Accompanied by a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Managua, Brooklyn-born rapper George “Ritmo” Martinez and DJ Smash toured some of the more depressed barrios in Nicaragua this week in an attempt to inspire at-risk youth by channeling their creative talents through hip-hop.
The “cultural ambassadors,” as a U.S. embassy called them, visited León, Rivas and Managua this week, where they discovered that the U.S.-born art form is well-received among young Nicaraguans.
Martinez said Nicaraguan culture has a “different type of feel” than other Central American countries.
“There’s a sense of optimism, hopefulness here that’s not in other places. Most people have some sort of connection to this culture of hip hop. It’s hip hop al estilo nicaragüense,” he said.
He lauded Nicaraguan police efforts to work with at-risk youth to offer them alternatives, instead of just enforcing laws as in other Central American countries. He said anti-gang efforts here have been very successful for that reason.
“For the most part police were open and took seriously the idea that they can make a difference with young people working in these communities. That’s a different police culture than I’ve seen in other Latin American countries,” said Martinez, a New York native whose mother is Honduran and whose father is Puerto Rican.
Martinez was the first U.S. hip-hop artist to be elected to public office, as ombudsman of his community in New York. He’s also a professor of political science at PaceUniversity.
“Our grand message was that by using the power of hip hop and creativity young people can actually improve their future with some things they already have like graffiti, for example. The difference between vandalism and having a small biz is where you put your graffiti,” he said.
Read more on this story in an upcoming edition of The Nica Times, an eight page publication of The Tico Times.