Kacho López Mari: PART III

Kacho López Mari filming Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón - Aquí Vive Gente.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari.

Kacho López Mari filming Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón - Aquí Vive Gente.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari.

PART III: Why Kacho López Mari’s Art Are Political Statements that Expose Social Issues

 

Kacho López Mari has a very unique talent to create art in the form of film direction merged with music that ends up being political statements exposing strong social issues. With Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón – Aquí Vive Gente,” he delivered that in an artistic and innovative manner. For him, El Apagón is one of the most transcendental videos he’s worked on because of how Bad Bunny wanted to tackle the issue of gentrification that Puerto Rico is constantly facing, focused specifically on the community of Puerta de Tierra. 

“[Gentrification] is the arrival of people with money buying paradises. What it does is that it elevates the properties’ prices and begins displacing people that have lived there for generations. Not ten years, but a hundred years of complete generations,” López Mari said. “El Apagón” is that video that speaks about our problems, but the song, if you listen to it, it doesn’t necessarily speak about that. It’s a celebration song of what Puerto Rico is.”

And that is Puerto Rico seen from Bad Bunny’s perspective, which is understood from a young generation that fights and resists, but that also celebrates, as López Mari says. It’s a music video that turns into a documentary narrated by Puerto Rican journalist  Bianca Graulau and directed by López Mari. 

Kacho López Mari and Bad Bunny filming “El Apagón - Aquí Vive Gente.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari
Kacho López Mari and Bad Bunny filming “El Apagón - Aquí Vive Gente.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari.

Initially, it was intended to only speak about the ongoing gentrification, but throughout the production process, the team encountered two other subjects: the island’s constant blackouts and the lack of access to the beaches for local people. 

“We had to look for a way in which we could speak about all the topics at the same time. We went back and forth until we created the final piece and released it, which coincided with the landing of a hurricane [Fiona],” López Mari said. “That, by the way, the hurricane completely blacked out Puerto Rico. It’s called “El Apagón” with the island’s biggest apagón (blackout).”

Hurricane Fiona landed on Puerto Rico’s southwest coast two days after the documentary was released. That sad coincidence clearly conveyed even more the importance of “El Apagón’s” existence as a tool to convey social issues through art. Another clear theme portrayed was that of the inequalities that Puerto Ricans are facing in their island with the issues of gentrification and the lack of access to their own beaches. 

Kacho López Mari and Bad Bunny filming “El Apagón - Aquí Vive Gente.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari.
Kacho López Mari and Bad Bunny filming “El Apagón - Aquí Vive Gente.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari. 

“There’s always some relationship between the powerful and the powerless. When you see social issues there’s always that relationship. That’s where you have to be the voice of the powerless,” López Mari said. “And that’s where us, Puerto Rico, a small country that has always been dominated by a more powerful country like Spain and afterwards the United States, comes through. That’s where you see those countries without power.”

With that in mind, López Mari constantly explores how through his art he can be a voice for the powerless. With Bad Bunny’s platform for “El Apagón,”he also explores the use of filmmaking as a tool that can have a global impact by empowering marginalized communities. The music video turned into a  documentary also landed nominations for the  Cannes Lions Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards,  and the  Shots Awards of the Americas.

Kacho López Mari and Janthony Oliveras during the filming of Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón - Aquí Vive Gente.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari
Kacho López Mari and Janthony Oliveras during the filming of Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón - Aquí Vive Gente.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari.

“That is how we can insert ourselves into the conversation and be part of the construction of a more equal world, where we all can aspire to live with dignity and calm,” López Mari said. “That’s what we’re looking for. That we can live better as human beings and as what we are: one rich and beautiful planet full of exciting things.”

López Mari’s Personal Motivations for Political Statements

But you might be wondering why López Mari has this very strong devotion and passion for telling visual stories that are political statements exposing social issues. It all comes down to being raised in a socially conscious family of activists. His grandfather from his mother’s side,  Juan Mari Brás, was a political leader in Puerto Rico who founded the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP) and strongly advocated for the island’s independence from the United States.

 

With that family background, López Mari has ingrained his efforts in presenting art that contributes to a social and political statement. Throughout time, he’s understood that graphic design and filmmaking are his most powerful tools to have a voice with a strong and empowering social awareness. He always pursues this in a fearless manner because being afraid is not part of his DNA and bringing uncomfortable subjects to the table is a very elemental part of his art. 

Kacho López Mari explores very strong social and political subjects through his legendary art. Courtesy of Kacho López Mari.
Kacho López Mari explores very strong social and political subjects through his legendary art. Courtesy of Kacho López Mari.

“I’m telling you this very clearly. My uncle [Santiago ‘Chagui’ Mari Pesquera] was a political assassination in Puerto Rico. My uncle was murdered for being my grandfather’s son. [People] can’t talk to me about fear. What will I be afraid of? Of being killed?,” López Mari said. “My uncle was murdered and many people around the world have been killed that way.”

