Sheer exposure to some of the world’s finest reggae musicians is reason enough to hit up WBLK’s Monday Night Edutainment dancehall party in Sebastopol. South American songstress Alika with Oakland-based selector DJ Stepwise gave an outstanding performance to a packed house last Monday at Hopmonk. Hosted by local DJs Jacques and Guacamole, Alika was fresh off Reggae River where she played with L.A. band Quinto Sol. DJ Stepwise opened the show with an incredible cultural history lesson in current Latin American music, mixing reggae and cumbia artists from Argentina to Panama, Mexico to the Caribbean.
Clearly laying down a precedence for Latin American reggae at the weekly dance party, Alika sang the entire two hour set in Spanish. Her message of universal rights was received by a crowd as diverse as the county offers. Although many folks couldn’t understand the lyrics, the good vibes united us across cultural divides.
Performing selections off her fourth album “Educate Yourself” along with several tracks from her newest mix tape “Unidad y Respeto” (“Unity and Respect” mixed by DJ Stepwise), Alika proved confident in connecting with a U.S. audience. Considered the No. 1 Spanish-speaking female reggae singer in world, her six album catalog features such artists as Mad Professor, Anthony B, and Mexico’s leading rapper Akil Ammar.
The seamless mix of roots reggae, hip hop, and cumbia rhythms incorporate Alika’s blend of streetwise female rapper with the air of a Rasta empress – at Monday’s show she donned a black Adidas jacket, high-top Nike kicks in pink, and a shirt with a artist’s rendering of Haile Selassie’s image under which read “Babylon Shall Fall”.
Before the show, Alika sat down with me in the green room to talk about the Reggae on the River music festival, her latest album, and why she loves people who pirate her CDs.
Tell me about playing Reggae on the River.
“The truth is it has been a while since we’ve been there but I’ve been following it for years. We played Saturday and it was the first time I had ever played. It was beautiful. I love to see people of every age dancing. It was a very beautiful, lovely experience.”
Who did you play with, your sound system?
“I played with Quinto Sol – they were my backing band. It was nice to be able to work with people from another place. I met them in Mexico a long time ago and over the years I would come to Los Angeles and we began to play together.”
So you stayed all weekend at Reggae, did you have a chance to see the Redwood trees?
“We stayed Saturday and Sunday but in reality no, there wasn’t very much time because we had to arrive at other venues. But it was a beautiful place. You could feel the people, how they are connected with nature and very non-judgmental. In South America it is very different; the people there are too shy to dance. You don’t see older people dancing at reggae concerts or even listening to it. I felt like the people are much more free here.”
Tell me more about your current tour.
“We have been on tour since the beginning of the year. It’s called “Mas Musica, Menos Balas” (More Music, Less Bullets). We went through Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, and in all different formats. I play with my band, the Nueva Alianza, but when I am in other countries I also play with different people. Here with DJ Stepwise and his soundsystem, and with Quinto Sol, also a band from here. It doesn’t matter the format, what we want to do is bring the music and the message everywhere we go.”
You where in Mexico before you arrived here. How was that?
“I was in Mexico in January, February and March. It was really good as well; the people of Mexico are a total love. We went to different places – we were in the Distrito Federal, we were on the Mexican Caribbean, we were in Merida, on the Yucatan Peninsula. All very good experiences, everything was really beautiful.”
Tell me about your new album, you just released a remix tape.
“Yes, it is a mix tape that Stepwise did just recently called “Unity and Respect”. All of the material we edited, 50 something songs plus an interview he did, is there on one album. It is for the people who have never heard of us. There, they will learn everything. And for the people who have been following me, well, here is my collection.”
Do you have anything new in the works?
“What’s going on right now is I want to liberate myself from the CD format. I started to release songs and give them away as free downloads to everyone. Right now I have a new video out in August called “Jengibre”. It will also be available for free download.”
What’s your motivation for giving them away for free?
“I like it! [laughing] I also think times are changing. Nobody listens to CDs really. Anyways, after the mix tape we made, we began to release songs once every few months. I let the people download them for free. Although there are sites that have the option for people to pay, if they don’t it doesn’t matter. I think it’s good to liberate yourself from the formats that record labels work in, because in the end you remain independent but with the same model as a label.”
You released your first albums without a label. Are you still an independent artist?
“Yes and I love it. The labels have come to find me but for now this is the best way – I feel very comfortable like this and I think it’s the best way to work. And what’s more, it coincides with the message. I don’t know if I could work with a record label because they always want you to change something, right? Like Immortal Technique. There is always something they want you to change and you can’t even finish saying what you want to say. If they don’t do it to your music, they will do it to your video.”
In Mexico, they sell all kinds of music at the flea markets and you can buy anything for $10 pesos. That’s actually where I first listened to your music.
“It’s a cultural revolution. I love it. I don’t even know how to say thank you to all the people who have done that. Myself, as a musician, what I want most is for people to listen. And this is how it happens. For me it has been really good, actually. With record companies before, everything was more controlled. But in Latin America, in South America, with the money one earns you can’t buy a CD because you have to take care of your family. Therefore if you can go to a tianguis (flea market) you can have access to music and culture. That is beautiful and that is why it doesn’t bother me.”
Wrapping up, here in the United States you have a strong presence with young Latinos who are beginning to recognize the music from their home countries. Chicanos especially, who were not born there but whose parents came from Latin America. How do you feel you can attract more young people to your music?
“I think it’s something that will happen naturally, something not to worry about. I don’t think I have to work at attracting them to the music. It will happen because of the lyrics – because what we say about life is the same thing that happens to them. From there, they will come closer. And the style doesn’t really matter. It’s the sentiments of the music that attract people more than anything.”
Are you anticipating any more tours in the U.S.?
“I hope so! If it doesn’t happen with someone else, we will come on our own.”
Tags: Alika y la Nueva Alianza, Hopmonk, Latin American Reggae, Reggae, Sebastopol