Local performers get stage time at cantina

Hannah Bartman

Strolling down Main Street and looking in the quaint boutiques of Walla Walla, one would be surprised to find out that there are battles raging just a mile from the Whitman College campus. However, these are not battles of blood and gore, but battles of wit, speed and accuracy. They are rap battles that take place every month at La Ramada.

Thus far, four shows have taken place on Friday nights at La Ramada, a Mexican restaurant and cantina on Isaacs Ave. They have drawn a large audience of hip-hop enthusiasts during the short time they have been running. Beginning at 9 p.m., the night includes a rap battle, breakdance performances, and hip-hop performances by local artists.

Local restaurant La Ramada has played host to four rap battles so far. Photos by Catie Bergman.

“It’s not anything that we’re profiting from; it’s just an opportunity for people to get their art out there,” said Alberto “Beto” Sanchez, organizer of the rap battles. “We just want to make music and be heard.”

According to Sanchez, hip-hop  has four central elements: DJ, MC (rapping), breakdancing and graffiti. The MC and breakdance artists of Walla Walla have not been given a chance in the past to display their skills. Through this opportunity offered by La Ramada, they hope to find a way to shine.

“This is my main idea: to work with these people and give them the opportunity to do something good,” said Gustavo Guerra, manager of La Ramada. “I like to work with the local people because you have to support your own people.”

One reason that the hip-hop culture is so unrecognized in Walla Walla is because of the negative image that goes alongside hip-hop culture. Hip-hop is usually coupled with the stigma that accompanies gangs, violence and drugs. Popular media has manipulated the image of hip-hop into a seemingly aggressive and confrontational mode of expression, but according to local hip-hop artists, this gives the public a false view of the culture.

“It’s so easy to turn on the radio and hear the saturated rap that’s out there,” said local hip-hop artist Joaquin Avalos. “If you really look for it, there are people out there, like me, that are doing something for the culture, and that means doing something that’s going to last.”

By creating this lasting music, the local artists are resolute in their resolve to promote positive messages.

“Hip-hop is seeing someone else struggle and reaching out and making their life better,” said Avalos.

Avalos believes that this mentality can be achieved through music or through any sort of activism against poverty and suffering. Avalos and Guerra both cite Tupac as a pivotal hip-hop artist who wrote about the truth and the “keep your head up” mindset.

“When someone speaks on a subject about something that you really went through, it’s a totally different connection with the music,” said Sanchez. “I think that that’s been taken out of hip-hop because now it’s mostly focused on what makes money.”

Avalos cites his inspiration as the difficulties that he has encountered in his life growing up in Walla Walla. Supported by his mother who rose five kids on her own, Avalos says he received inspiration from his own struggles and he hopes to create music that can speak to other people.

In one of his songs that he recorded in his own studio, “Celebration of Life,” Avalos sings, “It’s a celebration of life, we’re staying alive/ If you’ve been through hard times then you know what it’s like.”

In this way, Avalos hopes to connect with people and speak to their struggles. At the same time, hip-hop is also a performance art with a main objective to entertain.

In a rap battle, each artist is given a random beat and one minute to freestyle against the opponent. The point is to extemporaneously create lyrically clever lines while insulting your opponent. The battles at La Ramada are judged by three breakdancing artists, as they have the background knowledge needed to issue an executive decision on the winner of a battle. The battles are conducted in a bracket style, with the winner ultimately rapping against the champion from the last battle. Whoever wins this last battle receives half of the cover charges ($5 is paid at the door for each audience member).

This is followed by performances by the breakdance artists, who bring their own music and rehearsed dance. Then, the hip-hop artists are given an opportunity to perform raps in front of the audience. The set-up of the show creates a diverse mix of talents and performances to watch.

“Not all of the performances are the type of music that everyone is going to listen to, but there’s got to be a little part of the show that everyone is going to like, whether it’s the freestyling, breakdancing or rapping,” said Sanchez.

Avalos described hip-hop as a movement that arose out of the social activism that was present in the ’60s. Whether it was through the struggles bred by the anti-war movement, civil rights or student protests, the ’70s produced a generation of oppressed artists who used hip-hop to get their message across. The media then took hold of this new form of music and popularized it on a global scale. With this newfound fame and attention, hip-hop artists could force the world to pay attention to their struggles. These struggles included discrimination, police brutality and other social injustices.

“There [are] different categories within hip-hop, but the biggest thing is that it’s the voice of the people. The voice to say that something is wrong and what can we do to fix it,” Avalos said.

Hip-hop still serves as a tool for artists to get their message across, which is what Avalos and Sanchez hope to do through their music. Sanchez is a member of the rap group ‘2 Sick’  in Walla Walla. 2 Sick has performed in 12 shows around the area but has only been given the venue of La Ramada in Walla Walla. Avalos creates his own songs, and has also only been given the chance to perform at La Ramada.

The next show hosted by La Ramada will take place on Friday, Sept. 28. Local artists hope that through their proof of civility in their form of artistic expression at La Ramada, other restaurants will open their doors to their music. In this way, hip-hop can both entertain the public and project the messages of local artists.