Entrevista 1. ensayogood USE AS MAIN FOTO

Publicado en agosto 2013 |

0

Radio Matuna: Music for thought and fun


Through a mix of reggae, hip-hop and heart, the band explores the Afro-Colombian experience in all its depth.

by Suan Pineda
Entremares Magazine

Para leer la entrevista en Español, hacer click aquí.

Through a mix of reggae, hip-hop and heart, the band explores the Afro-Colombian experience in all its depth.Featuring a bit of everything, “reggae, hip-hop, love and heart,” Colombian band Radio Matuna wants to make people dance as well as think. The group, which takes its name from the first settlements of freed slaves in Colombia, explores in all its depth and facets the Afro-Colombian experience.

However, the band’s founder and frontman Leonardo Rúa wants to make something clear: “We don’t want to get boxed in as a socially conscious band, but we do want to talk about what concerns us.” That’s why Radio Matuna’s songs exhibit a wide thematic range: from the plight of internally displaced Colombians in “Gris” to a simple ode to love in “Real.”

With a first album and a first music video under their belt, Radio Matuna (composed of Rúa in bass and vocals, Julio Hierrezuelo in guitar, Mónica Castillo in vocals and Juan Camilo Castaño in drums) has become one of the most active bands in Bogotá’s music scene.

In an interview with Entremares Magazine, Rúa, affable and thoughtful, talks about the nostalgia two condiments invoke and the fine line Radio Matuna treads between social issues and the joy of partying.

Entremares Magazine (EM): Where does the name Radio Matuna come from and what does it mean?

Leonardo Rúa (LR): The name of Radio Matuna is based on the Palenques de la Matuna, which were the lands where escaped slaves found refuge and freedom. These lands are near Cartagena in Colombia’s Atlantic coast, and their most important village is San Basilio de Palenque. This whole region was known as Montes de la Matuna, which were the first settlements where escaped slaves could found a village and maintain their culture. Nowadays, San Basilio de Palenque is very active and is acquiring more visibility in Colombia. However, this place had been invisible for a long time. This is the reason we wanted to allude to this, because it is a symbol of cultural resistance. That’s where the word Matuna comes from. And Radio Matuna, because I’ve always thought that radio is magical, it’s a magical thing how sound waves travel to reach different people.

EM: ¿Cómo define Radio Matuna su sonido?

LR: It’s world music. We play hip-hop, reggae with different rhythms from Colombia. With drums, guitar, bass and vocals, we try to find new sounds, and we try to have a more natural encounter with music. I’m an empirical musician, and I feel a need for music, so I’ve looked for musicians who have a similar experience and with whom I can start to develop ideas. Radio Matuna has a bit of everything: reggae, hip-hop, love and heart.

EM: Is there a narrative thread or a leitmotiv to Radio Matuna’s lyrics?

LR: Our concept is very wide. We don’t want to become political or to directly talk about deep and serious things. We simply want to talk about what happens to us, to our country, because it’s something we’ve all been through.

In Radio Matuna’s lyrics there’s a call to recognize and to be aware of our ancestry, of our history. But also, there are love songs, about falling in love. We don’t want to get boxed in as a socially conscious band, but we do want to talk about what concerns us.

In Radio Matuna’s lyrics there’s a call to recognize and to be aware of our ancestry, of our history. But also, there are love songs, about falling in love. We don’t want to get boxed in as a socially conscious band, but we do want to talk about what concerns us. That is why we do a song such as “Gris” or “Kilombo.” But we also sing about partying and having fun. This is all part of life.

EM: Throughout your songs, there are two terms that are almost omnipresent: ancestry and history. What do these two words mean to you?

LR: Ancestry is history and this is linked to being Afro-Colombian, although I think ancestry belongs to us all as human beings. In my case, I talk about being Afro-Colombian, because it is what I have experienced.

I’m conscious of being Afro-Colombian, partly because I was born in Bogotá, which is a profoundly racist city, which considers itself white, which has never accepted me as part of it and where I have always been regarded as a foreigner. On the streets, in a party, it’s common that people ask me where I come from. Sometimes, I switch among nationalities just to keep things interesting (laughs).

… facing racism has made me grow, has made me look within myself and search for the places that I belong to. This is the point where ancestry emerges as a sort of savior.

When I was a child I had fights in school… I didn’t want to know my story. But facing racism has made me grow, has made me look within myself and search for the places that I belong to. This is the point where ancestry emerges as a sort of savior.

I’m Afro-Colombian, I’m black and I’m different from this city that views itself as white. But, what does this mean beyond skin color and physical traits? In my case, for example, my grandfather was a musician. He played the violin, the guitar, he wrote songs, he was a fisherman in the high seas of the Pacific. He was a beautiful character. I never met him but my father used to talk about him, so his presence was very strong in my life. I think that I have developed my musical sense, which is very intuitive and empirical, thanks to my grandfather, thanks to this ancestral connection. It’s sort of a universal communication, it’s like the Internet of the universe. From there, you can download songs, lyrics, melodies (laughs). The music is there, floating all the time.

