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Inter­view with Rebe­ca Lane about the decol­o­niza­tion of fem­i­nism, ter­ri­to­ry and community.

Art is a vehicle for the memory of peoples. Making art is making historical memory”.

(Part 1 — Part 2)

We meet in Guatemala City at the begin­ning of Sep­tem­ber, under a trop­i­cal rain in the green gar­den of her house where her firm and pas­sion­ate words stand out.

Through the streets of many cities around the world, as well as in the inter­na­tion­al and Latin Amer­i­can ini­tia­tives of the Kur­dis­tan Wom­en’s Move­ment, we are accom­pa­nied by her art, music and poet­ry, as well as the dreams shared in the struggle.

Rebe­ca Eunice Var­gas Tamay­ac, known as Rebe­ca Lane, is a com­mit­ted artist. Her songs have had inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion since her admirable and sur­pris­ing artis­tic evo­lu­tion in the last ten years. Rebe­ca takes her name from her aunt, poet and guer­ril­la who has been dis­ap­peared in the 80’s by the army in Guatemala.

In this inter­view, she shares with us with enor­mous sen­si­tiv­i­ty and crit­i­cal view on the social strug­gle against dis­ap­pear­ance, the capac­i­ty of music to accom­pa­ny and heal, on hip-hop as a polit­i­cal move­ment in Guatemala, on the impor­tance of the trans­mis­sion of knowl­edge full of love among women, and the need to inter­con­nect the strug­gles, between inter­na­tion­al­ism and decolonization.

Less than a month after this inter­view, on Octo­ber 1, Rebe­ca gave birth to her daugh­ter Valenti­na. Dur­ing the inter­view we also dis­cussed lib­er­at­ed and con­scious ways of liv­ing moth­er­hood, in the voice of Rebe­ca: “There is a lack of care for life that derives from cap­i­tal­ism. We have to talk about these issues. It has been very hope­ful in recent years, break­ing taboos and hear­ing about the preg­nan­cy seen from oth­er rad­i­cal perspectives. ”

At the end of the inter­view, Rebe­ca shared her voice for the lib­er­a­tion of our sis­ter Nûdem Durak, a Kur­dish singer, impris­oned in 2015 in the cur­rent dic­ta­tor­ship in Turkey for teach­ing and com­pos­ing songs in her moth­er tongue.

By Alessia Dro

Alessia Dro is an activist for the Kurdistan Women’s Movement in Latin America. She has been traveling the Latin American continent for more than three years to build bridges from a dissident, feminist, anti-capitalist and anti-racist transnational solidarity. She shares collective words from the borderless community of the Kurdistan Women’s Movement, embracing its international significance.

Rebeca Lane

Rebe­ca Lane (Pho­to AD)

Alessia • From the rhyme of the song called “Kix­ampe” where with Sara Cur­ruchich you sing: “We are the fire that burns his­to­ry” and “our threads weave mem­o­ry”. For you, and from your artis­tic and per­son­al expe­ri­ence, what is the link between Art and Mem­o­ry? In Kur­dis­tan there is an ancient form of impro­vi­sa­tion with the voice: the singing prac­tice of “deng­bêj”, which trans­mits leg­ends and tales of resis­tance through gen­er­a­tions. Like rap, the art of the Kur­dish “deng­bêj” per­sists as a very impor­tant form of mem­o­ry trans­mis­sion in the 21st century.

I think that art has been a vehi­cle for the mem­o­ry of peo­ples. If, for exam­ple, we want to see what hap­pened in the Span­ish Civ­il War, we go to the books, to the tes­ti­monies, but if we want to inves­ti­gate the feel­ings of the peo­ple and how they thought at that time, we could go see Pablo Picas­so’s Guer­ni­ca: art has a way of col­lect­ing his­tor­i­cal peri­ods and moments that escape from offi­cial his­to­ry, because many times what is tra­versed in offi­cial his­to­ry is the his­to­ry of the vic­tors and a counter-nar­ra­tive must be cre­at­ed. From peo­ple who have been more oppressed, more affect­ed. And art has this capac­i­ty, because as an artist, you are con­nect­ed with caus­es and with your com­mu­ni­ty. We have to con­sid­er the issue of silence in art, which also speaks. For exam­ple, there is a song by an argen­tine song­writer called Char­ly Gar­cía that says: “dinosaurs can dis­ap­pear …” this is a top­ic that talks about the dic­ta­tor­ship in Argenti­na and the dis­ap­pear­ances, but does not men­tion any­thing polit­i­cal, this song comes out in the con­text of an Argenti­na liv­ing a dic­ta­tor­ship where there were many dis­ap­pear­ances. Not in all con­texts peo­ple can be explic­it. In fact, Sara Cur­ruchich and I are from a gen­er­a­tion in which we can express our­selves artis­ti­cal­ly, but here in Guatemala artists in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s even 90’s could not express them­selves through art if they were not in exile or if they were not assas­si­nat­ed, or if they weren’t missing.

