Two years ago, the Foreign Trade Ministry (COMEX) held an event in the southern Pacific port town of Golfito to educate the community about the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).
In an attempt to give the event some local flavor, Fernando Sánchez, a lean 22-year-old Golfito boy who never graduated from high school, was asked to come give a hip-hop performance.
He started rapping his anti-CAFTA rhyme: “If CAFTA is approved we’re going to lose our cultura … Let’s send CAFTA straight to the basura.”
They pulled the plug on him. But the crowd didn’t remain silent, he said.
According to Sánchez, who is now known throughout Costa Rica by his rap name “Nito Man,” the crowd began chanting “¡No al TLC! No to CAFTA!”
No one at COMEX remembers the event, according to COMEX spokeswoman Ana Jiménez.
Fast-forward two years later, and Nito Man was a guest of honor at this week’s CAFTA protest (see separate news story). The invitation from the anti-CAFTA front came after he rode a tide of controversy into the public light after his video was posted on the popular Web site YouTube.com (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT423FANotg).
Two years after he produced the rap with his boyhood friend DJ Curvas, the CAFTA debate is still going strong. The controversial pact, which would reduce tariffs on trade between Central American countries and the United States, is on the Legislative Assembly’s agenda for discussion after the International Affairs Commission passed it in December (TT, Dec. 15).
The song has been around so long that he had to rewrite a few lines to accommodate the fact that his favored candidate, Citizen Action Party’s Otton Solís, lost to Oscar Arias in last year’s election. He and members of the Cultural Movement against CAFTA spent months shooting and producing the video. The movement is a group of university students and artists known for having put together La Cazadora, an old school bus that travels the country educating Costa Ricans on the pitfalls of free trade through art and music.
Since the movement posted Nito Man’s rap online, it has been spreading through cyberspace and local media faster than foreign-owned hotel developments on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, having received nearly
The rapper’s tart but composed rebuke of the trade deal with the economic powerhouse to the north captures a slew of sentiments brooding among Costa Rican youth: political disillusionment after three presidents were hit with corruption allegations; frustration at seeing poverty in the streets but wealth in tourist developments and on TV; and a perplexing McGallopinto identity crisis in which Nito speaks out against U.S. imperialistic tendencies with shaky English (“you know?”) that may be good enough for a little Spanglish rhyme but perhaps not as a job skill in the global economy Costa Rica is entering.
The provocateur – who wears army fatigues, flings around a machete and idolizes Che Guevara in his video – swears his intention isn’t to provoke violence. To prove his point, he invited The Tico Times to see a sneak preview of his new video “Basta de Guerra” (“Enough War”) and talk about angered youth, upcoming protests and hiphop.
TT:What are your musical influences?
FS: Calle 13, the Mexican group Cartel de Santa and Panamanian El Rookie … in Golfito, that’s the music of the barrios – callejera music.
Why didn’t you graduate high school?
In school, I got good grades, but not in high school. I was very into music. I spent all my time rapping and singing. That’s when I started going to night school, because I was also working (with my father in his jewelry store).
Some say art and politics shouldn’t be mixed. It seems you don’t agree.
It’s conscientious hip-hop – hip-hop that talks about the country’s problems. I’m not mixing hip-hop with politics, but expressing the feeling of the pueblo. To rap is a feeling. I say what I feel and feel what I say.
Your video seems angry. What are you angry about?
With the government, with politics. The government isn’t the people in the streets. There are hungry people, homeless people. I saw the President with Ricky Martin; why isn’t he out there with a kid with nothing to eat, instead?
One of the posts on the Internet says you’re a “Gringo-fied idiot who is angry about an agreement with a country he wants to be living in.” How do you feel about that?
Maybe I pronounce words with a North American accent, like “you know.” But that’s part of hip-hop culture. That’s hip-hop style. And I have nothing against the North American population. North Americans are great people. They also criticized me because they said I’m against CAFTA even though I have a bunch of North American friends in Golfito. But what I say is against CAFTA, not North America.
What does Che Guevara,whom you idolize in your video, mean to you?
Che Guevara is an example of struggle, an example of faith. People ask me why I represent him if he’s an assassin. I represent him as an example of faith, not an example of an assassin … my weapon is my art: lyrics, song, letter.
In your video, you say,“If I have to die, I’ll die for my country.”What does that mean?
It means whatever happens, we’ll stay in the fight. The only way for me not to is for them to eliminate me. I’ll die fighting. I’m not going to be shut up. I’ll keep going and going and going.