Rapper Olmeca Brings Culture and Conversation to Van Wezel

Arts & Culture

At the intersection of music and activism stands Olmeca with a megaphone in hand making proclamations. The rapper’s words speak not of death and hellfire and a looming end of times but of cross-cultural compassion and understanding. More shaman than preacher, Olmeca pulls from his diverse Mexican, American and indigenous identity to not only identify what ails society, but to offer a path towards a more perfect union. And starting next week, the bilingual rapper, scholar, community advocate and Kennedy Center fellow from Los Angeles brings his megaphone to Sarasota’s Van Wezel for an artist residency.

As part of the Van Wezel’s artist residency pilot started during the pandemic, Olmeca will help the program usher in its IDEA initiative (inclusivity, diversity, equity and access). In addition to writing music for popular television shows like Sons of Anarchy and its spinoff, The Mayans, Olmeca is also a faculty member at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he teaches courses in the Interdisciplinary Gender and Ethnic Studies Department such as Latin American History, Latinx in the US, and a course called Hip-Hop and Social Justice that explores the intersection of hip-hop culture, aesthetics and social impact.

His scholarly work will inform the bulk of his activities during the residency. “One of the things I’ll be doing is a workshop about culturally relevant pedagogy,” says Olmeca. In that June 9th seminar, the rapper will expound on the importance of creating spaces for diverse demographics. His expertise on the topic is bolstered by his personal experience being raised in both the US and Mexico, giving him a unique outside perspective on cultural literacy.

But despite the activist and academic nature of his music’s content, the rapper still leaves plenty of room for art. To that end, Olmeca will also have the opportunity to share knowledge gleaned inside the music industry with artists at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. “I’m going to be sharing some insights on how to survive in the music industry and teach them some of the lingo,” he says, “but I’ll also share some of my process of making music.” The goal is to help the troupe’s aspiring musical talent navigate the pitfalls of the industry while staying true to their lived experiences as members of the BIPOC community.

And on Saturday, June 12th, Olmeca puts the full weight of his activism, scholarly work and musical talent behind a free community concert on the outside lawn of the Van Wezel. The concert will be his first since the pandemic shut venues down across the country, and for the rapper, it promises to be a cathartic experience. “I really miss connecting with people, it’s very healing for me,” he says, “but more than anything it’s about recognizing my power as an artist and as a voice for marginalized communities.”

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