Venezuela is fucking intense. With Hugo Chavez up for his fourth term, pitting the working class against, like, everyone else, and global relations—from major oil deals to support for and against major rebel groups giving everyone a shit-fit—it’s no wonder Venezuelan music genres have super-intense names like Raptor House and Hard Fusion.
So when Joao from Buraka Som Sistema hit us up about a documentary some friends made about Venezuela’s ghetto-only dance music scene, Changa Tuki, we had to get to the bottom of things. We called up Juan Manuel Acosta, the director of ¿Who Wants Tuki?, to find out what was good.
Noisey: First off, what gave you the idea to make a documentary about Tuki?
Juan Manuel Acosta: About a year ago, Francisco Mejía (aka DJ Pacheko) called us and told us about research he'd been doing on the subject of Tuki music. He had finally met a Tuki producer and pioneer, DJ Yirvin, and he had so much material, we had to do something about it.
We set up a reunion with Pacheko and Pocz and decided to get all of it on tape. We knew the Tuki scene wasn’t as hot as a few years back, but the music was so unique, so ghetto, we felt it deserved to be at least documented, even in an independent, no-funding at all way.
I know it was initially frowned upon in all it's incarnations, from Raptor House to Hard Fusion, but has Tuki become more mainstream as of late?
I don’t know if we could say the music has become mainstream, but the word Tuki is of common use everywhere in Venezuela. When people refer to someone as “Tuki,” it’s an insult. The movement originated in the biggest slums of Caracas, so it’s wrongly associated with violence, delinquency, poverty, and so on.
As for the music, during the past year, Abstractor, especially Pocz and Pacheko, have been promoting and producing “Changa Tuki” and all the genres derived from it, and they have made it their mission to take this unique sound to parties, radio stations, web sites... You could definitely say Tuki is making its way from the underground to the mainstream arena, and we hope this documentary opens another window for it.
What was the whole controversy surrounding it anyway? Is Venezuela really so stratified that ghetto culture has to be suppressed?
It’s not so much that ghetto culture is suppressed, because hip-hop is huge here and very well accepted, but it has to do more with the fact that the culture in the barrios doesn’t follow the natural order of things. Even geographically, if you want to get into a barrio like Petare (one of the biggest slums of the country and South America) you would need a tour guide to get there. The intricacy and lack of structure of these places make it very difficult for something to get in or out, and we think that’s sort of what happened with the music. It was produced on busted PCs with cracked software, cheap keyboards and mics, burned on CDs and distributed through pirate sellers with Xeroxed cover art. If it wasn’t for the videos uploaded to YouTube (mostly recorded on cell phones), chances are, the rest of the country wouldn’t found out about it.
The controversy came later, when people out of the slums (middle and high classes) started calling anything that came out of the barrio “Tuki.” It finally became something negative, insulting, degrading on every level.
So is piracy a generally accepted thing in Venezuela? Is it a necessary means of promotion, and has the government done anything to stop it?
It’s definitely illegal, but as far as we know, the government hasn’t taken any drastic measures against piracy. On the contrary, I think they look the other way. There are streets in Caracas where you can find dozens of pirate videos and music stands side-by-side, in malls there’s always a store selling these items, and even vendors on the streets in traffic selling the latest pornos, movies, and records—all of it probably illegally downloaded from the Internet. A lot of time, it’s material recorded straight from a cinema, with people standing in front and stuff. We’ve even seen police and military officials buying music and videos from vendors. I’d say the government has bigger issues to worry about here, and since piracy has become a source of employment for a lot of people, it’s probably not their priority to eradicate it.
Speaking of priorities, though, you wanted to get this documentary out before the upcoming elections. How’s the arts community responding to another possible term for Chavez?
That's a good question. The vast majority of musical artists seem to be pretty timid about assuming a political position. Of course, there are exceptions on each side; there's a huge number of musical acts that appear on events for the opposition, for example, but when asked about political points of view, most of them say, "We're apolitical, we just want to make music and spread our message of nonviolence." I feel they just want to play it safe and take no sides (fear, maybe?)—it’s kind of bullshit in extremely polarized times like these, but I guess it’s still valid. Meanwhile, most of Chavez’s supporters show their colors proudly and openly. I guess that’s fairly easy when you’re on the government’s side; you’re supported and empowered.
But doesn't Chavez appeal to lower-class, ghetto populations? I.E., the same people listening to Changa Tuki?
We actually never addressed the subject of politics while taping the documentary, because we wanted to focus on the music. Nevertheless, we're pretty sure at least Baba and Yirvin support the opposition candidate, or at least that's what their Facebook profiles show...Things don't seem to be as they were a few years back, as far as Chavez's reach goes, but that's not our forte. I guess we will see about that this Sunday!
Awesome. Thanks for speaking to us!
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