MADELEINE BRAND, host:
In Bolivia there's been a lot of political turmoil recently. Last month nearly two dozen people were killed in unrest. Here's one silver lining - musicians are producing protest music from all of this, including hard driving political rap. NPR's Juan Forero reports.
(Soundbite of music)
JUAN FORERO: Indigenous music from the highlands capturing the hard lives of its people, but Bolivian music also comes from the far eastern lowlands. Guitar-laden cruceno, music made for dancing.
(Soundbite of Bolivian music)
FORERO: In the South, there's Enriqueta Ulloa and her folkloric songs.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. ENRIQUETA ULLOA: (Singing)
FORERO: Now, a new kind of music has spread like fire across the gritty cinderblock city of El Alto - 14,000 feet up in the highlands, home to hundreds of thousands of Aymara Indians.
(Soundbite of Aymara rap music)
FORERO: The music is rap, and it's hard and fast. Here railing against consumerism and money, and promising to break the chains of oppression and spark revolution. The music is in some cases sung in Aymara - the predominant tongue among highland Indians in this region of Bolivia.
The lyrics stem from Bolivian's tradition of protest music, condemning the Yankees, while celebrating the newfound power and influence that had buoyed indigenous people here since Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, won the presidency in 2006.
(Soundbite of song "We're Going To Rise Up")
FORERO: The song is in Aymara, called "We're Going To Rise Up". The songwriter is Abraham Bojorquez.
Mr. ABRAHAM BOJORQUEZ (Songwriter): (Spanish Spoken)
FORERO: Bojorquez is explaining that the song tells the story of Bolivia's native people, children of the great warrior, Tupacatari, and the Aymara's long struggle. He says his music tries to speak for the people, to denounce injustice, or to honor indigenous communities for, what he calls, the recuperation of indigenous identity. Alvaro Montenegro, who teaches at the National Conservatory of Music, also produces rap music at his home studio.
(Soundbite of song "The Abyss of Racism")
FORERO: Like this song, "The Abyss of Racism", by Bojorquez. It says racism is here, there, everywhere. When will it stop? Montenegro says it's a theme, familiar to many Bolivians. Among the hard social themes that spawn, and continues to inspire, Bolivian rap.
Mr. ALVARO MONTENEGRO (Teacher, National Conservatory of Music): The youth of El Alto was looking for a particular personal expression in order to find a vehicle. Not just a vehicle to put forward their own ideas, their own ways of thinking, their own ways of challenging society.
FORERO: Montenegro says young Altenos, as they're called, began rapping in 2003, when Bolivian troops shot several dozen demonstrators. It was an event that helped propel Evo Morales to power. As Bolivia's first indigenous president, Morales has promised to overturn the old social order. That gave rappers even more to sing about.
Mr. MONTENEGRO: Since Bolivia was in the political eye of the world, and these young musicians, some of them became pretty famous. You know, had tours already in many countries in South America, and have received a lot of attention.
FORERO: Many of the rappers fine-tune their work in a radio station in El Alto, Wayna Tambo. Under bare light bulbs, squeezed into a small room, Bojorquez, and his fellow musicians, practice. The next day they're off for a concert in Ecuador. Freddy Limanchi runs the tracks, the heavy beat at the base of rap music.
Mr. FREDDY LIMANCHI: (Spanish Spoken)
FORERO: He says there's clearly American hip-hop in the music, but there's also a fusion with trumpets, bongos, and windpipes. That gives it a Bolivian twist. Juan Forero, NPR News, El Alto, Bolivia.