Bi-national hip-hop group Tulengua seeks to secure its freedom – Voice of San Diego
In San Diego’s often overlooked underground hip-hop scene, few voices stand out like Tulengua, a bilingual, binational, and multiracial group of recording artists. Amari Jordan, Alan Lilienthaland Jaime Mora.
The band members claim residency on both sides of the US-Mexico border, with roots tying the trio to San Diego and Tijuana. For several years, Tulengua has made a name for itself in the underground hip-hop scene in the San Diego border region. Producing their own brand of music, the trio have created a sonic tapestry of different cultures, languages and sounds that transcend borders and genres.
Since the group’s formation in 2018, Tulengua has been anything but predictable. Tulengua’s music includes live instruments and samples from a variety of genres such as hip-hop, psychedelic, progressive rock, soul, music in Spanish and even obscure movie soundtracks. Their lyrics are bilingual and often carry a strong social commentary regularly addressing topics like immigration, racism and the struggles of undocumented migrants.
Their unique sound has brought them success and support from those who relate to the stories they tell, but the past two years have been difficult. The pandemic has taken its toll on performers. Concert halls closed around the same time they released a new album. Then the border closed and separate group mates.
But now Tulengua is undergoing a renaissance. The group explores the concept of crowdfunding.
“Just as streaming has changed the music industry, there is a new wave of web3 technology bringing more freedom to musicians,” Lilienthal said. Web3 is an idea for a new blockchain-based iteration of the World Wide Web, which incorporates concepts such as decentralization and the token-based economy. Lilienthal hopes that by using this ttechnology, the band can be turned into a digitally tradable asset among fans via tokens using the same blockchain technology used with NFTs and cryptocurrency.
“We’re trying to imagine a world where our biggest supporters can in a sense be like our shareholders — where the bi-national community around us can grow as we grow,” he said.
A desire to connect communities
The band’s humble origins go back to the brainchild of Tulengua frontman Alan Lilienthal. Lilienthal and his family moved from Mexico City to San Diego when he was 8 years old.
Lilienthal was a keen musician from an early age and played in a number of local bands in different cities. He also maintained a revolutionary spirit. At the age of 21, at the suggestion of her brother, Lilienthal took a Greyhound bus to New York to participate in the Occupy Wall Street movement, a protest against economic inequality and the influence of corporate money in society. politics that started in Zuccotti. Park, located in New York’s Wall Street financial district, in 2011. After New York, Lilienthal spent time traveling abroad until he felt compelled to return home to San Diego.
By the time Lilienthal returned to the United States, vitriol over the border and immigration had reached its zenith, propelled by the incendiary rhetoric of then-Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. In the days and months after Trump was elected in 2016, Lilienthal and fellow rapper Slack Barrett began working on a cross-border music collective. Although the collective didn’t have a solid line-up, let alone a name, Lilienthal and Barrett were laying the groundwork for what would become Tulengua.
“At that time it wasn’t even a strong group, it was more of a loose collective of people from both sides of the border,” said Lilienthal, who at the time was doing cross-border work. “I saw so much cooperation, fluidity and collaboration between the two parties, but it wasn’t really talked about in the media. So we wanted to create something that shows the unity and community between the two sides, and that could represent the beauty created when people come together despite their differences.
Lilienthal and Barrett soon began working on songs together, with the two hosts swapping bars, going back and forth in English and Spanish. “The first five or six songs were just kind of a processing of our feelings about the political climate that was going on in America. You hear that because it was such a shitty show, and we just wanted to write about what’s going on. going on,” recalls Lilienthal.
It was around the same time that Lilienthal also met Amari Jordan, a local artist who had grown up in San Diego and was also working on her solo career as a host of the local San Diego hip-hop scene. The two met in a chance meeting at a Wu-Tang themed rap battle in Barrio Logan, after Jordan fought a local fight rap heavyweight Rick Scales. After seeing Jordan take on one of San Diego’s most versatile fight rappers, Lilienthal was forced to show up and eventually asked Jordan if she wanted to join the group. Jordan found the idea of joining a group (especially one that regularly deals with social justice topics) appealing and agreed to join Lilienthal and Barrett.
Shortly after, Lilienthal discovered Jaime Mora’s music on the Soundcloud music streaming platform. “At the time, the idea for Tulengua was for it to be a cross-border collective, so I wanted to find someone in Tijuana who also made beats. With Mora added to the lineup, the band started working on the rest of the project.
The group’s debut album, “Baja Funk”, received praise from fans and local music critics upon its release in 2018. Tulengua received even more attention after the members decided to donate all project benefits to border angels, a San Diego-based nonprofit migrant rights organization that serves the county’s immigrant community through various migrant outreach programs, including day laborer outreach and legal assistance. The band even collaborated with the org on a music video for their single, “Selva”. After “Baja Funk” the recording completed, Slack Barrett moved to the East Coast, effectively leaving the band and solidifying Tulengua’s lineup as Lilienthal, Jordan, and Mora.
“Music is that great kind of weapon”
Almost immediately, Tulengua was hailed both for its outspokenness on border issues and also for the group’s ability to break down language barriers as well as ethnic and racial stereotypes.
“Music is this awesome type of weapon or tool that’s so much more than just entertainment. It’s this amazing vessel to inspire change and bring people together, so I’ve always known that whatever I do musically, I wanted that element to be very present,” Lilienthal said. “The band was born out of that political tension and all that Washington-spewing bullshit, so from the start I wanted to make it very clear what Tulengua stood for. . Yes, it’s entertainment and it’s hip-hop, it’s fun, it’s a party and it’s lit. But it is also put at the service of something else that goes beyond the ego.
Jordan also expressed the important role the group plays in addressing topics rarely tackled by most hip-hop artists.
“There are so many people who don’t have a voice, so why not put forward a voice that they can relate to whether they speak our language or not,” Jordan said.
After a six-track EP titled “Feelins”, Tulengua released their second effort in the spring of 2020. The band’s follow-up album “LOWKEYBANGERSVILLE” was a radical departure from the group’s more old-school hip-hop oriented sound cultivated on “Baja Funk”, veering into more modern territory with more trap-inspired and experimental production.
Lilienthal acknowledged that the band’s change in direction might turn off some fans, but pointed out that pushing the boundaries has always been a major part of the band’s dynamic.
“We never want to just be in the ‘conscious rap’ box or the ‘underground’ box,” Lilienthal said. “We make music that we love. I think the fact that we’re on both sides of the border, erasing boundaries and bringing people together, gives everything we do that weight that it’s more than music. Jordan agrees and thinks the fluidity of the group is what sets them apart. “We found a way to connect not just hip-hop,” Jordan said.
Promotion of “LOWKEYBANGERSVILLE” was short-lived, however, as three weeks after its release the country was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which effectively shut down all concert halls and suspended any chance of making live shows.
When it became clear that the pandemic was not going to end any time soon, Mora returned to his home in Rosarito before the border closed. For almost a year, the group could not come together.
These obstacles, however, encouraged the group to embark on a new path with web3 technology. Soon, the band will launch crowdfunding around the LENGUA token, which will essentially give holding fans access to unreleased music, shows, community events, and even allow fans to vote on the musical and creative direction of Tulengua. Proving that even amid the still uncertain climate surrounding the border, Tulengua is still inspired to continue the mission they set out in 2018.
“We have all given up a lot in recent years. This whole journey has always been more than music to us. It is about community, family, dreams without borders and visions of a more united region.