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La Bruja Casts a Lyrical Spell
1/6/05 - exclusive interview

poet La Bruja picture

Whether singing on Telemundo, performing on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, or appearing in History Channel docudramas, modern day renaissance woman La Bruja (Caridad De La Luz) refuses to be put in a box. Her unique creativity and charisma has taken her from appearances in a Spike Lee film to running writing workshops for inner-city youth and even modeling for Levi's in Glamour and Marie Claire.  Now, with her debut album Brujalicious, this dynamic, gifted performer infuses hip-hop and reggaeton with her irresistible blend of potent intelligence, hot sensuality and lyrical skill.

A dedicated artist-activist, La Bruja also helped raised funds for "Stop The Bombs," part of a successful campaign to close the controversial US Navy Base on Vieques Island. We speak with La Bruja about her craft in this exclusive interview. You're generally recognized first as a poet, when you did you start rapping?

I started rhyming when I was really young, 'cause I was born and raised in the Bronx. Its like poetry too, back in the days I never saw a difference between it. I remember the first song I wrote, I was like 14 with my homegirls, we used to call ourselves Vogue even before Madonna came up with it (laughs). When I went to the Nuyorican Poets Cafť, that was where it really took off, people really recognized me as an artist. Bobbito was a host back then, I went as La Bruja, he kept saying my name all night, and it stuck.


I've always sang, I've always acted, been dancing since I was four, it just happened to be that poetry was the thing that people grasped on to. And I came from a family of poets, and being from Manati, Puerto Rico, its called the Athens of the Island, the home of poets. It makes sense. But I'm really proud to be known as a poet, to be acknowledged for my work.

Who are some of the artists that youíve collaborated with so far?

Tony Touch, B-Real, Chingo Bling, I worked with Nore, Fat Joe, hurricane G. Its so hard, you do these live shows and people perform. In the poetry circuit, Mos Def was there, RAKIM was there in the live performance, it was so hot.

Where does your pseudonym ďLa BrujaĒ come from?

Well my parents got married on Halloween (laughs), so I tend to consider Halloween my birthday, in a way its kinda my conception date. I gave myself that name 'cause I always been a witchy girl (laughs), and I think witches cast their spells with words, and thatís what I do, I put a lot of positivity out there and a lot of thought provoking messages, I'd like to think.

I also have communicated with the other side, so I think the dead are with us, and I hear voices sometimes. The first time I ever wrote a Spanish poem, I'm not really that fluent in Spanish, my first poem was like the most beautiful I've ever written. When I wrote that, I was on the train, and I was hearing a voice telling me this, and I swear it was my great grandmother, the first poet, telling me this. Words like Borinquien, Familia... I'm tapped in, I would like to help other people tap in too. Its very empowering. I guess depending on what you believe, it will work for you or it wont.

Your name really got out there when you performed on HBOís Def Poetry Jam, how did you get about appearing on the show?

The first season I had seen on TV, and I said, this is ME right here! So I heard they were doing a second season. I parked my little car on Broadway illegally, and ran up to the Phat Farm office, and it was the last day they were doing interviews. I had a head shot, and a clip of me performing for the Pinero movie, and I gave them that tape and the bio and said look, I'm wearing a Phat Farm jacket, tell Russ I'm here and he needs to holla. I was loud, I'm never like that. They said if they donít call you by Friday you donít make the cut, Friday by five they called and said ďYou think your kids would like to see you on TV? Well you are." Stan Latham called, it was hot.


Thatís how I got on, but the thing was they wanted me to do the Lola poem, which was a real grimy poem about a crackhead around the way. But I wanted to do the WTC poem which is on my site. But they said if you donít do the Lola poem you wont get on. So I was sneaky about it and did the Lola poem then the WTC poem, and I was really happy.

How thin do you consider the line that exists between spoken word and rap?

How thin is it? Transparent. You donít even see it, ethereal. Thatís how I see it, other people see it different. People that only do spoken word might be intimidated by hip hop and rhyming to music, but I think its very similar. Life is poetry.

Which comes most naturally to you?