EM: Have there been times when you’ve felt your grandfather’s presence during your musical process?

Something that happens to me quite often when I jam with other musicians is that at one point when you’re playing you’re no longer conscious. It is at this moment when I think there’s a direct communication with my ancestors.

LR: I feel his presence when I’m writing lyrics. Well, it’s not like my grandfather appears and pufff (laughs). But his presence is felt when we are composing music or when we are trying to find a sound. Something that happens to me quite often when I jam with other musicians is that at one point when you’re playing you’re no longer conscious. It is at this moment when I think there’s a direct communication with my ancestors. Drummers experience this often, too, because they are playing an instrument made of leather, of an animal, of wood, that is connected to the earth, to nature. Every time they hit the drum, they hit the ground and the sound reverberates. It is in this feeling of connection between one plane and another that is beyond consciousness where I feel there’s a dialogue between me and my grandfather and my ancestors.

5. Roots and destiny

“In Radio Matuna’s lyrics there’s a call to recognize and to be aware of our ancestry, of our history. But also, there are love songs, about falling in love. We don’t want to get boxed in as a socially conscious band, but we do want to talk about what concerns us,” says Leonardo Rúa, who composes the band’s songs and plays the bass.
Photo courtesy of Leonardo Rúa

photos courtesy of Leonardo Rúa

EM: When did you decide to get into music and how has your journey in this world been?

LR: I had a very normal and musical childhood. My older brother played the guitar and he taught me. He was kind of a musical mentor.

Then, when I was 14 something very cool happened. A documentary about Afro-Colombian youth born in Bogotá was made and I was chosen to be the presenter. They paid me for the gig, and it was the first time in my life I was paid for something. So I bought a bass.

Also, the documentary made me think about being Afro-Colombian, what it meant for me and for other people. I used to fight a lot in school; I went through about 10 schools. But when I was 14, when they filmed this documentary and I bought the bass, it was a definitive moment in my life. At 14, everything changed and I started my first band in school called Deskarga; it was kind of childish (laughs).

Then I was hired to act in a TV show called “La Jaula” [“The Cage”], but I hated the show. I did it for the money. The show was terrible because it was very racist. However, it did give me motivation to continue playing music. My character used to play music and I had the chance to sing a song in the show. I realized I could sing, which I never thought I could do before. After that, I played in several bands. I spent five years with a band called Voodoo Soul Jahs. We traveled a lot and played in the most important music festivals in Colombia. With this band I was able to experience the life of a musician, to know how difficult it is and how wonderful it is.

EM: Why did you choose the bass? What is it about this instrument that attracted you?

LR: The bass resembles my personality. The guitar is much brighter, present, harmonious and melodious. The bass is rhythmic and has a subterranean melody, like a floor. The bass is a bit quiet; it’s there, and it’s important, but few people regard it as such.

You’re not alone when you play the bass, you always need company. The guitar, on the other hand, allows you to be alone and it becomes a sort of partner.

I play reggae and the bass and the drums go together. I like these two instruments because they changed the way I view and approach music. For example, all the songs I’ve written until now have been done through the guitar, because the guitar allowed me to play and sing. The bass needs more friends, more things. You’re not alone when you play the bass, you always need company. The guitar, on the other hand, allows you to be alone and it becomes a sort of partner.
The songs I’m writing now are coming from the bass, which changes the way I think about music, because the bass is like a foundation; it’s the ground of music.

EM: In your lyrics, do you employ the palenquero language, which is the only surviving Spanish-based Creole language and is spoken in San Basilio de Palenque?

LR: We have recordings of the language play during our concerts, and in our album we have interviews in palenquero language. But we also feature English, for instance. The goal is to speak in several languages. There are many languages that are very musical and are worth exploring. The palenquero language is one of them, and we’d like to learn more about it as well as raise awareness about it. The palenquero language is a mix between Spanish, Portuguese and Bantu.

EM: Radio Matuna has a song titled “Chiyangua y Chirará”? What do these words mean?

LR: The chiyangua and chirará are two condiments from the South Pacific region of Colombia. These condiments are unique to the regions of Tumaco and Buenaventura. They are delicious! (laughs). On their path to freedom, the slaves couldn’t cook well while they were fleeing. When they could cook, the act of firing the pan and making something delicious with chiyangua and chirará, whose aroma wafted everywhere, was a clear sign of freedom and enjoyment. That’s why the chiyangua and chirará are so significant.

