry is meant to make money... At the end of the day, a rapper is just an individual..."
And he's certainly right. One cannot look to hip-hop artists for social change given the genre's sometimes counter-revolutionary imagery (violence, materialism, excess, mysogany).
But it can help spark the dialogue that leads to revolutionary thought. Especially in an unassuming place like Watsonville, where small town pride and a conscious Chicano activista community have transformed into a hotbed for cultural awareness and empowerment.