Jewish Journal

Music: Hip Hop Hoodios do it up for due process at Guantanamo

by Dikla Kadosh

Posted on Sep. 8, 2007 at 8:00 pm

C'mon Mr. President, is this really us?
Home of the brave and the land of the unjust?
We the people, you're the government we can't trust
So I strangle the microphone and kick dust
Now you label us by another name
And attempt to indefinitely detain
With no trial at all, your little war game
It's un-American not to let us clear a name
The politically soaked title track from "Viva la Guantanamera," a five-song EP by the Hip Hop Hoodios, is more than a hollow attempt at activism by a crew best known for celebratory Jew-tunes such as "Havana Nagila" and "Ocho Kandelikas."

The Hoodios, a Jewish-Latino post-ethnic musical mash-up made up of Los Angeles-based Josh Norek and New York-based Abraham Velez, released the digital-only album on Aug. 7. And the duo are putting their money where their mouths are by donating 18 percent of the net profits from the sale of "Viva la Guantanamera," to Amnesty International's efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and restore due process.

It's not the first time Norek, 32, and Velez, 31, have made a political or social statement with a hip-hop beat and a latin jazz groove. Their 2005 album "Agua Pa' la Gente" included "Kike on the Mic," an anti-Semitism parody; a title track about the privatization of water rights in Mexico; and "Nose Jobs," a critique of society's obsession with self-improvement and extreme makeovers. But this new album is stretching into the socially just realm of the Dixie Chicks.

"The original idea was Frank London's of The Klezmatics," Velez said, referring to one of the Hoodios' collaborators. "He ran into Josh and was like, 'How about a nasty beats-heavy reggaeton-like mash-up with the traditional song "Guantanamera," which talks about the detainee issue?' So we ran with it.... But very important: the song isn't really about the Guantanamo Bay prisons, so much as it is about habeas corpus, the right to due process, yet with obvious reference to the Cuba situation."

The touch of Grammy Award-winning Ozomatli member Wildog helped guide the project through serious waters. As part of a multiethnic activist ensemble of musicians, Wildog was an ideal producer for this album. The collaboration, strangely enough, can partially be traced back to this newspaper.

"I read The Jewish Journal article about Wildog discovering his Jewish roots last year, and ran into him at a show a week later. I was surprised that he mentioned Hip Hop Hoodios as an influence in the article, and before we knew it, he offered to produce our new record," Norek wrote in an e-mail.

For Hoodios homies and honeys who love the group's more whimsical side, we assure you that it's still alive and kickin'. The hip-hop duo is already busy working on their next humorous and clever track, "Hoodia Para Me" (A Jewish Girl For Me). Here's an exclusive sneak peak at the lyrics:

I don't care about her color or creed
It's her big, plump, juicy kosher brain that I need
College educated, or natural genius
We'll run naked through the house
With the sheet between us.

The Hoodios encounter a flying yarmulke in 'Gorritos Cosmico'
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