Originally published at Global Voices Online
The sudden death of Bolivian hip-hop artist Abraham Bojorquez was especially hard on residents of El Alto, the city from which he hailed. A victim of a traffic accident involving a bus, Bojorquez left behind many fans around the world, but also left behind a legacy filled with memories and lyrics that reflected on the struggles and the hopes of a young city that has been through so much. Many Bolivian bloggers knew him well and in the weeks following his death shared their condolences and stories of how much they respected this artist.
A blogger from El Alto, Alberto Medrano of Letras Alteñas [es] remembers the first time he saw Bojorquez perform in Rio Seco in El Alto and how “many young people were left impressed with his cadenced rhythm of “Hip Hop” with an Andean flavor and with content of political protest and revolution, calling for justice for the bloody events of “October 2003.”
The events of October 2003 played prominently in the lyrics of Bojorquez. During that difficult time in El Alto, approximately 70 residents died during a conflict with the Armed Forces. The events have since become a rallying cry for those demanding justice.
In the early 1990s, Bojorquez emigrated to Brazil where he worked in a textile factory, but at the same time was introduced to hip hop. When he returned to El Alto, he started the group Ukamau y Ké and often rapped in the native indigenous language of Aymara. According to Cristina Quisbert of Bolivia Indigena [es], Bojorquez had “a particular style of combining hip hop with social order content and with valuing the Aymara culture, and won a place amongst the Alteño youth and in the places where he took his music and song.”
However, it was the coverage by the blog La Mala Palabra [es] that provides much of the follow-up after his death and the subsequent displays of homage and remembrance by many who knew Bojorquez. The blog publishes pictures of the wake and funeral that show the outpouring of sympathy from those that knew him well, and those that simply admired his work. At the wake, many friends and family came to pay their respects:
Su familia está destrozada y era obvio: el humilde hijo de migrantes campesinos (su familia es oriunda de Sapahaqui, provincia Loayza de La Paz) había logrado salir adelante pese a haberse criado solito, quedó huérfano muy tierno, cuando apenas tenía 4 años. Le vendría una vida jodida, en la calle, con tragos, con drogas, con pandillas, con cuates, con el trabajo esclavista en Brasil… Sus primos, sus tíos y allegados se sorprendieron el poder de convocatoria de Abraham porque cosechó con ese carisma astral-andina a montón de cuates y cuatas. Y ese fue uno de los valores que todos coincidían en destacar.
Varios tomaron el micrófono para recordarlo, para despedirlo, para decirle la buena gente que era, que es, que seguirá siendo.
His family is devastated and it was apparent: the humble son of peasant migrants (his family originated from Sapahaqui, in the province of Loazya in La Paz) was able to get ahead even though he was raised by himself, became orphaned at a young age, when he was only 4 years old. A very difficult life soon followed, in the streets, with alcohol, drugs, gangs, with pals, and with slave-like work in Brazil…. His cousins, uncles and close friends were surprised to see the power that Abraham had to bring people together because he used that Astral-Andean charisma with many friends. And that was one of the qualities that many agreed upon that he had.
Many took the microphone to remember him, to say goodbye, and to say how good a person that he was, that he is, and that he will continue to be.
La Mala Palabra [es] also writes about the burial that took place in the public cemetery in La Paz, and which attracted a wide variety of admirers, friends and fellow musicians. With such a diverse group, there was a slight disagreement on how to best pay their last respects:
Palabras póstumas, voces quebradas, cuates que alentaban a cambiar la actitud porque el Abraham hubiera deseado buena onda en su entierro. Lo despidieron sus cuates hiphoperos que escupieron su flow jodidas por las lágrimas. Un charango y una quena hicieron de coro y también los de la Saya Afroboliviana pusieron su canto, uno muy lastimero mezclado con resignación.
Antes de que el féretro ingrese al nicho hubo una singular disputa. Mientras uno de los familiares se puso a rezar, fue recriminado el hecho de que Bojorquez no era católico y que con el silencio debería respetar la memoria del finado. Sin embargo, otros presentes dijeron que el Abraham hubiera respetado la forma de pensar distinta y diversa a la suya, pues creía en la integración de todos. Todo un dilema.
Posthumous words, broken voices, and friends who encouraged a change in attitude because Abraham would have wanted a good mood at his burial. His hip-hop friends said goodbye with a rap jumbled with tears. A charango and a quena provided the chorus and even the Afro-Bolivian saya provided their song, one of pity mixed with resignation.
Before the coffin entered into its niche, there was only one dispute. While one of his relatives started to pray, he was reproached because Bojorquez was not Catholic and the memory of the deceased should be respected with silence. However, others who were present said that Abraham would have respected the different and diverse beliefs of others, because he believed in the integration of all. It was a complete dilemma.
Video spot of a public service campaign against noise pollution. Performed by Bojorquez’s group Ukamau y Ké in Aymara with Spanish subtitles
Nevertheless, words of sympathy from all across Bolivia continue to arrive from fellow musician, such as Ronaldo of Animal de Ciudad [es] from Santa Cruz. Bojorquez had performed across Latin America and had shared the stage with many well-known artists like Manu Chao and Bersuit Vergarabat. Finally, the blogger Pez Fumador [es] sums up his feelings after learning about his death:
No suelo ser muy expresivo en los momentos de dolor, pero la súbita partida de Abraham Bohórquez ha rajado algo en mi alma. Un joven trovador con muchas propuestas, con una lectura justa y visionaria de muchas cosas en nuestro país, el Ukamau y Ké me permitió conocer las vetas políticas y estéticas del hip hop en nuestro país. Además, me ayudó a tender puentes urgentes con mi hija… para poder seguir avanzando en este mundo cruel. Realmente una pérdida jodida para muchos… escuchando las canciones de Abraham, aprendimos sobre la realidad de los jóvenes, de la lucha contra el racismo y de muchas contradicciones nuestras y tuyas también.
I don’t tend to be very expressive during moments of pain, but the sudden death of Abrahan Bohórquez has cracked something in my soul. A young artist with much to offer, with a fair and visionary outlook on many things in our country. the Ukamau y Ké that allowed me to know the political leanings and aesthetics of our country. In addition, it allowed to lay urgent bridges with my daughter … to be able to continue in this cruel world. It was truly an unfortunate loss for many … listening to Abraham’s songs, we learn about the reality of the youth, of the fight against racism and about many of our own contradictions.