"Mexican rap at Herberger? How does one even begin to understand that?" exclaimed Phoenix resident Kimberley Corral upon seeing the electronic billboard outside the theater that read, "Bocafloja En Concierto." This was a common reaction shared by a surprised audience that has always seen Herberger Theater Center as a setting for the finer performing arts. While Herberger is the official home of Arizona Theatre Company and Center Dance Ensemble, other acts have graced the stage. Thursday night, featuring Mexico's most relevant rapper, was proof of that.
Through collaborative efforts from Arizona State University's Performance in the Borderlands and the School of Social Transformation, the Herberger will start to showcase an array of edgy performers for a multicultural audience. While he is by no means a household name in Mexico, Bocafloja (real name Aldo Villegas) is currently the most respected rap artist from our Southern neighbors. Often overshadowed by American rap and hip-hop artists, Bocafloja has struggled to make an impact on Mexican radio. But when listening to his discourse on live performance, one realizes fame isn't one of his goals. Bocafloja is a man of convictions and revolutions. As a scholar and a cultural maverick, he addresses and confronts controversial topics such as social oppression, genderism, and something Arizona is familiar with: border politics.
Thursday night, Herberger welcomed a mixed crowd made of ASU students and general attendees that got a little more than the announced performance by Bocafloja.
"Despite the wonderful theater, there won't be a lot of sitting" warned event organizer and host Mary Stephens.
The audience received a very interactive line of opening performers, amongst them local hip-hop duo Shining Soul, DJ Musa, and students from the different performing schools at ASU. The results varied in success with each performance, but overall, it was a thought-provoking warmup for Bocafloja.
With the whole audience standing up on the stage, Bocafloja picked up the microphone and introduced himself in a very soothing, comforting voice. He knew how important it was to be presenting his music in Phoenix, a city where politics (from civil rights to immigration) are directly confronted. When the beats blasted out of the speakers, Bocafloja's soothing voice turned bold. His command of the microphone kept the audience engaged, with almost everyone dancing around him.
"I have a hard time understanding what he's saying but whatever he's rapping about, it sounds like he means it," I overheard someone say in the crowd.
Bocafloja communicated in Spanglish unapologetically, urging the audience to sing along. The loudest reaction from the crowd came from Bocafloja telling the story of how Anonymous (the hacktivist group) used one of his songs when they hacked a Mexican government website.
"I was never consulted on that, I found out about it the next day when I had police outside of my house wanting answers," explained Bocafloja, who now lives in New York City.
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Bocafloja is also presenting his second literary work titled Prognosis, in collaboration with writer and poet Sidony O'Neal. They are hosting a poetry and book release tonight at Phoenix Hostel & Cultural Center. For Bocafloja, hip-hop is a tool for social deconstruction.
"I am here to assume my responsibility as an MC and a social communicator," he said at the end of the show.
The organizers of this event plan on bringing artists for a bicultural audience on a monthly basis. They've just announced they're bringing world-renowned Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux to the Crescent Ballroom on October 14.