18 questions for radical rapper Intikana

Intikana has Taina roots. Photo: Sandra Guzman
Thursday, September 4, 2014

Native Eyez
Intikana
Released August 2014
Stampede Fireflies
www.intikana.net

Bronx-based rapper, producer, film-maker and youth worker Intikana hits out at indigenous injustice, cultural colonisation and international imperialism, among many other topics. Green Left Weekly's Mat Ward put 18 questions to him. His absorbing answers are below.

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1. You rap that "When people ask me where I'm from, I say my mama." Want to tell us more about your roots?

My mother was born and raised in the Bronx. My father was born in Queens, New York and raised in The Bronx. Both of my parents are Boricua, also known as Puerto Rican. Boricuas have three primary roots or lineages: Taino, Spanish, and Afrikan. This is because Tainos were the native people of the Caribbean when the Europeans arrived. When the Spanish came to Borikén, they made a promise with our leaders for peace, but lied and ended up slaughtering our people. They raped our women and stole our land. Then, they enslaved indigenous people from so called "Africa" to dig and take our gold which we had in large amounts. Particularly in places like Cuba. Our history is not an easy one to digest, but I embrace learning more about my roots every day. I was told that my grandfather's mother was Taina. I'm still learning more about that. My mother's parents moved from Borikén to The South Bronx in the 1950s. My mother's father was from Joyuda, Borikén. My mother's mother was born in San German, Borikén and lived in a small shack. My family grew up poor in Borikén. H­owever, when my grandparents moved to the South Bronx, they worked extremely hard to support my family. My grandfather worked as a porter or "janitor" in Bronx hospitals. My grandmother worked in the factories sewing clothes, making ties, and stitching various garments. She also became an assistant teacher working with students who had difficulties learning. At first, it was hard for my grandparents because they did not speak any English and dealt with a lot of racism. However, they managed to save over the years and eventually bought a house in Cabo Rojo [on the southwest coast of] Borikén. Growing up, I used to spend my summers in that house. Running around in the mountains and playing with other kids in the park. I grew up in both The Bronx and Cabo Rojo. My father didn't really know his father. My father's mother was from Cabo Rojo.

2. Want to tell us about some of the main issues facing Boricua people in Borikén, also known as Puerto Rico?

Currently, Borikén is a commonwealth of the US, meaning Puerto Rico is not a state, it is a colony. The people of Borikén do not have a right to vote but we can be drafted to fight in US wars. In 1492, Spain began to colonise Borikén and in 1898, the US invaded and took over. We were promised more jobs and better living conditions. Instead, farmers lost their land and many were left unemployed. That took away many of our mom-and-pop shops and replaced them with malls, McDonald’s, Burger King, and many other corporate chains. Politically, Borikén has three options. We can either remain a commonwealth, or become a state, or become independent. Many people fear becoming independent because we would face many of the hardships that Cuba faced when it chose to become independent. Cuba is a lot bigger. Becoming a state would obliterate our identity altogether. It would be ideal for Borikén to be independent because we have our own resources and can find ways of being self-sufficient. However, the US government has taken away many of those resources and has made us very dependent on outside forces and importations. We import more than we export and that is a problem. The government has also experimented on our island and people in ways that is not only inhumane but largely ignored. They have been committing genocide on us and most people don't even know. They spent years bombing our island just to practice their nuclear weapons. They tricked our mothers, aunties, sisters, and women leaders into taking experimental injections that ended up making them sterile, meaning they were infertile and could no longer have children. The government also practised radiation on our people such as the great leader Don Pedro Albizu Campos and committed many other atrocities against our nation. Here is an article to learn more. [Also see Green Left Weekly's coverage of Puerto Rico here].

3. On your latest EP, Native Eyez, you rap: "When you see through Native eyes, you see through the lies." Tell us about it.

