Interview: LA BRUJA

The Hip Hop Poetician

Interview conducted by DJ Fade and Marsha Gosho Oakes
Words: Marsha Gosho Oakes
La Bruja is one woman who knows the power of words, and wields them well.
“Live, express and create. It’s the best; it’s the most natural high ever”, she shares.
By that philosophy, the Spanglish-rapping poet, actor, activist, and self-described “witch” sitting before me, is delirious. Her wand dips into many creative avenues; including modelling for Levis and performing her poetry at numerous respected outlets such as Def Poetry Jam and the Nuyorican Poet’s CafŽ. Her self-penned one-woman comedy show “Boogie Rican Blvd” sold out its eight week run, and she has written a movie called ‘Favours’ which she describes as, “a graffiti Hip Hop action drama about a memorial wall that gets painted and as the memorial wall is painted the story unfolds. I’ve cast a lot of musical people so that we can do an original score, and it’s gonna be filmed all in the Bronx.”
“Born and raised in ‘The Boogie Down’ Bronx, I was doing Hip Hop before I even knew what it was calledÉ”, La Bruja responds to the question of why she made the move from poetry to Hip Hop. “I’m a hip hop baby; I’m a product of hip hop, and a lot of my poetry is very connected to Hip Hop. It’s urban poetry.” Her album, Brujalicious, features a cover version of Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’ -which is not clearly connected to Hip Hop. We ask the motivation behind it, and a laughing La Bruja explains, “I love Madonna, because she knows how to work the world, she knows how to be global and incorporate all cultures. She appreciates all cultures, she’s fearless. She was the first woman I saw to be anything and everything that she wanted. That was very inspiring to meÉso I have to pay homage to her majesty!” As for her Hip Hop influences, La Bruja cites Public Enemy, KRS One, Queen Latifa, Nas, and Snoop as examples. Speaking of being anything and everything you want, La Bruja appears to be well on her way to do doing so with her multi-talented outpourings. Compared to the acting, modelling, and poetry worlds perhaps Hip Hop provides the most challenges to her gender, given its general male bias. “As a woman,” Bruja begins, “it’s difficult in Hip Hop, because the [clichŽd] role of women in Hip Hop and in Reggaeton is one of a sexual nature – not much of a thinker and with not much to say. But it’s important for me to show a different face of what Hip Hop can be, and use those influences to see what it is that I don’t really agree with and then try to change it a little, try to create a balance so to speak.”
The imbalance Bruja refers to is the one-dimensional sexual image of female artists in Hip Hop. We consider that much of Madonna’s selling point was her sexuality, but La Bruja is quick to interject “-but it was on her terms. She wasn’t the video ho, so it was different. She had men all around her; she was in power. There’s nothing wrong with using our sensuality and our sexuality, I definitely do that aswell.” People often assume that a woman who disputes the enforced need for displays of female sexuality in the media, is contradicting herself by showing her sexuality at times of choice. However, ‘choice’ is the key. Is this something La Bruja sometimes feels torn between? “Absolutely”, she affirms. “The constant pressure of being sexual, the constant pressure of using sex to sell records. They’re like ‘Why don’t you wear less clothes next time? Or why don’t you shake your ass a little more in your performance?’ – That’s hard to hear. Maybe I DO wanna shake my ass, but then I’m thinking ‘damn, they really want me to shake my ass’ and it makes me not want to! I’m not doing it for you; I’m doing it for me!”
With La Bruja highlighting Madonna as a clear role model in terms of presenting an empowered female leader through music, it has to be asked whether she considers there to be a lack of female role models in Hip Hop. “There are not that many. Lauryn Hill – fascinating; Queen Latifa – even though she’s gone from Hip Hop into a whole other world; Lil Kim and Foxy Brown – I guess they’re role models in their own way but the fact that they don’t get along takes away from their role model appeal in my eyes, because I think that we have to learn how to find peace in order to teach children not to be at war with themselves”, she responds. La Bruja, then, is left to forge her own path – to balance her sexuality with her intellect, and to spread her creativity among many forms, without being coerced and categorised against her will. This is a corner she is used to fighting, and she determinedly explains her resistance thus far: “When I first started a lot of people wanted to put me in a box. A lot of people told me, ‘Well, you know, you’re Latino so why don’t you just do salsa if you’re gonna do music’ or ‘You’re a poet why don’t you just stick to this’ – but I’m all these things. I feel like all of those different expressions are like fingers and I can’t choose my favourite – I need them all to pack a punch. So I don’t think I have to choose. When they wanna put you in a box it’s limiting. I won’t even be put in a box when I die.”
Death, life, and spirituality are all issues one might ponder raising when talking to La Bruja, due to the connotations of her name, which means ‘witch’. It has to be asked why she chose the name. She elaborates, “Religious fanatics don’t really appreciate brujas because ‘bruja’ means ‘witch’. They have a problem with me calling myself a witch because they automatically assume that it’s bad. But anyone who doesn’t believe fully in one religion is considered a witch anyway and they were burned because they would not believe the mass religion. I do it to acknowledge those people – like the pagans that were more rooted in earth and nature before this constraint of belief. And now religion is like the biggest cause for war in this world. It has separated our people on a humanitarian level and it has destroyed. If we can hate someone for not believing the same thing, that to me is against God. So it’s a contradiction of what religion is teaching. I also have a problem with religions because women are disempowered by religion, in a very big way – it’s in the name of the father and the son; there’s no mother or daughter there. Where am I? Not that I don’t believe in Jesus – I believe he existed – but I believe that his message was changed in order to control the masses. In all religions women have been disempowered. If I’ve got to be a bruja to feel powerful, then that’s what I’ll be.”
From disempowerment of women to issues with poorly-allocated power in general, our conversation creeps across to a poem called ‘WTC’ that La Bruja wrote and performs on the subject of inadequacies and conspiracies surrounding American President George Bush. We talk more about this, and she explains her position in greater depth; “All that freedom talk is working so well and it’s amazing that this man that we didn’t even vote for is in place and all these people are dying. How can you help create freedom in another country when it doesn’t even exist in our own? After hurricane Katrina they left those people to die. Where was the military then? Everybody has their eyes wide shut, yeah this is great, land of the free. They want us just full of weapons of mass distraction, American idol – people just care about that, people do not care what’s going on; meanwhile we pay for it! We have no control. It drives me nuts. People have called me anti-patriotic, but I’m being patriotic by feeling this way and saying these things; it’s because I care about my people, my country, and the world that I say these things. I consider myself a poetician: I use my poetry to reach the people and to really make change. I’m not a politician that promises all this bullshit and doesn’t do it.”
Widespread superficiality in politics and music can both be as dangerous as each other, so La Bruja sees it as essential that she gets her truth out via her art, earnestly explaining “Art to me is the connecting tool. It can create peace if we use it for that. The industry is just following what they consider a formula, but it’s killing our people. They like playing it safe by not trying to do different things but it’s not being safe at all; it’s actually quite destructive. If I have to do it independently I’ll do it independently, one way or another I’m gonna get the message out there. If they catch on and see the value of it, that’ll be great. I’m trying to connect everybody and stop all this unnecessary hatred. We’re all human, we have the same needs no matter where we’re from – we’re people. Hopefully they’ll catch on”.
And with that, she was gone.
La Bruja’s album, Brujalicious, is out now on De La Luz Records.
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