Rebe­ca Lane and Sara Cur­ruchich with Lore­na Kab’­nal from the Net­work of Ances­tral Heal­ers, one of the pro­tag­o­nist of the “Kix­ampe” video clip. (Pho­to: PrensaLibre)

So I think that in all con­texts art tells this thread of mem­o­ry that escapes from books, from offi­cial sto­ries and even unof­fi­cial ones. Because what an artist con­nect­ed with com­mu­ni­ty does is absorb what is hap­pen­ing. In Kix­am­pe’s song, with Sara Cur­ruchich, what we ana­lyzed was that in recent years there have been pop­u­lar insur­rec­tions through­out Latin Amer­i­ca, where there are gov­ern­ments of the right and of the left, both in con­texts of repression.

There are gov­ern­ments that, even though they are called left­ist, con­tin­ue to repro­duce the neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ist dynam­ics of extrac­tion, there is still no respect for indige­nous peoples.

The only thing that changes is the empire because here the right-wing gov­ern­ments are linked to the US empire, but the left-wing gov­ern­ments have sold the coun­try to Chi­na, which is still com­ing here to do mining.

These gov­ern­ments of the left have not trans­formed the eco­nom­ic mod­els that cap­i­tal­ism sup­ports, there­fore, although their gov­ern­ments are of the left and are involved in social poli­cies, they real­ly con­tin­ue to be func­tion­al to the right. So when we see pop­u­lar insur­rec­tions, we take these emo­tions and these feel­ings and trans­late them into a song. As artists we are not in an ivory tow­er writ­ing, iso­lat­ed from the world, we are between the strug­gles, where they are hap­pen­ing and we are in what hap­pens around us, you go through it, you chal­lenge it and then you trans­form it into some­thing else. I believe that mak­ing art is mak­ing his­tor­i­cal memory.

In 25 years from now, if some­one lis­tens to these songs they will know how we thought, how we felt, how we artic­u­lat­ed our­selves polit­i­cal­ly, what slo­gan was heard in the streets, what hap­pens to us now if we lis­ten to the art that was made a few years ago.

Alessia • What you tell me on one side is close­ly con­nect­ed with what activists and artists, such as Zehra Doğan and Nûdem Durak, are liv­ing today in Kur­dis­tan, where art and music want to break down the walls imposed by all cen­sor­ship and dic­ta­tor­ship. Zehra Doğan is a painter, ex polit­i­cal pris­on­er and Nûdem Durak remains in jail in Turkey to this day sole­ly for hav­ing sung her resis­tance com­po­si­tions in her moth­er tongue, Kur­dish. But what you are talk­ing about also has to do with the spe­cif­ic fea­tures of the mem­o­ry strug­gle in your coun­try. What is its history?

The war in Guatemala end­ed in 1996 with the sign­ing of the Peace Agree­ments. Two years lat­er, dif­fer­ent inves­tiga­tive com­mis­sions began to pro­duce cer­tain reports shar­ing the find­ings of human rights vio­la­tions dur­ing the war. For two more years, until 1998, there was still a dan­ger­ous cli­mate of per­se­cu­tion. For exam­ple, Mon­sign­or Ger­ar­di, who head­ed one of these inves­tiga­tive com­mis­sions, was assas­si­nat­ed in 1998 just a few days after pre­sent­ing one of the his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry reports.