Most native people have suffered severe oppression from foreign invaders. Indigenous people of the world, for the most part, are in sync with nature and work in harmony with all that is natural. They harvest crops, they eat natural foods from the land, they make music with handmade instruments, they make unique art with beautiful patterns to tell their own histories, and they interpret the world according to the laws of nature. For example, the Tainos believed in the power of the sun as our source of life on this planet. They worshipped the sun, as many native people do. They worshipped the moon, the sky, the water, the land, and basically everything that is natural around us. In contrast, foreign invaders did not "see" life as the natives see and saw life. Many of the foreign invaders, primarily from Europe, forbade the natives to believe in their own ideologies. They forced many of them to convert to Christianity. If the natives did not convert to the new religion, the invaders would kill and murder them in front of their families and other native people. These foreign invaders were interested in gold, land, conquest, and power. These are two different ways of living and viewing the world. One people want to be in harmony with the planet earth while the other want physical riches, no matter the cost. Even if it means the destruction of this so called planet earth. When you see through native eyes, you can see how we've been lied to. You can see through the ingenuine, artificial, fake, and honestly evil ways of colonisers. When I look at the world, I look at it through the lens of a native person and when I do that, I'm able to see truth. I can see through the traps and overall design of our own oppression.

Consider this an urgent emergency, red alert
Put your hands in the air if you descended from indigenous birth
Make some noise if you wanna save what’s left of the earth
And witness spirits of your ancestors rise through the dirt

- Intikana, "Culture Shock"

4. You rap on "Native Eyez" about being given first and last names that don't mean anything. Tell us the meaning of the name you use, Intikana Kekoeia.

Intikana means "Instrument of the Sun" in Quechua, which is a native Inkan language. It also means that which has no beginning and no end. Kekoeia is a name that one of my Taino elders gave me, which means "Earth Star". Intikana Kekoeia gives me definition and strength. Both words together create: Sun, Moon, Star. Having a name with no real meaning is sad because it deprives one from living up to something great.

5. The video to "Native Eyez" heavily features the late Russell Means and other indigenous activists. Want to tell us what they mean to you?

The brother Russell Means transitioned two years ago and is no longer with us in his physical form. So, respect and love to him and his family. I respect all people of all backgrounds who fight for what they believe in. As long as it has to do with freeing people from bondage and spreading positive values. Russell Means was a leader for his native people and I admire that. I never got to meet him, but I am very well aware of his contributions to the native community. He put his own life on the line at Wounded Knee to stand up against the US government for the many atrocities committed against them. The "Native Eyez" music video features footage from various documentaries and he came up in quite a few of the ones I watched. He played a major role at the reclaiming of Wounded Knee and thus he was in a lot of the footage that was recorded during that time.

6. What would you say are the main issues facing indigenous people in the US today?

I think one of the main issues facing indigenous people in the US today is invisibility. Most people in the US know little to NOTHING about native history. Our education system here in Amerika focuses on teaching us about European history. We learn about the medieval times and the renaissance and all of these European generals, painters, artists, etc. We don't learn about the history of the Caribbean or South Amerika or Central Amerika or "Afrika". We don't even get to learn about the indigenous people that were here before Europeans arrived. All we learn is that they used to be here and now they're not. For most people of colour, we learn that our history started with slavery, which is NOT TRUE! Our people have histories that are endless and are filled with incredible accomplishments and feats. I would say our greatest challenge is learning who we are. We don't speak our own language. We don't know our own history. We no longer "own" our own lands. The indigenous people of the US today live on small reservations with little resources. Also, the government makes sure there are plenty of stores with alcohol and cigarettes to keep them addicted to that which brings death. However, they don't provide them with access to healthy foods, clean water, or any means for self-sufficiency.

7. You've collaborated with radical Indigenous hip-hop artist Provocalz from Down Under, right?

Originally, [Provocalz's brother] Benjamin "Native Sun" Lawson connected with me on Facebook. He put me in touch with a number of hip-hop artists from Australia. Provocalz was one of those artists. He ended up sending me a message expressing that he had listened to my music and wanted to collaborate. I was honoured and eager to build. I checked out his music and it was all about uplifting the people so I was down. Provocalz told me about a music project he was working on titled "Only Built For Koori Linx", which will be released soon. He asked me to send him a drop shouting out the project so, with no hesitation, I did. Then, he asked me to send him another drop for his friend DSYPL who had passed away. Again, I was honoured and sent him another drop. Then, he asked to collaborate on a song titled "Survive". I listened to it and began writing to it immediately. I loved the beat and was inspired on the spot. We're still working on filming the music video. [Provocalz hosts a downloadable radio show previewing the mixtape that features his and Initkana's track here].