A sense of purpose as an artist was instilled in López Mari from a tragic and excruciating event in his family. This politically charged murder has not been clarified yet due to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)'s instruction in the 1970s to not disclose any information whatsoever in regard to the case because of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Privacy Act of 1974. This keeps López Mari grounded and determined to not be fearful and use his art to express social and political issues that keep affecting him.

“If I see the examples of my grandfather, my mother, my father, and my father-in-law. All the people I have close, that haven’t been afraid of saying what they believe, even when their lives are on the line,” López Mari said. “I can’t come with fear now. Nothing related to that will stop me from saying what I have to say.”

Giving a Voice to Latin America

And that’s very present in one of his latest works for Juanes. This year Juanes released the music video for his song “Canción Desaparecida,” which speaks about the forced disappearances and femicides – a hate crime that is an intentional murder of women or girls because they are female—in Colombia. The video states that according to the final report from the Colombian Truth Commission, between 1985 and 2016, at least 121,768 people were victims of forced disappearances in Colombia.

Kacho López Mari and Juanes filming the music video “Canción Desaparecida.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari.
Kacho López Mari and Juanes filming the music video “Canción Desaparecida.” Courtesy of Kacho López Mari.

The video is very captivating and impacting on a visual level due to the raw reality portrayed while both Juanes and Colombian rapper  Mabiland sing a piece that is clearly a political statement and social protest. Mabiland sings in Spanish:


En nuestros pueblos, ser mujer nos han cobrado. Si la ley no es feminista, la lucha no ha terminado,” which translates to “in our towns we’ve been charged for being women. If the law isn’t feminist, then the fight is not over.” It speaks about an issue that’s very present in Latin America, which is a constant problem in different countries throughout the region. 

“It’s a strong topic. They’re the disappearances and assassinations of innocent people that don’t have anything to do with the [Colombian] government or guerrilla,” López Mari said. “But they’ve been disappeared and murdered for political reasons. The video has its own thing and strength. It’s also a social topic that touches all of us in Latin America.”

The video is so impressive with its message, that it’s been nominated this year for the  Rolling Stone in Spanish Awards in the category of Videoclip of the Year. It’s also part of the official selection for the Los Angeles International Music Video Festival in the categories of best director, and best music video.

Reflecting on Life’s Fragility

In all his filmmaking, López Mari stands out as an artist for delivering art that keeps you wondering and reflecting on the human condition and how fragile life is. That sentiment and reflection are very alive in the music video he directed for Daddy Yankee’s song “Yo Contra Ti.” This video and song were done as part of a campaign for the  Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization in Puerto Rico. 

“We first interviewed the [breast cancer] patients. Raymond [Daddy Yankee] interviewed them alone. We documented him speaking with them,” López Mari said. “He wrote the lyrics literally using the patients’ answers. There are specific phrases he chose from them and integrated them into the lyrics, which are the strongest ones.”

Once the lyrics were done, they went into the studio to record the song. Daddy Yankee didn’t even write the words on paper. He had everything memorized and once the song was ready, they filmed the video. It was set at the  Comprehensive Cancer Center of Puerto Rico. The song, which was also a collaboration between Daddy Yankee and the  Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, made history because it was the first time ever that the orchestra collaborated with a rapper.


Frame from Daddy Yankee’s “Yo Contra Ti” music video directed by Kacho López Mari. Via Daddy Yankee’s YouTube.
Frame from Daddy Yankee’s “Yo Contra Ti” music video directed by Kacho López Mari. Via Daddy Yankee’s YouTube.

“We got together with the orchestra and everyone else. We put together the project and it was also nominated and won in Cannes. In the same competition that we went with “El Apagón,” López Mari said. “In the case of “Yo Contra Ti,” it won bronze.”

The video’s visuals are very powerful with a clean aesthetic with strong and vibrant colors that are a clear result of López Mari’s graphic design. He delivers a painful subject like breast cancer in a visual manner that makes it more digestible for the audience. 

“I follow a graphic designer called David Carson. He speaks about the abstract power of visual art. You want your piece to stand out so that you look at it,” López Mari said. “That’s the abstract power. I still don’t know what I’m looking at. I don’t have a clear visual of what it is, but the abstraction engages you. It captivates you and you’ll want to decipher what you’re looking at. Before you understand the message, the visual has to engage you.”

And that’s exactly what “Yo Contra Ti” does through its cinematic visuals. It tells you the story of breast cancer patients sung by Daddy Yankee while Jessie Reyes, a breast cancer patient, expresses her rage and frustration against the disease through an impressive performance. 

Kacho López Mari happy at work. Courtesy of Kacjo López Mari.
Kacho López Mari happy at work. Courtesy of Kacjo López Mari.

“Yo Contra Ti” just adds to López Mari’s long list of artworks that seek to explore the human condition while also creating political statements by exposing social issues. It’s part of López Mari’s mission of creating films that turn an everyday experience into something that’s extraordinary. Being part of these types of projects and stories is what fulfills him as an artist and creative. 

“This means everything to me. It’s what I live for. It’s what I wake up for every day,” López Mari said grateful. “It’s the reason why I love what I do. It’s because I have these opportunities.”

To keep up with López Mari’s impressive art, follow him on Instagram at  @mrsandbag


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