I would say poetry. Just writing and free thought without rhythm. Different kinds of structures. My MC flow, I had to work on that (laughs). I had been told early on, even by my husband, youíre a poet, youíre not an mc. I said aight. I'mma show yall! (laughs). I would do a lot of work at the community center, I would just work on my flow all the time. I started an open mic show at the point called Verbal Ingredients. We had a drummer come in, it kept developing into MCing. But poetry I guess is what comes most naturally. I can write about anything.

Tell us about your new album, Brujalicious .

I'm really happy about my album, and its funny, at this time last year I didnít have most of those songs. So it was like during this time last year that I really dove into the studio and just went nuts, and was constantly writing this music all the time. Usually my fall into winter is very internally reflective in my mind, and the late winter, January February into spring is when all of it starts to blossom. Brujalicious is everything I have inside of me on a CD. They host in between the songs so I get to do my comedic side, so itís a perfect brew of all that is me.

Youíve also done a bit of work on commercials, correct?

Oh yeah, I did stuff for Spike Lee, then I was on the Levi ad that was in a bunch of magazines: People, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Oprah. If you go to I'm one of the models that pop up. They did a campaign of real people, they used my Nuyorico poem and my artwork. Basically my butt but painted with all my words. That was really big, I was really happen to be chosen for that, I had to audition before everyone else. I think I was the only Latina, I was really happy for that.

Were these companies specifically looking for you? Or did you approach them and they saw something in you that they liked?

I think they saw something in me that they liked. I donít know if most of them know me, but Spike knew me. I did looping for his movies, improvising, conversations to fill in the movie. Bamboozled, She Hate Me, his new movie. If not for spike I would not be in the Screen Actress Guild movie. And he helped me write my movies, Famers, those looking for fame by way of graffiti.


I was in this other movie, Down to the Bone, it won at Sundance. I met all these actors like Danny Glover, but all the movies I saw that were about Latinos werenít written by Latinos. So I went home, in a month and half I wrote my own movie. Spike showed me how to register it so I own it and all that stuff. The writers guild is what he recommend. He said as a director, even before he reads a script, he makes sure it's registered with the Writers Guild so he isnít liable for stealing anything. I'm mad cool with his sister, theyíre funny, heís mad cool.


I'm very happy to be able to do or have done all these different projects and dramas, thatís what La Bruja is about, challenging yourself and doing the things you didnít think were possible. Thatís part of the Bruja message, giving that empowerment to everyone, to believe in yourself, chances are you will really succeed if you try. My boy Bio from tax school said if you believe it, it aint a lie, and I still tell myself that.

So is acting a direction that youíd like to continue in?

Oh yeah, I love acting, acting to me is a lot of fun to challenge yourself, to become yourself, to really believe it. What was really convincing about the movie Down to the Bone is that we were really in a rehabilitation center in Kingston, New York, we put ourselves in this really dreary environment and setting. I played the main actresses best friend, when she would cry I would feel her pain and it came across on the screen, it didnít seem forced.


We were there so long, it was like we were different people. I didnít feel like acting, I feel like I'm channeling these people, mediumistic, kind of like a sťance, I really feel like I'm investing my soul when I do these people. And people bug out, they were like, you even look different. I do this old man, I do this b-boy named Tito, and when I do this girls bat their eyes at me (laughs), they wanna kick it with him. As Tito I could pick up mad chicks (laughs).

As far as poetry events, you donít perform strictly at clubs, do you?

I do colleges, schools, elementary schools, jails, anywhere and everywhere. Hospitals. I'll entertain anybody that will let me (laughs). And thatís part of my success, I'm not limited to any audience. I've done shows in Europe, Poland, Belgium, Amsterdam, Spain, and I've been well received. And plus I donít even see my audience as a certain kind of audience, the world is my audience. I share my stuff with everybody, 'cause weíre really all the same.

What advice do you have for readers who are interested in becoming recognized for their spoken word performances?

Write what you know, what you know is true. Stick to that first, once you get all that out, you can expand into whatever else. Just keep it real. I saw [the article on] the guy from Airmagination, he did something like that, keep it real. Do it every day, donít be concerned about if the audience is big enough, its like tomorrows not promised. Do what you can today before you lose tomorrow. Feel lucky, if you have the ability to do it, just do it.


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