8. Tell us about the clips and songs you made in Cuba and what you learnt there.

Cuba changed my life. It is difficult to express in words all of the lessons I learned, but Cuba taught me so many things. I filmed three music videos there - "Amistad", "Mucha Presión" and parts of "Culture Shock" - and a rap freestyle video titled "Intikana Freestyle [Habana, Cuba]". I was also featured in a group music video while there called "Protesto". There are so many stories behind the images filmed in those music videos. I filmed most of those shots. Some were filmed by other artists I met while there. There were a number of artists who were instrumental in shaping my experience. Some of those individuals include Miki Flow, Brebaje Man, El Tipo Este y Magia de Obsesión, Indiana, La Real, Ali Dahesh, Antony of Egypt, David & the Omnibus collective, Danay Suarez, Ania, Narking, and many others. Cuba is unlike any place I've ever been to. I could honestly write a book about my experiences there. I am a better and stronger person because of those experiences. I love Cuba and wish its people peace, unity, and freedom always.

9. On the album Penumbra, which autobiographically illustrates your life, you recount how your father would send you letters while he was in jail and you never knew he was imprisoned. What sort of lasting impression did that leave? Did it make you less likely to believe what you're told?

Interesting question. Receiving letters from my dad in prison made me want to learn how to write. In school, I became so advanced at writing that they would sit me in the back of the class to draw because I was so far ahead of the class. I was frequently writing letters to my dad expressing my feelings and talking about what I was going through at the time. Those experiences did leave a lasting impression, but it took me years to overstand how it really affected me. I am in no way mad at my dad for going to prison, because – honestly – he was just another person trapped in the system. I did not grow up with a political understanding of the world. I grew up with real life experiences that taught me how the world is. Trust is a difficult topic, but to answer your question, I don't simply take words at face value. I analyse and judge many things when it comes to what people say. I view actions, sincerity, and see beyond flesh. If you're real, I'll see and feel it. If you're not, I'll see and feel that too.

10. Your song "Anoxia's Inertia" addresses cheap labour and sweatshops in Third World countries. Want to talk about it?

In 2005, I witnessed a presentation by a man named James Keady of an organisation called "Educating for Justice". He showed a film titled "Sweat", which was about the labour conditions of people working in Third World sweatshops. He spoke about his experiences campaigning for changing wages and showed footage of him at an actual sweatshop in Indonesia. I had never heard of this before. I was shocked and upset. In The Bronx, I grew up wearing name-brand clothes because that's how you were supposed to look to be "fly" or keep up to date. When I learnt of those horrible and unfortunate conditions, I went to a family shelter near my school and donated all of my Nike, Timbaland, and other name-brand sneakers and boots. Then, I wrote "Anoxia's Inertia". Anoxia is when a baby is born and is not getting the oxygen it needs to breathe. Inertia is the tendency for an object to continue in the same state of motion. I called it "Anoxia's Inertia" because I felt that's what sweatshops were. An oppression or lack of fresh air continuing with no end. I decided to do what I could by educating people on what was going on. For more info, visit www.sweatthefilm.org

11. Your song and video clip "Arizona" addresses similar conditions in the US though, doesn't it?

"Arizona" addresses the discriminatory SB 1070 law, which gives police the right to search people and check to see if they have ID or a green card based upon the way they look. If they are not a citizen, they can immediately be deported out of the country. This law doesn't encourage the police to search Caucasian men in business suits, but rather men and women and families of colour. This was clearly unfair so [musician] Navegante and I decided to make a song about it. In making this song, I learned about the harsh realities of Mexican and Haitian workers in Immokalee, Florida, picking oranges and tomatoes for less than minimum wage. I couldn't believe that this was happening in the US. I eventually learnt of a protest that was taking place in Florida and put up my own money to fly out there and see these realities for myself. The protest was organised by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). I got to meet the workers and hear directly from them what they were dealing with. I was horrified. One family allowed me to stay with them and film them to document their story. Their story became the centrepiece for the "Arizona" music video. The conditions in which these indigenous people were working are definitely similar to the oppressions of sweatshops and even reminiscent of slavery. They are in the hot fields all day, picking miles of vegetation at wages that keep them in poverty. To learn more, visit www.ciw-online.org

In the Mexican American War of 1846-1848
The United States invaded Mexico
Disregarding its native immigration laws
Forcing Mexico to sell half of its territory
Including Texas, California, Nevada,
Wyoming, Colorado,
New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona
The reality is we sit on stolen land
Now it’s our time to stand up and take it back

- Intikana, "Arizona"

12. Tell us about your tracks for Sekou Odinga, a US-held political prisoner jailed over 30 years for fighting for the freedom of Black people and the building of the Republic of New Afrika.

