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Feminist rapper Rebeca Lane channels activism through lyrical quest for liberation

Feminist rapper Rebeca Lane channels activism through lyrical quest for liberation

“Some people love me,” says the Guatemalan rap artist Rebeca Lane. “And a lot of people hate me. A lot.”

Listen to her music, and it’s not hard to see why. 

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The feminist activist-turned hip-hop sensation is uncompromising in her lyrical critique of her homeland. A homeland plagued by war, government repression and gender-based violence. But utilizing her musical platform to put on blast these social ills has cost her.

“It’s like I don’t exist in the music scene here, for the small music industry, even though I’m one of the most listened to artists outside of Guatemala,” Lane said. “I think that’s the way they try to shut me down. Like, ‘Let’s not give her attention here. So her words won’t resonate.’ In a way it’s sad, but it’s also a relief for me. If I had more attention on me, maybe I couldn’t speak about what I’m speaking. Because we’re living basically in a dictatorship. Right now, social activist, journalists are being threatened and they are being exiled.”

In the resilient and revolutionary spirit of Nueva Canción, Lane will headline Acción Latina’s 40th annual concert Encuentro del Canto Popular on Dec. 18, which for the first time will be held as a hybrid event, with the option to attend in person at Medicine for Nightmares 3036 24th St, or view on Facebook live. 

Headlining the 40th annual Encuentro del Canto Popular, feminist rapper Rebeca Lane uses her platform and lyrics to bring much needed attention and change to political repression and gender violence in her native Guatemala.

Lane—who is never one to mince her words—embodies that revolutionary vocal tradition.

But her rap career was one that happened by accident, and one born of struggle, survival and healing.

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As the civil war raged, Lane was born in Guatemala City in 1984. Like countless Guatemalans, Lane’s family suffered casualties. Just three years before Lane was born, her father’s sister disappeared and was kidnapped by the military government. That tragedy led Lane’s parents to raise their children in a delicate balance, one that shielded them from the horrors of war, but one that also armed them with social consciousness. 

To nourish this consciousness, her parents—in secret—let her read banned books and played music censored by the government. When peace agreements were finally reached in 1996, the 12-year-old Lane was confused as to why so many in her family shed tears. It took a moment to fully comprehend the totality of the event.

“And I remember realizing what it meant to be in a country with war,” Lane said. “Once I understood what war meant and what had happened to my family, I needed to do something.” 

And so began Lane’s journey of being a teenage activist in post-war Guatemala. In her 20s, she realized what it meant to be a woman, especially in activist circles. “Back in those days, you had to act like a man to be taken seriously,” she said. To be taken seriously by her male peers, she brawled with police in the street. But she grew tired of the performance, and fearful that a similar fate of being disappeared would befall her, Lane stepped aside from activism.

And that’s when feminism found her.

“I found it through theater. And for me it was really beautiful. It was not through books or through the university, it was not through theory. It was experienced. It was in the body,” Lane said. “When I started to speak out, it was my own living experience going out there. This is who I am, this is what I’ve gone through. These experiences I had, were violent. And were violent because I was a woman, and I wasn’t aware of that until I got together with other women to speak about it.”

Poetry readings and community festivals organized by activists served as the conduit for Lane to channel the rage that burned inside her. She embedded herself in Guatemala’s underground hip-hop community before ever taking her talents to the mic. 

“When I started doing rap, for me it was like an extension of doing poetry,” she said. “It was something like I never intended to make it happen. It just happened. And when I started doing it, all of the doors started to open for me. So I think it was meant to be. It was my destiny to do this.” 

Headlining the 40th annual Encuentro del Canto Popular, feminist rapper Rebeca Lane uses her platform and lyrics to bring much needed attention and change to political repression and gender violence in her native Guatemala.

Lane’s lyrics capture what it means to survive with the generational trauma of war and what it means to be a woman in Central America. Unafraid, Lane dives into lyrical waters that are often avoided and too real for the mainstream music industry.  

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“I think it’s a way of not losing my mind in this context, in this country,” Lane said of her music. “Many people here just give up and try to live their life like nothing is happening. Because it’s so hard to face everyday a country that is killing you. Either because you’re a woman, because you’re gay, lesbian or trans, or because you’re from a Mayan community or a Garifuna community, or because you’re a poor person. This is such a violent country. There is so much corruption, so much inequity, that is my way of not giving up.”

Seamlessly transitioning from spitting a verse to breaking into chorus, you can feel pain, the rage and the love in Lane’s lyrics. She learned to balance this range of emotions in feminists circles. This spirit of community is captured in many of Lane’s songs, but particularly in ​​”Nos Queremos Vivas.”

“It’s so important what we’re doing as activists, but it’s also so important what we’re doing as friends,” Lane said, recalling how the femicides of four young girls at the end of 2020 inspired the song. “I remember I couldn’t sleep for several nights. And some of my friends too. We were there for each other, calling each other. Everyday we need to be there for each other.” 

In “Quisiera olvidarme de tu nombre,” she wrestles with the connection to her homeland, likening it to a toxic relationship. Touring in places like Mexico, Chile and Europe for the better part of five years, Lane intentionally spent little time in Guatemala. In place of the happiness she thought she would feel by being away, she felt pain.   

“I still love this place,” Lane said. “Everything I love is here. I love this place as much as I hate it. That’s a heartbreaking song for me. Sometimes when I perform it, I cry. Because I love it so much it hurts.”

And just two months ago, while still making music fulltime and navigating a global pandemic, Lane welcomed her own daughter into the world, making her fight for a better world all the more real.

“Like when I say I want freedom for all women, now it has a face and it has a name,” she said. “Now it’s her. Now the struggle for me is more real than ever. Because if I want a young girl to be happy, to be free, it’s her. It’s my own daughter.”

The 40th annual Encuentro del Canto Popular will be broadcast on Facebook Live, at facebook.com/AccionLatina, on Dec. 18 from 6-8 pm, with the option of attending the event in person at Medicine for Nightmares, located at 3036 24th St, San Francisco. Please support and listen to Rebeca Lane’s music at rebecalane.bandcamp.com

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