(Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain)
So-called “CP time” was never a thing in my family. I don’t do late, which makes me feel very Canadian in Colombia. So I was surprised to find that a line had already formed outside of La Bolera San Francisco when I arrived, early (obviously). I was in cold-ass Bogota dressed in fair weather clothing, so I tried keeping warm by pulling up my hood and dancing to the music in my headphones while I waited to be let in.
In my 3 years in Colombia, I hadn’t been to the capital. But Un Buen Club — an event hosted by El Chojin, a veteran emcee whose career spans 20 years — was as good a reason as any to go. Besides being one of the first, El Chojin is also one of the most prolific rappers to do it in Spanish, having released 12 albums and 5 mixtapes as a solo artist, and 5 more as part of the group 995. Last December he released his first novel called En 2084 and I’ve been trying to get my hands on it ever since.
When I turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs inside the bolera I was greeted by El Chojin who recognized my name and told me we’d chat later. He kept his word, inviting me to a conversation after he finished taking pictures with everyone who wanted one.
I couldn’t call myself a fan before, having only learned about El Chojin the previous year. But it’s hard not to be impressed by a person who, apart from having a superhuman work ethic, turns his body completely towards yours to show that you have his full attention, and goes back to correct a minor detail in an off-the-record chat in order to give you the complete truth.
Unfortunately, there were no novels.
With El Chojin (and Lauryn) in Bogota
Do you feel Spanish? Do you identify as being Spanish?
How do you identify?
As being of African descent. I happened to be raised in Spain, but the defining factor in my case isn’t the place of birth but rather skin colour or “origin.” I don’t feel Spanish, but that’s because they didn’t allow me to feel Spanish. Since I was a kid they’ve always been sending me back to where I came from. “Go back to where you came from!” And when you’re a kid you don’t want that, you want to be like everyone else. But then you get to a point as a teenager when you finally say, “keep your country.”
So no, I’ve never felt Spanish. I don’t feel any pride in the Spanish flag, I don’t feel any pride in the history of the country or anything. I’m from my hood.
So would you say the racism in Spain is overt, or is it more polite?
The two exist, actually. In general, it’s kind of hidden. Because the Spaniard doesn’t feel that he’s racist, but he feels that he’s better than. The Spanish feel like Black people have come to the country to serve them.
But there have been times when there was persecution and violence by neo-Nazi groups, but the general population rejected that. Nonetheless… they don’t want to be considered racist, but they’re racist.
How was the process for writing the novel different from writing a song?
It was almost the same. The origin is the same: the need to share something. But it’s the development that’s different. With writing a song, you have to say everything you want to say in four minutes, and it has to rhyme and have a rhythm and it has to sound good. The novel gives you the opportunity to explain yourself more; to say absolutely everything you want to say.
For me it was a challenge because it’s a project that went on for various months. And you have to spend those various months focusing on something specific, fighting with yourself about what you like and what you don’t like. But it has been very satisfying for me because I needed to find something in which I didn’t feel completely comfortable. If you see me on stage I’m very comfortable, but I need to be nervous.
Yes, but also, I need a challenge. I didn’t know whether or not people were going to like my novel. But it seems they like it.
Do you still care what people think?
Yes. I say I don’t but I do. I lie. I wish it didn’t matter to me but it does.
And how long did it take you to finish?
I’m not sure. I know when I started, in 2014. But in between I wrote two albums, I had a television show, I wrote articles. I mean, I wasn’t concentrating 100% on the novel. My plan is for the next novel to focus 100% on that.
Something you might find interesting: I had an issue with the publisher. There was an author’s note that was supposed to be included with the novel, but wasn’t — it will be for the next edition. In the book I don’t describe any of the characters so that the readers can imagine them for themselves. And then finally at the end of the story, once you read everything, you turn the page and you find an author’s note that says, “You probably imagined that all the people in the story are White. But what if I told you that none of them were? Revise your thinking.”
Because this has happened to me too. When I read I imagine the characters are all White even though it doesn’t say that they’re White.
Or on the other hand, authors won’t mention race unless it’s a person of colour. Like White is the default. I noticed that as a kid and it used to bother me.
It still bothers me.
After all this time, what’s something you still struggle with as an artist?
Getting better. My problem is that I’m never satisfied, with anything. It’s not good because it makes it difficult for me to enjoy my successes. I have to learn to enjoy them. But I always think I could do better, always. I write a song and I like it, I perform it and I like it, but then afterwards I say, “no, it’s not exactly what I wanted to say.” So my great challenge it getting closer to what I actually want to do.