"Freedom Ain't Free" is a family and friends CD compilation of songs, spoken word, hip-hop and poetry for the political prisoner of war Sekou Odinga. In seeking to contribute to this powerful compilation, I wrote and recorded a poem titled "Invisible Scars", produced by GoldBird NE Studios. On my website www.intikana.net, the track is available for free download along with the CD's first single: "Be Sekou" by M1 of Dead Prez and Divine RBG. To learn more about Sekou Odinga, or to support & download the complete 27-track tribute, visit www.SekouOdinga.com

Locks click
Pipes clank
Cell fills with roaches
Toilet bowls over flow
COs approach and don’t even know Nathaniel
Burns like six counts of consecutive life sentences
Sekou Odinga in prison doesn’t even make sense
They Can’t Jail The Spirit
The Mind’s infinite

- Intikana, “Invisible Scars”

13. Tell us about your song "Lil' Afrika", in which you rap, "it's the new name for Amerika".

I say "Lil' Afrika" is the new name for Amerika because I was seeking to show how much the people of Afrika have contributed to this country. It was built entirely upon their labour and enslavement, along with the labour of immigrants. In the song, I also refer to the genocide of the original Native Americans who were here long before any of us. I chose to call the song “Lil' Afrika” in reference to how rappers are always putting “Lil'” in front of their name. I also chose to call it that because I was referring to how Amerika is also a smaller, puzzle-like piece connecting to Afrika. At one point, when this entire planet had one land mass called Pangea, we were all together. When the land separated and after history played itself out, it became “Lil' Afrika”, or a little version of Africa. Furthermore, after making the song, I did additional research on the word “Africa” and I have come to learn that Africa is not even an appropriate name for the continent. According to "The Lost Aboriginal heritage of the so-called Negro-African-American" by Chief Amaru Namaa Tag Xi-Aly Muhammad, in 146 BC, Leo Scippio - a white Roman general - defeated the infamous Moor general Hannibal in a battle. The area conquered was then renamed "Africanus Proscunsularis". Roman coins produced in AD 136 under the white Emperor Hadrian bear the name "Africa" which is supposedly the first time the word "Africa" appears anywhere. The more I learn, the deeper the rabbit hole gets.

Officially salute us
We're descendants of a message
We're reclaiming the land
In the name of our ancestors
America wouldn't exist if it weren't for Africans
For the natives, immigrants and their slave labor
How do you justify centuries of this behavior?

- Intikana, "Lil' Afrika"

14. You've performed for Saving Underground Artists (SUA) in Arusha, Tanzania and you're about to return to Afrika. Tell us about your time there.

SUA is an INCREDIBLE movement in Tanzania. Brothers Daudi "Daz" Bakari and Biggie Roggie Shirima are doing an amazing job at organising people to engage in authentic hip-hop culture. They allowed me to perform for SUA and also do a workshop for the people of Kijenge Juu, a town in Arusha. It was very transformative and I was able to connect with so many great people. They were so receptive and so open to building. They asked a lot of questions and also taught me many things. I recorded a song with them on my new EP titled "Baba", which means father in Swahili. It was produced by Daz and features Biggie Roggie Shirima and Abdala "Dwee" Said. I also thank Mama C (Charlotte O'Neal), Pete O'Neal and the United African Alliance Community Center for organising my visits and taking care of me during my time in Arusha.

15. On "This Is For You", you rap about keeping your students out of jail, right?

I work with many youth throughout New York City and the world, many of whom live in impoverished conditions. I've performed and done workshops on Rikers Island, which is New York City's main jail complex. I've also worked with youth in juvenile delinquent centres in upstate New York. For the past two years, I've been doing weekly workshops with children in shelters teaching them ways to express themselves through poetry and rap. I've also spent the last six years mentoring teenagers in group homes. I always encourage the youth I build with to stay out of trouble and do good. To follow their hearts, avoid negative energy, and do their best to not repeat mistakes. I educate them on their culture, history, and provide them with tools to learn. In NYC, people of colour often get stopped and frisked, arrested, beat, and even killed - for no good reason. When I rapped that line in "This Is For You", I'm speaking about how hard I work to keep my students from falling victim to the system. I've had students get stopped by police, maced, and arrested on their way to my class. It's not easy. I do my best to be there for them.

