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News > Interviews

Mexican Feminist Hip-Hop Artist Raps Truth to Power

  • Mare Avertencia Lirika

    Mare Avertencia Lirika | Photo: Dioptria Studio / Courtesy Mare Avertencia Lirika

Published 28 March 2016

teleSUR speaks to Zapotec hip-hop artist Mare Avertencia Lirika about art, feminism, and how her music is a tool for social change in Mexico and beyond.

Mare Avertencia Lirika is a Mexican hip-hop artist from the southern state of Oaxaca whose politically-charged lyrics are an anthem of the movements fighting for women’s rights, honoring Indigenous culture, and propelling resistance in the face of repression.

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Tell us about your new song "Bienvenidx." What is the main message and what has been your inspiration for this song?

The song "Bienvenidx" is a reflection on the current situation in Mexico. Art for me has been a relief of what I’ve had to live, and in particular this was an analysis of what’s happening currently in my country. But it can also be adapted to any territory. I think that the issues of exploitation, systematic violence, displacement, the imposition of decisions by certain institutions are present all over the world. This song was a bit of this venting, in terms of what’s happening, how we don’t realize, and where we stand.

It also has the idea from the point of view of religion of how we often hope that something will happen when we die and that at that moment we will pass to really having a life or not. The issue is that sometimes we lose the responsibility for where we are living now.

For me it’s this idea of not having to arrive at another place, another dimension to change ourselves. It’s time to live now, and we have to take our own decisions and take the reins and also decide what we want in our lives.

How did you get involved in hip-hop and did you always intend to use your music as a tool of social change?

I came to hip-hop by chance. Since I was little I liked poetry, I liked protest music, which I got to know in public school and through the teachers’ movement there was at that time. When I discovered rap, at first I didn’t know where it would end up. It caught my attention, and gradually it took its course with respect to where I was doing it and what I had experienced before rap.

I brought some of this awareness – having grown up in a marginalized community, having participated in organizations, living in a dysfunctional family as it is marked within society, not having a paternal figure, living in a migrant family. I had many things that didn’t fit into the everyday.

When I started to do rap, I realized that doing it from my own experience meant I came charged with certain themes. And I realized that they were themes that nobody talked about, uncomfortable themes that also make an echo for the people who hear it.

So when I became aware of this, it became a greater responsibility, because it wasn’t just about doing music for myself, but making music with which other people could also identify and take as a voice that often we are denied.

How have your ideals and music been influenced by the specific situation in Oaxaca, one of the poorest states with a history of repression against social and political movements, and by the context in Mexico, a country with a lot of gender violence and high rates of femicide?

It’s always attributed to rap that it needs to be real, in the sense that the lyrics need to tell your story. When I started to do rap, I had an awareness and an analysis of my context, and started to talk about that experience of growing up in the south.

And I think another important thing has to do with these categories that are established for us. They say Oaxaca is a poor state, but it is a state that has been impoverished. It has a history of repression, but it also has a history of resistance, because it is one of the states with the greatest presence of Indigenous peoples and greater linguistic and cultural diversity. And all of this is what enriches and strengthens the culture in Oaxaca.

Seen from within, this process of resistance, historical awareness, historical memory is what gives us a path to follow. There are more and more repressive policies, a lot of criminalization against certain sectors, and one of the sectors that has been strongly criminalized is Indigenous and community organizations because there is a great interest in land exploitation. There are more and more policies designed to harm the population, and particularly certain sectors.

But I think that rap also becomes in this sense a means of communication to denounce. It’s a historical document that will record what’s happening now. It’s the importance of telling the true story, and it can be told from my perspective, but at some point it becomes a plural.

It’s also a process of constructing my ideas and creating anew with my own reflection and critical analysis, and often if we don’t start from our own criticism we can’t realize what’s happening on a larger scale. So I think part of it is that of creating ourselves as people to be able to then start thinking about transformation of the system.

What kind of machismo have you faced in the music industry and in society in general as a feminist rapper and how do you conceive of your role as an artist in changing these dynamics?

I believe it’s not just within rap, not just within art. Unfortunately, Mexico is a country that has a conservative stance in the sense that there continues to be many machista, extremely old-fashioned thoughts about women. Like in many other countries, we continue to be considered a minority, we continue to be treated like second class people, we continue to have our bodies suppressed.

