The Story of Boogat’s Cozy Culture Clash
The Spanish rapper calls Quebec home and trusts his adopted land to never let him down.
Photos courtesy of Guillaume Simoneau
Montreal Spanish-language rapper Boogat sees a connection between his neighbourhood of Verdun, where he’s lived the past five years, and Santa María La Ribera in his mother’s native Mexico. “In ten years (Verdun) will become unaffordable. It’s the same thing that’s happening in Santa María La Ribera in Mexico City,” the 35-year-old Quebec City native observes. “I don’t know what happens when you’re poor and you’ve been priced out of your neighbourhood.”
The gentrification boogeyman looms over his borough in the Southwest of Montreal. The rapper, real name Daniel Russo Garrido, overhears it from the new arrivals at the park or his kid’s karate class—the ones with new condos who can’t hide their disdain for the working class neighbourhood’s rougher edges. The heartless gentrifier is a bit of a cliché, but through Boogat’s Latin lens, a hyper-localized dilemma facing his beloved block becomes a timeless struggle of natives against invading colonizers. The dominated versus the dominant.
On the song “Se Van” from his latest Spanish-language album, the surreptitiously political Neo-Reconquista, outsiders are seemingly warded off with an infectious Latin rhythm. In reality, the salsa dura, cumbia and Brazilian-inspired productions, which blend the electronic with live instrumentation, couldn’t be more inviting. Even the track “Los Tabarnakos,” which really does sound like a pejorative or a Spanish translation of popular French-Canadian curse word tabarnac, isn’t used as an insult. It turns out it’s just the nickname Mexican hospitality workers have given to Quebec snowbirds—not because they’re bad tourists, but because some of them do swear a lot. The hokey guitar on “Los Tabarnakos” where Boogat pokes fun at boorish gastropods at all-inclusives who have a very narrow definition of Mexican music.
The album title is a reference to “reconquista,” or reconquest—a term for any plans to retake land Mexico lost to the United States. The arc of Boogat’s decade plus-long music career could even be seen as a man’s quest to reclaim his own identity. He started out rapping in French and released a trio of albums in la langue de Molière before gradually making the switch to his native tongue. There wasn’t really an epiphany and he wasn’t making a statement—it was more about feeling comfortable in his own skin. As a French rapper he also handled most of his beatmaking, but when he started to spit bars in Spanish, he ceded music duties to others—most notably his prosperous union with fellow Montrealer Poirier. It was 2011 mixtape Esperanto Sound System, mixed by Poirier, which finally nailed down Boogat’s Latin-in-Montreal formula.
Increased popularity in Latin countries was a given—he performs in Mexico a few times a year—but surprisingly enough rapping in Spanish didn’t alienate him from his francophone fan base. Boogat explains how on the night of the last provincial election, when it seemed a sure-bet that Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois would win and the contentious Quebec Charter of Values was going to make the province inhospitable for immigrants, he wasn’t too worried. “I’ve been touring this province for ten years, I can tell you that people aren’t racist,” he says. “I never thought she was going to win because it’s not the Quebec I know.”
In an indirect way, karma rewarded Boogat for his confidence in his own people with an unlikely guest spot on M, the last album from Marie-Mai—the biggest pop star in Quebec right now. He even joined her onstage for 15 of her shows across the province, introducing him to thousands of Quebec music fans in the process, including two sold-out Bell Centre shows. “It’s great to be in front of different people,” he says. “I can’t spit on anyone because you can never choose who likes you, so you have to be respectful. But yeah, it was another world.”
Noisey: So how did you hook up with Marie-Mai, anyway?
Boogat: I got a call from (Quebec actress) Brigitte Poupart saying she was working on something for me. Then in the summer she explained that she wanted me to do something with Marie-Mai. I didn’t know her music. I knew she was big, but no one in my entourage ever told me I needed to listen to her. No one said it was bad either. It was simply another world I didn’t belong to. I laughed when I Brigitte told me—I thought there was no way it would happen. But we met and we clicked right away. Marie-Mai’s really professional.
Did it feel like being deep in the Quebec pop industry machine?
It’s a different ballgame. I’ve toured with lots of artists, and whatever amount a Quebec artist will pay you to open, she can quadruple it, and I was only coming out to do the one song. Filling up the Bell Centre for two straight nights, do the math. I still don’t have an opinion of it. I mean, we’ll see if anyone who saw me with Marie-Mai will come to one of my shows, but it was great to be involved in the biggest show of the year in Quebec. The smallest show we did had 4000 people.
Why did you name your album after the Reconquista?
Reconquista comes from Chicano mythology—it’s about taking back something that was taken from Mexico. But also, when you compare our generation to the previous ones, people had guarantees. They had jobs for life and security. For us, we need to work. How many jobs have you had in the last three years? And you’re not a student, you’re a professional. You go from contract to contract, and you’re only as good as the last thing you did. You have to prove yourself every time you do something new. I’m as good as my last record. If this one doesn’t do as well, that’s it.
Did you want the album to sound like you were proving yourself all over again?
My last album El Dorado Sunset started really slowly. I had around eight shows that summer, which is not a good summer. Then I started touring internationally and things started to roll. So when I made Neo-Reconquista it was with the attitude that I’ve already accomplished more than I thought would be possible. I’m not out to prove myself, but it’s a bit like Mexican food: chilaquiles and flautas always have the same ingredients, but you have to combine them differently every time so that it feels new.
The album’s first song is especially Mexican – it’s about death. And then in the video you’re dead.
In Quebec we’re in a real Cartesian society, and when you’re dead, you’re dead. Plus no one believes in God anymore, so nothing happens when you’re dead. No paradise. Nothing. We don’t want to talk about it because we have no answers. In Mexico, people will say they see ghosts. Here, if you believe in ghosts past the age of 12, you’re considered crazy. In Mexico and Latin America, it’s part of the folklore. It’s La Llorona. It’s Chupacabra.
Erik Leijon is a writer based in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter - @eleijon