16. On "Second Wind" you rap about being vegan then giving that up. Tell us about it.

I spent two years of my life living as a hardcore vegan. I learned how to search for, buy and cook vegan foods. However, it was expensive and very difficult at times. It was also tough to be at a friend's house and have them offer me a home-cooked meal, only for me to say, "No, thank you. Sorry, I can't eat that." Nonetheless, I enjoyed the discipline part of it and being healthy. In 2006, I was granted the opportunity to live in the rainforests of Costa Rica for one month to study nature and primate behaviour. During my stay, I lived with a family who would cook for me and a group of other students every day. The food was delicious, but it was not all vegan. There was a girl also staying with us from New York who was also vegan. She chose not to eat anything that wasn't vegan-friendly. Every day, the family offered fresh, cooked meals and she would refuse, often only eating the little she could. It came off as very privileged and annoying. She also looked very unhealthy and malnourished. From that point on, I could not see myself saying no to people who were sweating over the stove all day to cook us food. I found it rude to refuse the food, so I decided to eat what they served us, which was absolutely delicious. Ever since that trip, when people ask me, "Are you vegan? Vegetarian?" I just say, “I eat grateful.” At home, I do my best to buy and cook healthy foods. When I am out, I do my best to eat wise. Sometimes, it's hard because I live in The Bronx, where there is nothing but fast food and just unhealthy grub. And as an artist, I am always on the move. Regardless, at this point of my life, I'm eating the most healthy I've ever eaten and I exercise regularly. #RBGFitClub

17. On your song “Boricua Warrior”, you urge people to "Study! Study! Outside your classes!" Want to talk about the importance of extra-curricular study?

In the words of [hip-hop pioneer] KRS-One, "Travel is the greatest education." Imagine instead of paying thousands upon thousands of dollars to go to college - and often graduating in debt - we chose to spend all of that money on travelling to all of the places we've ever wanted to go. Any country, any location in the world. We would learn so much by meeting and interacting with so many diverse people. We would live moments and build stories that would last a lifetime. Books are great and so are informative documentaries, but there is nothing like first-hand experience.

18. Finally, you stay true to the ethos of spreading knowledge through hip-hop. Would you like to tell us some of your favourite books and - because you are also an award-winning film-maker - some of your favourite films?

Books: Assata: An Autobiography; The Autobiography of Malcolm X; All Things Censored by Mumia Abu-Jamal; Stolen Legacy by George GM James; They Came Before Columbus by Ivan Van Sertima; Metu Neter by Ra Un Nefer Amen; Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization (Exploding the Myths) by Anthony T Browder; We Took The Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with The Young Lords by Miguel "Mickey" Melendez; The Tao of Wu by Rza; The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano; Can't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff Chang; Born In The Bronx by Joe Conzo; The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Amaru Shakur; Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P Newton; The City of Wellness by Queen Afua; Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer; The Diario of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America 1492-1493 by Dunn/Kelley; Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee; The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; The Art of War by Sun-Tzu; Behold a Pale Horse by Milton William Cooper; The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders by John Potash; A Short Account of The Destruction of The Indies by Bartolome de Las Casas, and many more. Films: Motorcycle Diaries; Fidel; We Shall Remain (five-part documentary series); The Larry Davis Story; Reel Injun: On The Trail of The Hollywood Indian; Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa); Fania All-Stars live in Africa; Fania All-Stars live in Puerto Rico; Sonó Sonó: Tite Curet; Rhyme & Reason; Prison Song; Marley; Pulp Fiction; Searching For Bobby Fischer; Pinero; Friday; Coming To America; Beat Street; Style Wars; The Freshest Kids; Wild Style; The Industry; Bling (hip-hop documentary on blood diamonds); Hidden Colors 1 & 2; Malcolm X; Rize; Shottas; Fruitvale Station; Akeelah and The Bee; Ong Bak; Enter The Dragon; Belly; The Godfather; Do The Right Thing; Poetic Justice; The Matrix; Roots; Set It Off; 8 Mile; Boyz N The Hood; The Great Debaters; Tupac: Resurrection; Pi by Darren Aronofsky; Requiem For A Dream; Rise of The Planet of The Apes; Grave of The Fireflies; The Boondocks (Animated Series); Animatrix; Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, and I also like Charlie Chaplin films! Thank you very much for this wonderful interview. Peace & Blessings!

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