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When I was little, I didn’t know I was a woman. I learned that I was a woman from understanding how the world treated me, from understanding the place I held in society, from hearing certain ways I was named. At that time I discovered that I was a woman.

I come from a family that, due to life circumstances, became a matrilineal family. We are mostly women, and the pillars of the family have always been women. So I never grew up with this sense of “I can’t,” or limitations like “you’re too delicate,” but there came a moment where I started to confront a society that isolates me, judges me, criminalizes me.

Another very powerful thing that I had to understand, which has also happened in many Latin American countries, was pro-life laws. The fact of being criminalized for the decisions I take was really powerful for me because I felt like a very free, capable person who could break with many things within my context, and yet I faced a situation of not being considered responsible or analytical enough such that other people have to decide for me through public policies.

So I realized that the place women hold isn’t something that we teach ourselves as women, but it’s been imposed on us.

Based on these reflections, I became a feminist with an understanding of everything that patriarchy had taken away from me. It has been a constant struggle including for me personally in terms of breaking with the stereotypes that I myself held about what feminism meant, what the role of women meant, what the struggle meant. It has also been about creating a general reflection on what I’m doing as these issues start to be brought out.

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Fortunately, increasingly there are women doing rap, graffiti, feminists are taking it on. So this starts to bring a different perspective. We’re no longer isolated cases, we’re not the rare ones. Increasingly the issue is being raised, women’s participation is being made visible, and women are organizing themselves to create their own spaces and own dynamics outside of of the constructions imposed on us.

We continue in a constant struggle where we still don’t know how long it will take us to change the situation in which we live, but I think that as feminist and women creators of hip-hop we promote this change and transformation both in thinking and in practice and increasingly break these stereotypes.  

Recently, the Mexican activist and political prisoner from the state of Guerrero, Nestora Salgado, walked out of jail. What does Nestora’s case represent for you and what is the significance of the fact that she is now free?

Nestora’s case has been very emblematic, particularly in Mexico where women have led many territorial struggles. For reasons of immigration, of women being more deeply rooted in creating and protecting life, there are many organizations that have documented territorial defense and women have been a key part of this. Criminalization against social protest, against Indigenous organizations, and against women that decide to break with these structures, has been very intense in Mexico.

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In the illegal detention of Nestora Salgado, accused of kidnapping 40 police, there was total state complicity to keep her in an isolated place. She received different treatment for being a woman. She was completely isolated, she didn’t have communication for many months until she decided to go on hunger strike, and she had a precarious health situation, for which they transferred her to Mexico City and she went back to having contact with society. Many political prisoners, men, are able to have communication with their families, but in the particular case of Nestora, she was totally isolated.

She faced much more repressive conditions because she is a woman. She also wasn’t treated with the same importance. There’s a lot of coverage of political prisoners as leaders and fighters, but for Nestora Salgado there was also criticism of her personal life, her role as a mother, there were many other questions that fortunately did come to light as much, but she received different treatment because she is a women.

Nestora being free is also an important reference point for the struggle of women. First, it points to the way the state and the system criminalizes us more for being women, and also how we can struggle, how we have the strength and can unite ourselves to take on these confrontations and move forward. I think the fact that the Comandanta has achieved freedom is a victory for social movements, but also for the whole women’s struggle that has been accompanying this process.

In Mexico, it has been a constant struggle because there has been a lot of criminalization against women human rights defenders and now we see that we can do this battle and that we can have the hope that things are going to change.

What can we expect to see from your music and activism this year?

I’m about to release a new album called Siempre Viva. It’s a very personal process. I think it’s my most personal album where I put things extremely close to my life and in a historical moment where I feel there is a lot of pain, a lot of hope, where I feel that unfortunately every day things are worse, and we have to on our fragility as human beings but also our strength to confront all this.

So I consider this album for me to be a breather. That’s what it was for me in the process, and I hope that when people listen to it also works this way so that they can take a breather because unfortunately on this path we have a long way to travel and it’s necessary to take these moments of rest and calm to be able to get energy and carry on tomorrow.

We’re going to do a little tour in Mexico, and a tour in the U.S. as well. Returning to Mexico, I have plans to do some talks and workshops in Indigenous communities in Oaxaca. There’s also the idea of doing the third generation of the Freedom School for Women, which is a feminist project that I have been participating in.

But I consider myself a gossipy person—concretely, it’s the album and the workshops project.

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