With members hailing from El Salvador, Chile, Argentina, Panama and Columbia, via Canada, Latin hip hop collective Los Poetas sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
Sure, everybody says that. This time it’s for real.
Led by park bench philosophers Louwop and Che Uno and Vancouver-based beats master Vago, supported by DJ Grouch, guest MC Afantu and visual artist (and budding MC) Leche, and backed by a smoking salsa band live, Los Poetas is the sort of group that could only be centred in a major multicultural city like Toronto, Canada.
Drawn together by a shared immigrant experience, fueled by a desire to celebrate their Latino heritage, driven by a passion for hip hop, and empowered by a deep sense of community, Los Poetas unleashed its free-flowing, socially-conscious rhymes, deftly paired with rump-shaking salsa and traditional Latin beats, on its 2014 debut album We Are Los Poetas. What resulted was a musical revolution worthy of Che Guevara.
“We found our sound when we went back to our roots,” says Louwop, explaining how they came up with their genre-bending musical approach. “Latin music is what my parents played around the house when I was growing up, but I got into hip hop through my friends. When we started to incorporate those traditional rhythms into what we were doing, we knew we’d hit on something special.”
On tracks like “Slaughter”, “Libertad” and “Silencios” We Are Los Poetas takes traditional boom bap, infuses it with Latin sounds, and spits out a lyrical vision as crisp as a fresh sheet of foolscap. Where the songs take on a life of their own is in Vago’s 2015 salsa remix of the album, which turned tracks like “La Situation”, “Rompe Cadena” and “La Lucha” on their heads, adding lilting beats, soaring horns and sensual rhythms to the stories of struggle, calls for justice, and flashes of both despair and defiance. It’s a musical intersection rarely visited, but it’s one that’s immensely rewarding.
With their impossible-to-keep-your-hips-still beats and two distinct voices that act as unifying instruments, these veterans of the Canadian hip hop scene provide unique insight into hip hop, Latino culture and the immigrant experience, brought to life in a country where diversity is celebrated and paying homage to your roots is encouraged. It’s a message they’ve already taken on the road in two South American tours.
Like bards throughout history, Los Poetas lyrically capture life’s beauty, intensity, anguish and hope, from the far-flung street corners of their birth countries, in the land where they found their voice. Theirs is both a personal and universal journey, one that resonates no matter your language, location or lineage.
“Listen to the poets,” says Che. “There’s power in the word.”