Nûdem by Lau­re
One of many works made in the con­text of the #FreeNudem­Du­rak campaign

Then, in 96 an open armed con­flict between guer­ril­la forces and the state of Guatemala end­ed, which does not mean that the war in Guatemala has end­ed. I think this is impor­tant to say: the left groups are offi­cial­ly demo­bi­lized but the state has nev­er dis­man­tled its counter-insur­gent strat­e­gy. All the Peace Agree­ments that were ful­filled, yes they were ful­filled, worked to dis­arm the pop­u­la­tion that was up in arms. The peo­ple who were upris­ing were demo­bi­lized and what hap­pened in oth­er con­texts hap­pened, we even see it in Colom­bia, when the nego­ti­a­tions began: when the pop­u­la­tion begins to be dis­armed, which is in armed resis­tance, then the com­pa­nies enter, with their pri­vate secu­ri­ty and with the com­plic­i­ty of the armies and nation­al police forces, then they can ful­ly enter the ter­ri­to­ries with­out encoun­ter­ing resistance.

For this rea­son, in my opin­ion the war in Guatemala did not end because the state nev­er stopped hav­ing this type of repres­sive prac­tices. But there were def­i­nite­ly things that changed after the Peace Agree­ment. One of these was the pos­si­bil­i­ty that through art and in gen­er­al I would say through free­dom of expres­sion there is a very marked dif­fer­ence between peo­ple who made art in wartime and peo­ple who start­ed mak­ing art lat­er. I believe, as I men­tioned ear­li­er, that it was very vis­i­ble that dur­ing the war art itself and the dis­cours­es that were armed through art were under­stood as sub­ver­sive and there­fore artists were seen as inter­nal ene­mies and were treat­ed the same. that the rest of the pop­u­la­tion that was up in arms, dis­ap­peared, mur­dered, exiled.



Free Nûdem Durak”
inter­na­tion­al campaign
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YouTube | Rais­ing

Alessia • In this con­text and in the con­text of hip-hop as a cul­tur­al and artis­tic move­ment in Guatemala as in your songs, dif­fer­ence and pow­er, dis­crim­i­na­tion and priv­i­lege, colo­nial­ism are ques­tioned not in sta­t­ic terms but in terms of sto­ries and expe­ri­ences that also weave us together.

In the 96, many artists not only expressed them­selves artis­ti­cal­ly, they were also polit­i­cal­ly orga­nized, which is why they were dan­ger­ous because they did not just deliv­er a speech, they were peo­ple who had col­lec­tives and were in oth­er orga­nized activ­i­ties apart from what they could show through art . I’m going to talk about the city, which is the place where I am from and the one I know the most — because I was 12, 13 years old at that time — at that time I was already very aware of what was hap­pen­ing, I did­n’t under­stand it. in the total­i­ty but I wit­nessed a gen­er­a­tional change. The first thing that one begins to see in the city are groups mak­ing music, in whose speech­es the theme of peace was gener­i­cal­ly, not jus­tice. They were even speech­es that per­haps came from a priv­i­leged mid­dle sec­tor. But despite being speech­es with­out much depth, there were moments in which there was repres­sion in this type of concerts

In the city’s neigh­bor­hoods, many demon­stra­tions of com­mu­ni­ty the­ater and hip-hop began to appear: young peo­ple who until then could not orga­nize because they were seen as ene­mies by the state. Most of the young peo­ple who live in the city’s neigh­bor­hoods are young peo­ple who had been demo­bi­lized from their com­mu­ni­ties because of the war, or because of a very strong earth­quake that occurred here in 76, and also because there was no work: the war caused a very strong pover­ty. Here in the city an impres­sive num­ber of peo­ple begin to come who have to aban­don their iden­ti­ty: they could not say where they came from, what their last name was, what their lan­guages ​​were, because the Mayan peo­ple of indige­nous peo­ples were also seen as inter­nal enemies.

This is how the pos­si­bil­i­ty of artic­u­lat­ing one­self from these types of artis­tic man­i­fes­ta­tions aris­es and a sense of com­mu­ni­ty and iden­ti­ty begins to be cre­at­ed in the uproot­ing, and hip-hop is one of these cul­tures. Hip-hop is a cul­ture that is begin­ning to be born in these neigh­bor­hoods and that gives young peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to enun­ci­ate them­selves and tell their sto­ry and where they come from.

