Paz Ferreyra, a.k.a Miss BoliviaTuesday, May 20, 2014
‘Secrecy about pot use reflects a social stigma’
April 1, 1976
Favourite instrument: drums
Music taste: Lumo, Amy Winehouse, Xxyyxx, Atahualpa Yupanki
Currently reading: Amor y anarquía by Martín Caparros
Paz Ferreyra is much more than her fiery stage persona, Miss Bolivia. The singer-songwriter is also a trained psychologist and yoga instructor, whose interests lie in a range of topics, ranging from drug use to local history. She spoke with the Herald at her home in Chacarita.
How did you become interested in rap?
I did my secondary school in the US, in New York state, where I ended up falling in love with a rapper. He exposed me to everything that had to do with the East Coast, West Coast, Ice T, Ice Cube, etc. Now I’m feeling comfortable with a whole range of styles, and so now rap isn’t as present in the music I create, perhaps more in what I listen to. I’ve now also added a bit of sweetness to my music which has made it more accessible. That said, I haven’t stopped being a warrior with my lyrics.
Does that critical, warrior voice come from your personality or was it imported from some of these musical genres?
Part of me is a little rebellious. I don’t want to be ambitious and call myself a revolutionary, but I’ve been drawn toward it, toward revolution. Before I was a singer, I was a union leader at the television station where I was working, and prior to that I was a student councillor. I think my spirit is like a boiling-room, which I’ve just had to throw some rhythm into.
A lot of people consider rap and hip-hop to be very aggressive. Can anybody enjoy this type of music or do they have to turn up to one of your shows with the right kind of baggage?
I think rap is often very strict and aggressive and can become very exclusionary toward people who don’t tolerate that kind of aggression. Fusing different genres like punk and house can act as a balance, and I’ve tried to do that, not as a commercial strategy but because of a certain sort of stylistic desire I’ve felt.
Rap para las Madres (Rap for the Mothers) from your last album sees you making a fairly strong political statement. To what extent do audiences have to agree with what you’ve got to say?
I don’t know if the public has to accept my perspective or not; I think it has more to do with my wanting to put myself into the album. Miau is sung in first person, whereas in the previous album I tried to reach people with a bit of lyrical consciousness, giving it a more second-person feel. I look back at it now and I’m happy, but I think it was too ambitious to try to tell people how to feel.
And what’s your message with the song about the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo?
When I was a child I went to a private Catholic school, where we never spoke about the dictatorship. So when I went to the US for secondary school and they asked me to prepare a five-minute presentation about a topic from Argentina, I went to the library and got out a book. I found out about what happened in the dictatorship when I was 16. It was very powerful and upsetting. This song, Rap para las Madres, speaks about others but it also speaks about me, about where I’m from, which era I come from, the things that happened…
Another topic you’ve spoken out about is the legalization of cannabis. Are you surprised that musicians from your genres are some of the only people who are open about their use of pot?
Yes, I am to an extent. It has to do with social stigma and, at the same time, the history of genres like reggae and rap, which have always been about the word and not so much the traditional musical instrument. I think they’re communities where there’s a lot of transparency and an anti-system mentality.
What exactly is your position on the issue?
I’ve been very open about my opinion on cannabis legalization and use of marijuana. We’re living in a type of corporate dictatorship at the moment, where pharmaceutical companies try to monopolize anything that has to do with health and sanitation, because it drives their economic model. They have a huge weapon which are the corporations, but so do we: the microphone. What we’re putting put forward is a return to nature, which is contrasted with their approach which is to separate man from nature, more and more, in order to dominate him.
You’re also very open about your sexuality. How do you find your feet in musical communities with very staunch positions on homosexuality?
There are some things in life — without trying to be like a martyr — that involve personal sacrifice for the betterment of society. My mission has a lot of times been about going into ultra-conservative environments and making a rupture. I don’t like to put myself in a category with my sexuality because I think it can be damaging, but I will say that I feel privileged to have rarely been discriminated against, because I see it a lot. We’re a sick society, with a lot of symptoms of homophobia and xenophobia, and I think this can be tackled with music.
Do you feel privileged because you’re a woman? For a homosexual man in genres likes these, with their hang-ups about masculinity, surely it can’t be the same…
It’s true; when a man’s homosexuality and sexual liberty is discussed, it’s seen as bizarre and it’s difficult to see the respect from within the music community. Certainly as a woman it’s probable that I’ve been shown greater tolerance, but that also has to do with my personality and the type of woman I am.
You’re travelling to Europe soon. How do feel about people not understanding the messages and stories you’re singing about?
The first time I went to Europe, I did a gig in Stockholm that was full of gringos. They knew all the words phonetically, it was really crazy. In general, people don’t understand, but that’s not so important, because I think the focus is on music as a mantra. For example, a lot of fans in Europe dance cumbia the way we would here, when in many cases they’ve never seen us dancing it. That says a lot about music.
Do you feel the artistic community is ready for a possible end of an era, given the importance placed in the arts under this government?
The last decade has seen the artistic community empowered with a lot of resources. There’s also been a bit of cultural decentralization with the Music Law and the Media Law. I think the government has recognized the artistic community as an agent of social change and has given it resources, but it has also used it as a resource. I’m not sure if we’re ready to maintain our critical voice once possible drastic changes in ideology or social policy are applied. It’s like learning to ride a bike: we’ll just have to see if we can manage without the training-wheels.