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Published 5 May 2016

The old school rapper shared with teleSUR his perspective on the future of popular music, working-class miseries and so-called artist-activists.

The old school hip-hop style of boom bap still has a future in Ecuador, when used in order to subtly enhance the beauty of traditional Ecuadorean music repertoires.

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Juan Pablo Cobo, aka Guanaco MC, gives a heartfelt homage to the Ecuadorean tradition of "Rockola" in his concept album “Blasfemia” —the fourth the rapper has produced in his 20-year career.

"Rockola," which means "jukebox" in Spanish, is popular music Ecuadoreans listen to while drowning their sorrows in alcohol after a long day at work.

Guanaco spoke to teleSUR about mournful music that lifts the spirit, a paradox characteristic to Ecuador.

In a previous interview you said “We have to rebuild popular music in Ecuador.” What did you mean?

It is time to become global, without leaving out native sounds. Moreover, “criollismo” (working class folklorism)—to which I am heading—is essential, because sometimes we divide things into categories: the traditional native folklore versus the global aspect, but in an urban context they transform, they mutate, they become a five-headed monster made by the people, not by academics—like techno-cumbia.

My album is named “Blasfemia” partly because rappers and traditional musicians could perceive it as a blasphemy: They can either feel offended, or enjoy the album.

I think this is a good moment to look back at your roots and create a more global sound.

Why do you think Ecuadorean music bears so much melancholia and suffering?

Manu Chao talked about the “malegria” (the fine line between bliss and grief), dancing and crying at the same time, I think this is a pattern we share with Dominicans, Peruvians, in all Latin America, and especially the Andean people, maybe because of the history of exploitation here, so partying has to do with sorrow as well.

The moving sound of the “requinto,” the traditional Ecuadorean guitar

Calero (Roberto, a famous Ecuadorean Rockola singer) also told me “Rokola is drinks, love and drugs.” Rockola a subworld, a marginal culture: that's why it goes hand in hand with hip-hop, so intimately, they have such a common language, they address similar topics.

They are also totally sentimental, they express love and all these primitive feelings we all share, while contemporary music expresses it in a more subtle way, with metaphors, but hip-hop is more direct. So ... if you dig music that kind of punches you in the face.

Your father was a mechanic, you come from the industrial city of Ambato and you are from a modest background. Tell me more about your experience when you arrived in Quito?

Not coming from the capital gives you another perspective—like the Beatles, or many groups that I like, partly because you don't absorb fashions—like hipsterism, etc. Myself, as a rapper, I listen to broader things, way beyond hip-hop, things that other rappers would feel ashamed to listen to.

I dedicated one song to my dad because he faced a lot of rejection when he was young, because he was ahead of his time but did not know how to channel positively this energy like I did with music. He was from the street and lived things I would never imagine living, so the song is a statement: call him “the Crazy,” but “the Crazy” has got a son, who is still crazy, but who can do positive things as well.

Guanaco's father stars in the album's teaser, performing a shamanic ceremony involving the statue of a llama. 
(“Guanaco” is a type of llama that lives in the Andean mountains)

Guanaco's grandmother, a guest performer on the album

Does Blasphemia intends to break class barriers as well?

“Blasfemia” is above all the son of someone from the people, from the working class. It's not a subtle, soft exploration: it is raw, it goes to the most extreme things, even in an aggressive way, like rockola, or salsa brava, all these genres born in the street. People who liked the album almost systematically listen to it while drinking in the street, and shedding a couple of tears — this was the goal of the album.

You defined yourself earlier as “half old.” Your lyrics say at some point: “While daddy's paying for everything, it's easy to be a bohemian rebel.” What is your relation with the other generations?

We believe we are generating change, but we are only repeating what the past generations have done ... My opinion might be too pessimistic as I believe human beings are a plague, an absurd disease, and all the positive behaviors we adopt and label as “saving the world,” I believe it only has to do with ego, because in the end we are the cockroaches of the world.

So how do you move forward?

I try to be positive, obviously, I do workshops with kids in the suburbs, but I don't claim to be trying to save the world.

A vinyl and a digital version of Guanaco's album "Blasfemia" is available here.

Guanaco's Facebook, Sounclound, YouTube.

Juan Pablo Cobo aka Guanaco MC | Photo: Guanaco MC

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