Hip-hop for me is the voice of a gen­er­a­tion of neigh­bor­hood youth who begin to use art to express the effects of the war from their lives and over the years lit­tle by lit­tle these artis­tic expres­sions that begin in a space of fun, they begin to artic­u­late and prob­lema­tize more. Then hip-hop begins to be a voice to speak of injus­tices and there it begins to artic­u­late as a polit­i­cal move­ment that, how­ev­er, is not politi­cized: most of the young peo­ple who are part of hip-hop do not have a polit­i­cal con­science of the struc­tur­al rea­sons for pover­ty, or of the sit­u­a­tions that they have had to live in, but they live them, and they tell them, and this makes it a polit­i­cal act for me, because they are no longer in silence. They decide: “I want to tell my sto­ry.” Hip-hop is a polit­i­cal movement.

Alessia • Your artis­tic work inte­grates and gives voice to the prac­tice of mem­o­ry recov­ery in your coun­try. In Kur­dis­tan this is a very impor­tant issue, I think of the Sat­ur­day Moth­ers who, like the Moth­ers of Plaza de Mayo, in Argenti­na, con­tin­ue to oppose the forced dis­ap­pear­ance of their daugh­ters and sons fight­ing every day with­out surrendering.

This year, a few days ago, with­in the frame­work of the Inter­na­tion­al Day of Vic­tims of Forced Dis­ap­pear­ance, you par­tic­i­pat­ed in the cre­ation of “I will search this way”, recent­ly released. How did this song come about?

It was about 4 months ago that I was pre­sent­ed with a song from the 70’s that had been adapt­ed by tak­ing the phras­es of the fam­i­lies who were in search of their dis­ap­peared rel­a­tives in Gua­na­ju­a­to, in Mexico.

The search for dis­ap­peared per­sons in Guatemala has occurred in the con­text of the war. For me, see­ing groups in Mex­i­co that are active­ly look­ing for their rel­a­tives today is like going back to the war years. Many peo­ple who are seek­ers in Mex­i­co have been mur­dered, they have to go look­ing in clan­des­tine ceme­ter­ies and dig up with their own means look­ing for the DNA of the rel­a­tives, that is, it is a very cru­el job. The same hap­pened to the rel­a­tives here in Guatemala. The first peo­ple who demand­ed to search for their dis­ap­peared, as in the case of Nineth Mon­tene­gro, who was the first per­son to make civ­il resis­tance, chained out­side the Guatemalan Con­gress and had to be dragged out. They kept ask­ing: where are they, where are they?

Where are they ?” A.D. On the walls of Guatemala City, August 31, 2021.

For the Kix­ampe video, the place that we chose in Guatemala is a cer­e­mo­ni­al space in Word, guard­ed by CONAVIGUA, which is the Nation­al Coor­di­na­tor of Wid­ows of Guatemala. This place is a for­mer mil­i­tary con­vent con­vert­ed into a cer­e­mo­ni­al space where there are sev­er­al skele­tons that were exhumed. Some were iden­ti­fied, oth­ers were not, but they were in a dig­ni­fied way, and for this rea­son it is now a cer­e­mo­ni­al space.

But to see this cru­el search hap­pen­ing today in Mex­i­co is very strong, to see how this cru­el fight con­tin­ues. Fam­i­lies should not be search­ing clan­des­tine graves, this should not be hap­pen­ing. I think that pre­cise­ly because of my fam­i­ly expe­ri­ence and the expe­ri­ence of my coun­try, it was also impor­tant for me to join the project of the song “So I’ll search for you”, assum­ing the chal­lenge that was one of the last projects I was going to par­tic­i­pate in, for the last weeks of my preg­nan­cy and because I am record­ing a new album. So we cov­ered a song from the 70’s based on a new ver­sion. The tra­di­tion­al song was more folk and this one that we did has more mod­ern over­tones. What we did was a rein­ter­pre­ta­tion, respect­ing the lyrics very much, under­stand­ing that it comes from a sit­u­at­ed expe­ri­ence. In these process­es, it is impor­tant for me that peo­ple can lis­ten to them­selves. More than a song in which I put what I thought, it has been a song in which we tried to make the fam­i­lies’ words be heard through music.

» Part 2

Image : Presse Rebeca Lane
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