We spoke to five Bolivian-American creatives who are expanding their narratives through varied forms of artistic expression within fashion, photography, music, film and art. Click through each page below for a different story.
STEPHEN LEON // DJ & PRODUCER
Quechua track titles and interludes weave their way into boom bap rap era beats as an unexpected amalgamation of two cultures. This surprise pairing established it’s delivery in Stephen Leon’s aka DJ Mastamind’s EP, INCA FACE KILLAH.
The title of his beat tape has a nuanced backstory that pays dual homage to his ancestry and the heavy-drum, lyrical rap style that can be defined through Wu-Tang Clan icon Ghost Face Killah.
“Growing up I’d always get asked questions about my “indigenous features,” he says. “They would often say ‘you have a cara de Indio’, so I adopted that description as a source of pride.”
Leon’s mom is from Cochabamba, Bolivia and his dad is from Chalatenango, El Salvador.
“Identifying as a Spanish-speaking Indigenous person usually opens up a whole conversation with some people, leading into various topics surrounding the connection of Indigeneity and Latinidad. I try to educate other people that may not understand the source of where that identification comes from.”
The presentation of his culture has been a constant thread of influence for his music, which started with DJing and progressed to beat making.
“I saved up to get my first turntables in middle school,” he reminisces. “At the time, I knew I really wanted to be a scratch DJ and the only thing that was accessible to me [were] my mom’s Bolivian records. Some of Bolivia’s Indigenous music has a lot of stops, chants and yells, and surprisingly scratching works pretty well.”
His DJing progressed to ’90s era boom bap rap records, which Leon characterized as a “pure hip hop training camp,” now often relegated to underground music arenas but still recognized as a foundational pillar of the essence of hip hop. This style is echoed in the emerging hip-hop scene in Bolivia.
“Two years ago on a visit, I noticed that hip-hop hit Bolivia hard—I’m talking like scenes back to the 80s and 90s—with kids break dancing, doing graffiti, DJing, rapping, etc. Seeing that has given me the inspiration to go back there and open a DJ academy in Cochabamba.”