Transplanted DJs Bring Beat to Costa Rica
In the era of the MP3 and iPod, when 50 gazillion songs can fit inside your pocket, Will Hanover and Mike Crane have to take several trips to unload their music collection from the back of Crane’s black pickup truck. While its only a portion of their total collection, the 10 crates of records (you remember records? those two-sided ancestors of the compact disc?) comprise hundreds of albums – mostly hip-hop, with a mix of reggae, R&B, classic soul, electronic music and other miscellaneous genres.
Hanover and Crane – both DJs for more than 10 years – hail from the U.S. city of San Francisco. As they ship and pack their records bit by bit to their homes here, they are also bringing a new energy to an underground scene in Costa Rica.
It’s a little after 11 on Friday night at Wipe Out, a bar and disco on the outskirts of Santa Ana, southwest of San José. Crane, also known as DJ Element, stands on a platform over an empty dance floor as records spin on two turntables in front of him. He tucks his head against one shoulder, listening intently into large headphones that cover one ear.
While the disco lights turn listlessly on the concrete floor below – empty, save for a handful of Ticos clearly unsure how to dance to the rhythm of the music they’re hearing – an international and ethnically mixed group of about 20 people bounce and sway to the beats from the raised lounge area next to the DJ’s stage.
Despite gargantuan popularity in the United States and around the world, including much of Latin America, hip-hop is still young in Costa Rica, if not pre-nascent. But Crane and his partner Hanover, known as DJ Bumper, are setting up to give the birth of the culture a big push, and a better image than they say it gets in the mainstream.
“It’s definitely here. It’s on the underground. It’s below the underground. The problem is there’s no outlet,” Hanover told The Tico Times the following night from the radio studios of 91.1 La Radio, where the two DJs have been doing a regular Saturday night show, Rhythma, for the past six months. “We’re trying to play a little underground hip-hop, and play some mainstream, too.We want to show people that it’s not all about big rims and big booty. There’s more to it.”
While most people see only mainstream hip-hop videos that often present a diet of guns, women, money, cars and jewelry, underground hip-hop culture is based on what are known as the four elements of hip hop: emceeing, b-boying, graffiti and turntablism.
Emceeing, from the abbreviation MC, for master of ceremonies, refers to the actual rapping in hip-hop, a lyricism based on rhythm, rhyme and ingenuity. B-boying is better known as break dancing, a style of dance developed on urban street corners to the beat of hip-hop. Graffiti is the visual expression of the culture, having evolved over decades into a complex and respected art form; many museums and galleries have begun to include graffiti artists in their collections (Brian McGee, known by his tag name of “Twist,” was featured in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, for example).
Hanover and Crane say these three elements already exist in Costa Rica, but turntablism is new to the country.
Turntablism is the term coined in the early 1990s to describe the new level to which DJs were taking the traditional record player; with two turntables and a mixer, DJs could blend the sounds from two albums; they could scratch records back and forth, and they developed a variety of ways to make new music by combining and juggling between two records.
For a taste, listeners can tune into 91.1 FM Saturday nights from 6-10, or catch the live broadcast of the program on www.911laradio.com.
“For the show, it’s mainly hip-hop, dancehall, house and drum and bass. But we throw in some classic soul, rock, the kitchen sink, whatever,” Hanover says.
In addition, the two are looking for venues in San José to spin records live and throw regular parties, as Wipe Out proved to be a little too far from the urban center of San José to draw the crowds the two believe they can.
“The parties are more than just parties,” Crane explains. “It’s an outlet for us. For everybody.”
“There’s all this amazing local talent, and they’ve met us with open arms,” Hanover adds, listing off a few local emcees who are already producing music and are included in rotation on Rhythma.
Crane and Hanover – who say they led nearly parallel lives in San Francisco, including mutual friends – met for the first time in the beach town of Malpaís, on the southern Nicoya Peninsula, where they both live. Since then, the two have been collaborating not only on the radio show and parties, but also on other, grander projects.
Crane is currently putting together a recording studio in his second home in Santa Ana, and the two have plans to start a DJ school once the studio is up and running.
“I used to be a youth guidance counselor in San Francisco, working with high-risk, inner-city youth,” Crane says, recounting his work in HIV/AIDS outreach and counseling, youth counseling and running an after-school program teaching inner-city kids the basics of turntablism. “I was keeping 100 kids after school for three hours, during the most high-risk part of the day (after-school hours).”
Crane says he’d like to see the DJ school here become lucrative for him and Hanover, but for the students as well. The two DJs plan on offering equipment rentals to their students, who will then be able to take their skills out to different venues in town and make some money – as well as spread hip hop culture.
“There are all kinds of smaller events that we pass up,”Crane says. “We will offer work.”
He says that the radio station will soon begin offering internships for students to learn the ropes of running a radio show, working alongside him and Hanover.
Crane says he hopes to do more. With a location and sponsorship, he says, he would like to do benefit shows and even offer after school workshops at public schools.
“We’re promoting urban culture and trying to offer it in a safe environment,” Crane
For more information on the radio show, the DJ school, parties and other efforts by the spinnin’ pair, e-mail Crane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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