Hip-Hop and Culture in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Process

An interview with Jorney Madriz, or Master as he is commonly known, a rapper with hip-hop group 'Area 23', based in '23 de enero', one of the most militant low-income neighbourhoods, known as barrios, that encircle Venezuela's capital city, Caracas. Excerpt from upcoming documentary Hip Hop Revolucion.

Jorney Madriz or Master as he is commonly known, is a rapper with hip-hop group ‘Area 23′, based in ’23 de enero’, one of the most militant low-income neighbourhoods, known as barrios, that encircle Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas.

Like most of the other barrios in Venezuela, ’23 de enero’ is a bedrock of support for Hugo Chavez’s government.

In a country renowned for the polarised nature of its political climate, music is no exception. ‘Area 23’ is one of a number of hip-hop groups in Venezuela that have aligned themselves in support of the radical process of change underway under the Chavez presidency, and form part of a wider cultural movement called ‘Hip Hop Revolucion’ (HHR), a kind of coalition of revolutionary hip-hop groups.

The HHR movement was founded in 2003 and brings together like-minded young people from across Venezuela. As well as organising several revolutionary hip-hop festivals featuring groups from all over the world, especially from Latin America, HHR has created 31 hip-hop schools across the country, which teenagers can attend in conjunction with their normal day-to-day schooling.

I first met Master in 2006 when I was living in Venezuela and interviewed him in late 2008 for my documentary ‘Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela’, which explores 10 years of Venezuela’s Bolivarian process.

“When Chavez won the election I was 15 years old — now I’m 25 — and honestly back then I wasn’t excited that Chavez had won.” Master told me back in 2008.

“Why? Because Venezuelan youth, myself included, lived in total political apathy.” he explained. “Our group, ‘Area 23’ and myself, demonstrate how young people have become interested in investigating and learning about our history, and learning to use the weapons that politics offers us, and how powerful this can be if we use culture to expand these ideas.”

Along with a friend, Gustavo Borges, Master coordinates ‘Hip Hop Revolucion’s’ work, which has gone from strength to strength. Their work is truly inspiring and last year I, alongside Jody McIntyre and UK-Iraqi rapper Lowkey travelled to Venezuela to spend time with HHR and to make a documentary about their incredible grassroots work. At its heart, this new documentary will be about the power of community, music, and the spirit of rebellion. The film will also be a testament to what can be achieved when idealism is allied with hard work and mutual solidarity.

In the 2008 interview Master also observed: “Culture is a train in which ideologies travel, through which our history is disseminated, society’s ideologies are disseminated and also our protests, and, as such, it should be taken into account. I think that, for too long, marketing and big business has converted culture into something trivial”.

I remember how impressed I was with Master’s views on the role and importance of culture and its co-option by corporate forces. And when I lived in Venezuela, I saw how Master’s group’s fusion of socially conscious hip hop with styles such as salsa and reggae had created a musical hybrid that seemed to be growing in popularity. Word of the band even reached the Venezuelan president. In July 2008 Master and the rest of Area 23 were invited to perform on ‘Alo President’, the weekly TV show hosted by Chávez,

After rapping about the April 2002 coup against Chavez and the way it had been overturned after government supporters poured onto the streets to demand the president’s return, they performed an impromptu freestyle rap that rallied against corruption and bureaucracy amongst state officials and institutions.

With Chavez in close proximity, occasionally fist-bumping the rappers as they perform, it is a truly memorable TV moment, which is also included in ‘Inside the Revolution’.

Now with the new documentary, ‘Hip Hop Revolucion’, I’m excited to be making a documentary that will hopefully let many more people outside Venezuela know about these dynamic and uncompromising group of hip hop revolutionaries.

For more information about the documentaries ‘Inside the Revolution’ and ‘Hip Hop Revolución’ and how you can support the latter’s production, visit: http://www.alborada.net/alboradafilms.

Text by Pablo Navarrete for the Latin America Bureau, original source here.