EM: You said once that for you the chiyangua and chirará are symbols of nostalgia. How so?

LR: Sometimes you can long for something that you don’t know but that you feel. In Portuguese they term nostalgia as saudade, whose meaning is a combination of nostalgia, longing and love.

On their route to freedom the slaves couldn’t cook food that was too aromatic, so they made some dishes, which are still cooked today, called tapado with leaves covering the food, enclosing the smoke. The appearance of the chiyangua and chirará made a statement: “Yes, we are here. Yes, this is our place. Yes, this is freedom. Yes, this is chiyangua and chirará.”

The first time I tasted the chiyangua and chirará was five or seven years ago in Tumaco. By then, I was very conscious and aware of my identity and history. Tasting shrimp seasoned with these condiments made me realize how special this place where my family comes from is. After that first taste, I long for them. One day I was talking to a friend about personal issues and the things that one can’t overcome. She told me to go to a psychologist or to a psychiatrist. And I told her: “Look, for me, spiritual balance can be found in shrimps with chiyangua and chirará, and that’s it” (laughs). There’s total balance (laughs) because it goes beyond food, it is what it represents. It’s a symbol of a region, of a history that has been forgotten. And this is also what I want to do with music, to make this region and this history visible.

On their route to freedom the slaves couldn’t cook food that was too aromatic, so they made some dishes, which are still cooked today, called tapado with leaves covering the food, enclosing the smoke. The appearance of the chiyangua and chirará made a statement: “Yes, we are here. Yes, this is our place. Yes, this is freedom. Yes, this is chiyangua and chirará.”

EM: So this song, “Chiyangua y Chirará,” has sort of become a vehicle in which the story of this region, at least a piece of it, can be told.

LR: Yes. It has filled me with happiness. Yes, through this song we’ve been able to tell people about this region. Since we are used to saying anything about Afro-Colombians, about indigenous people, about what in theory is unknown, people used to say that the title of the song was a tongue twister, or that we came up with it after smoking a joint … (laughs).

Beyond the constructed image of what Afro-Colombians are, of what indigenous and rural people are, there’s an actual knowledge, a wealth of information that is valuable and that these communities have been able to keep amid and within a system that is designed to make them invisible, to make me invisible.

Beyond the constructed image of what Afro-Colombians are, of what indigenous and rural people are, there’s an actual knowledge, a wealth of information that is valuable and that these communities have been able to keep amid and within a system that is designed to make them invisible, to make me invisible.

So, food is a legacy of cultural resistance. I don’t want to politicize it but I think food is an active form of cultural resistance because it not only appeals to your mouth but also to your heart, your nostalgia, your memory.

EM: Besides music, you also work in filmmaking. Tell me about the conception of the video for “Gris,” a song that talks about the experience of displacement in Colombia.

LR: I did the video with a filmmaker friend named David Villegas. My work as a filmmaker has addressed the issue of internal displacement a lot [Editor’s note: There are an estimated 5 million internally displaced people in Colombia]. I had the chance to do a report for a Dutch TV show about a woman who was displaced and was seeking refuge in Bogotá. We followed her for six months. It was a very intense story, and it got to me.

So I felt the need to talk about this issue, and David shared the same need. What do we do, what do we say? We’ve been developing the idea for three, four years, until we wrote a script. We discussed how to write the script because we didn’t want to do a porno-misery film [Editor’s note: Porno-misery films are a type of cinema that depicts misery with the aim of gaining international attention] or exploit the sadness of the situation. We wanted to do something refreshing.

So we decided to tell the story from the perspective of a little girl. I think that during wartimes children are more able to overcome issues. Kids can play soccer after something horrible happens. For example, this woman’s children were playing all the time, they were happy, they were in another world. The mother was very concerned, but the children were always happy. So, we found how to lighten up the topic a bit through this perspective. We started filming, obviously, without a dime, with a lot of favors and we are very grateful to all the people who helped us.

EM: Radio Matuna has been playing for three years and nowadays you are one of the most active bands in Bogotá’s music scene. Are there any stories, memories you treasure from these three years?

I’m Afro-Colombian, I’m black and I’m different from this city that views itself as white. But, what does this mean beyond skin color and physical traits?” says Leonardo Rúa, who fronts Radio Matuna.

LR: Yes, the day we launched our first single, and the day I saw our album for the first time.

Ahhh! (says with emotion), one day a couple of girls sang the chorus to one of our songs, “Real,” when they saw us walking on the street. It was great. It has been very gratifying to see people’s support and that gives us the strength to go on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and punctuation but not for content.

Comparte!

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Puede encontrar información sobre cómo reusar o volver a publicar esta obra en http://www.entremaresmagazine.com/condiciones-de-uso/.



Deja un comentario

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos necesarios están marcados *

Back to Top ↑

Email