After only one week of protests in Colombia at least 25 people have lost their lives and many hundreds more have been injured. It is not only the global virus and the Colombian government’s inaction that is frustrating people because the protests began against a proposed government tax increase that many critics say would increase the inequality between the country’s citizens.
As it so often happens, the police forces hit the rightful protesters with violence and so the protests grow. As it also so often happens, musicians take up their musical arms and hit the streets. Some of those form the Philharmonic Orchestra of Bogotá who recently have been lending their artistic talents to raise the voices of their fellow citizens.
During a recent crawl through the internet I stumbled upon a musician rapping in Colombian. As US based rap and hip hop tend to dominate the global audience it always feels refreshing to me to hear a good flow in another language.
Kubun’s debut album is all about language, and story telling. As he explained to me in this interview he explores his roots while tackling social issues in his lyrics, and he tells those stories effortlessly.
Halldór: First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Kubun?
Kubun: Kubun stems from the word “Muyskkubun”, a language of Colombia. In its own languge, it literally stands for “language of the people” or “language of men”, with “Kubun being the section of the word that means “language” or “word”. That being said, Kubun is a concept, open to interpretation. Tracks and lyrical themes vary greatly, though I must admit, the base is hip hop. I am currently living in France, but I try to be as true as possible to my Colombian roots.
Halldór: How long have you been rapping or making music/beats?
Kubun: I haven’t been rapping for all that long, I’d say about 1-2 years, with the majority of that time having been just for fun at get-togethers, improvising and whatnot over drinks and a smoke. However, I used to sing in a rock band previously.
“I feel the language has a lot to do with it. My Spanish tracks are much more political than the ones in English, as thoughts in Spanish are reminiscent of Colombia and its situation.”
Halldór: Has your music always been political? How do you see the connection between music and activism?
Kubun: More than political, I’d say conscious. All my songs, at least in my head, have meaning. However, I feel the language has a lot to do with it. My Spanish tracks are much more political than the ones in English, as thoughts in Spanish are reminiscent of Colombia and its situation. I feel that music and activism go hand in hand, as music moves the masses more than any other form of art (at least in my opinion), also being a tool for the artist to express themselves all the while making a point – at least when the lyrics are intended to signify something.
Halldór: On your debut album, Muyskkubun, you rap both in Colombian Spanish and in English but you mention on your Bandcamp page the Muyskkubun language as well. What is your connection to that language and the Muisca culture?
Kubun: To be honest, I have no direct connection to the language or culture, except for a few “Muisquisms”, but this is natural to Colombian Spanish, as it has some loan words from the language. However, a slang way of saying I am Colombian is to say I am Chibcha. Someone who says they are Chibcha will always be Colombian. The Chibchas are the tribes who spoke muyskkubun, and me, being a very nationalistic and patriotic person, felt that maybe this was a subtle way of going back to the roots of my country.
Halldór: The rights and stories of indigenous people seem to have a place in your work. What other issues move you and inspire you to write down some rhymes?
Kubun: When a write, I don’t really think, I just do. Call it inspiration, I guess. The Spanish Gypsies call this sort of inspiration (at least in Flamenco) “el Duende” – it’s when you feel the music enough for lyrics to just spill out of your mouth – a trance like state.
Halldór: Your rapping style is very much story driven. Where does that storytelling come from for you and what rappers before you have inspired you and your work?
Kubun: Much of my lyrical content doesn’t come from my own experiences at all. In the grand majority of cases, they are usually everyday situations you hear from friends, acquaintances or on the news of what happens in Colombia. This is another reason why I chose Kubun as an alias, because in a way, I am the word of men. However, these stories run deep through my veins, as the impotency and disdain one feels seeing your country in a situation such as the one that is not seen outside Colombia is very much real. I’d have to say that my biggest inspirations are Calle 13, Canserbero, Luis7Lunes and Sr Pablo; all great storytellers.
Halldór: Colombian people have been striking for several days now, can you tell us about what is happening in your country at the moment?
Kubun: Like in many countries, Colombia is striking because it is fed up with the overall system. Ask many people and you’ll get different responses as to why each one is protesting. The legality of fishing sharks for their fins, for example, the inequality and polarisation of riches, the corruption of the government, the reparations that were promised to victims of different tragedies and were never delivered, the falsos positivos (soldiers killing innocent civilians, making them pass by as rebels to earn the bounty and commission). I don’t think anyone could properly answer this question.
Halldór: How is your music and rap scene around you in regards to activism, do you feel there are many artists using their voices for good and in protest?
Kubun: There are many artists using their voice in forms of activism and protest. In Colombia and Latin America for that matter, there is actually a sub-genre of rap called “Rap Protesta”. However, meaningful rap, with lyrics that are intrinsic and of valued is unfortunately overshadowed by commercial music which is of no value for social change; the reason as to why rap as a musical genre came to be.
Halldór: What do you do outside the music?
Kubun: I am an amateur musician as of now, I couldn’t really live off of my artistic work. However, I do have a Bachelor’s in Aviation & Airways Operations Management and a Master’s Degree in Business Development. I currently work within the aeronautical industry.
Halldór: What is on the horizon for you?
Kubun: Hopefully many new inspirations to come that’ll bring with them meaningful projects.
Halldór: Thank you for participating and for your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
There are more than 60 indigenous languages in Colombia. Some have already died out and many are in danger of extinction. There are some culture defenders out there though, including hip hop group Kombilesa Mí who sing in their native Palenque language.
Their new song No Más Discriminación premieres today on YouTube and can be seen below. Thanks to artists such as these, ancient rich history and beautiful heritage can get preserved through more modern creativity such as in this case – hiphop.