The hip-hop group Rebel Diaz was born through protest. Their first major performance came in the midst of a sea people marching in Chicago for immigrants rights back in 2006. But for the two brothers Rodrigo Venegas (Rodstarz) and Gonzalo Venegas (G1) who comprise the New York-based crew, the seeds of music as resistance were planted in their upbringing. The children of Chilean activist parents who were exiled in the wake of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, they grew up listening to the political folk of nueva canción and the ballads of its bards like the legendary martyr Víctor Jara.
"We definitely draw a direct lineage," G1 says. "We feel that we're following that path of protest music and our popular music, our folk music is hip-hop." Since their inception, Rebel Diaz have transmitted revolutionary themes through their songs and mixtapes. The brothers took their platform to a new plateau last month by releasing Radical Dilemma, the group's debut album.
"We feel that Radical Dilemma is representative of our lives and what we've been involved in the last six years, doing community work in the Bronx, problems with the police and having our community center shut down," Rodstarz says. "The concept of the title comes from Soledad Brother, a book by George Jackson that we were reading while we on tour in Venezuela."
Taking its inspiration from radical literature, the substance of the album is incendiary but also very well balanced in its track selection. "You have the hardcore super political tracks with dead prez and Rakaa Iriscience but we also have the upbeat joints," G1 says.
The album's boom bap tracks are laced with everything from harmonious Black Panther Party chants of yesteryear to the "undocumented and unafraid" slogan that echoes in the contemporary struggles for social justice. KRS-One and 2Pac are vocally sampled dropping knowledge creating a revolutionary mosaic of sound--one that has attracted audiences worldwide.
"We like to consider ourselves part of that global hip-hop scene. As children of exiles, it has definitely been an internationalist experience," says Rodstarz. "The music is bilingual. The name of our group is bilingual and that opens doors." Countries that have invited them to perform include Greece, France, England, Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, and Venezuela.
In addition to the music, Rebel Diaz presents workshops at universities where they perform and have struggled to build an organized base for arts in New York. "We lost our original space, an abandoned warehouse turned community center, almost a year ago," G1 recalls. "We've been in transition for a year. We're currently at a storefront at the Bronx. Even though our space was raided and shut down as a result of the violent gentrification in the South Bronx, we feel like our work is still able to continue."
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As the rebuilding process goes forward, the brothers are now in Southern California to film a music video with Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoples for the remix of "Which Side Are You On?" a track off Radical Dilemma that meshes a classic militant labor anthem with rap. While here, they're stopping by El Centro Cultural de Mexico, SanTana's own autonomous space, for a show. "They can expect us to bring it with a lot of energy, passion, honesty and more than anything they're going to be lyrics that come from the heart," says G1 of concertgoers. "We going to have a good time. Hip-hop is a culture of resistance, but hip-hop is also a culture of celebration."
Rebel Diaz perform with Cham Kerem and Salvages at El Centro Cultural de Mexico, 313 N Birch Street, Santa Ana. Fri., 8 p.m. $5