Thursday, June 18, 2009


BorderOUT, a collaborative of queer immigrant artists, performed at SOMArts as part of the National Queer Arts Festival. Collectively, the serise of individual performances challenged the constraints of the traditions and cultures that these immigrants carried into the US. While some of the performances were original works and others were traditional, each of them questioned both how to break open the restraints of the original culture while honoring it, and remake the traditions into something new.

Maria Machetes, a singer from Uruapan, Mexico, sang Los Mandados, a ranchera famously sung by Vicent Fernandez. Los Mandados tells the story of a Mexican migrant that keeps attempting to cross the border, getting caught by la migra and sent back to Mexico. The song honors many of the famous crossing points and paired cities that straddle the border and the tenacious spirit of the migrant.

Machetes sang a cappella, in front of a screening of an International Workers' Day protest march that took place earlier this year in San Francisco. The march brought the lyrics, which ran in English translation along the bottom of the screen, to life by humanizing the people that attempt to cross the border and the workers that do make it across.

Machetes used the sheer range of her voice to imbue Los Mandados with the desperate struggle metered by tenacious hope of migrants.

While Machetes kept her performance to the border crossing, other artists played more with the intangible borders of culture, gender and sexual identity.

Colombian Soul performed a folkloric scene in which the men and women have clearly defined roles and dress. In the BorderOUT rendition though, some men dressed as women and played the female roles and women as men, playing their roles. It gave the sense that the individuals chose the roles that they would like to play. By doing this, Colombian Soul clearly challenged traditional gender roles even while performing traditionally.

Las Krudas Cubensi do in real life what Colombian Soul did onstage. These female hiphop artists could hardly find an audience in the male-dominated Cuban music scene but have a strong following here. The trio have taken many of the staple traditions of rap, hophop and reaggaeton and made them their own. One of the most successful acts of the nights, Las Krudas brought the audience to its feet with their infectious energy.


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