Speaking Out Against Oppression – An Interview with QuiQue Escamilla

During the his song, Mascara de EsperanzaThe Mask of Hope“, QuiQue Escamilla pulls a black balaclava over his face and begins singing the words:

I’m throwing this mask down right now

in exchange for equality and justice

I’m throwing this mask down right now

and I hope this vicious racism will be gone

I’m throwing this mask down right now

indigenous and mestizo should be one

Escamilla moved from Chiapas, Mexico to Toronto, Ontario at the end of 2007 as has been in Canada for the last 6.5 years. In that time, QuiQue Escamilla, 33, has tackled the daunting task of establishing himself as a musician in a country where he has no connections. He moved to Canada in order to pursue more opportunities and freedom to work as an Artist. Escamilla cites the importance of collaborating with other musicians. Performing with Danny Michel, whom he toured with last year as a pre-show opener and percussionist, helped to disseminate his music to Canadian audiences. “I have been so fortunate to merge into the Canadian scene singing in Spanish and playing music that not necessarily the most common in regards to styles,” states Escamilla.

On Escamilla’s newest album release, 500 Years of Night, many of the tracks are a platform for him to voice his perspectives on the social systems of Mexico. Escamilla aims to bring awareness and challenge perceptions in response to the EZLN, a civil resistance group fighting for the rights of indigeneous people in Chiapas, Mexico. “One day I was awakened by a speech in the square given by the leader of the EZLN movement. He opened my mind. I was moved. I was almost crying listening to this speech. It was so humbling to hear the reality of all these people who had been oppressed for a long time,” he says.

One such politically charged track is, Ni Uno Mas “Not One More”.  A few shots of gunfire and voiceover are heard in the starting track, archival footage from an actual protest. “In the chorus I call out for organization to get together and communicate… I felt a lot of frustration after that year. One more time we would have to live through another six years of terror and oppression,” he announces. However, Escamilla succeeds in bringing awareness to these issues through his music without berating the audience from a pedestal of superiority.

Many of the album tracks are sung in Spanish but Escamilla has no concern that his message is lost in translation: “I’m surprised by how music has the power to connect with people regardless of language and the style of music. The music speaks by itself regardless of the language. People come up to me and say: ‘I felt that song.’ It’s pretty nice to see that because if I was singing to a Spanish audience they would understand all the lyrics, but to an audience that doesn’t speak Spanish, it’s the music that it’s all being measured by,” he says.

A listener with the CD has the luxury of following the lyrics and translations to understand Escamilla’s message; however, he is successful in bridging this potential gap in understanding by providing summaries to his songs prior to performance in a live setting. “If I didn’t do that, I doubt that people would see my direction and purpose as an artist to convey a message. Everybody should be aware of it… music is a means to communicate things I don’t agree with about the world, society, and things that I think could be better. One of those is racism and discrimination, those things really shouldn’t exist anymore. I think music is a great means to address that and plant those seeds,” he states with understanding optimism.

The musical stimulus for Escamilla traces back to his upbringing in Chiapas, Mexico. Immersed in a culture saturated with musical exposure from the streets, markets, parties, and family gatherings, Escamilla began playing a wide array of music such as heavy metal, rock, and reggae. However, around the time he turned 19, his perspective and approach to music shifted: “I started to realize more about my life, my surroundings, and you notice that not a lot of things are right about society. One of those was going to speeches in public squares. Those were moments that really made me open my eyes about [what was happening around us]. All the [indigenous people of Mexico] that had been segregated and excluded out of the system. I didn’t really pay much attention to it growing up as a teenager in the middle class. I was just comfortable. I had a family that gave me what I needed, nothing luxurious. You forget about those things. As you grow up and start developing your own ideas, you start to say: ‘what this guy just said makes sense.’ All these [indigenous people] have been oppressed for so many years, 500 years, and it is wrong. Why are we not doing anything about it? Especially when they represent so much out of our culture. Indigenous people represent the true culture of Mexico. Some people see it and pretend they are not seeing it. For me, it is not my personality to do that, it is not who I am. Music is my best weapon,” he states with passionate fervor and a smile.

In addition to the social commentary in his pieces highlighting the EZLN resistance movement, Escamilla has purposely chosen a series of black and white images by Marco Antonio Cruz. “The person on the cover of my album. She died from untreated cancer,” he states before continuing, “I hope just see that I’m trying to bring it attention in an honest way.”

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However, not all Escamilla’s pieces are fueled by social commentary, such as Huapango del Tequila. While it may seem like a tequila party song, the musical construction of the piece is highlighting a part of Mexico’s culture: “I wrote the song with a particular old style of music that is actually disappearing. It is a beautiful rhythm but it is not so common today in the modern musicians of Mexico. I want to bring those traditional sounds with a modern approach: electric guitar with a drumkit and electric bass. I like tradition.” The other tracks such as Okavango speaks to the innate lure of Mother Nature that calls an Elephant into migration and Presa Fácil details how people are powerless when it comes to love: “Love is really what moves anything. I think, in a way, love is shown throughout the whole recording because we wanted to say something for others. I’m not the one being affected but I feel love for those people. It’s out of love that I want to see people happy,” he says summarizing his hopes behind the album.

It is clear that there is a depth of feeling within Escamilla for the people of this world: “It takes a long time to see what you have around, what life is about. Right now I am at that point where I can appreciate friends, family, and every human being.” It is apparent that this love for humanity fuels his desire to speak for the social injustices that all races face through the medium of music. Escamilla says the following statement with a warm smile: “I think there’s nothing that can’t be said through music. It’s just finding the right way.”

 

More insight into other tracks on 500 Days of Night:

“Nuevo dia, a Hombre Libre literally means ‘Free Man‘ hoping that one day we will have that capability to accept each other regardless of language, color, race, no matter what, we will be able to co-habitate without prejudice. The title is a dream that we will be able to reach that one day.”
500 Years of Night is the first English song that I’ve written. The title encompasses 500 years of oppression and the darkness we’ve been in. The movement is fighting for these people. The song is historically somebody has been a witness of all these problems in the world. It all came down to the moon. The moon speaks to the earth. The moon has been the witness. A long witness of the earth and hearing all the outcries. This is the only English song. I wrote this song when I was finishing the album it was the last song that I wrote. I felt comfortable actually thinking about it in English.”

 

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