MONTEVIDEO – Rapper Kung Fu OmBijam said in an interview with EFE at the Punta Rieles prison in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he is serving a sentence on several convictions, that inmates need to be educated and exposed to culture.
“There has to be a cultural and educational bombardment inside the jails,” said the rapper, whose real name is Federico Gonzalez.
The 33-year-old artist told EFE that he had been rapping since he was a teenager and got an Eminem album as a gift from his father-in-law.
He joined Catarsis, a group whose members rapped and performed like “a ritual,” although he still considered himself an individual performer.
The rapper said drugs, alcohol and a desire for money led to “dark moments” in his life.
His first run-in with the law, which did not result in jail time, occurred after he got drunk and tried to rob a store. Later, he became a professional robber and landed in prison for the first time.
Gonzalez first did time at Unidad Nº4 Santiago Vazquez, a prison located outside Montevideo, and has landed behind bars several times on robbery convictions.
The rapper laughed and said that he learned “a little bit more about how to rob” while in prison, picking up “tricks” of the trade from fellow inmates.
After seeing that friends and relatives were starting to be afraid of him, however, Gonzalez said that he decided to try to “open a door” because the Uruguayan penitentiary system was “worthless.”
Gonzalez and some fellow inmates decided to form a sort of street band in prison, performing in the different cell blocks and trying to make people happy.
“It was about starting to learn that you can be happy with other things and not with dough. Being happy with money, as capitalism says, is a lie,” the rapper said while giving EFE a tour of the prison radio studio where he produces a show.
One night, while working in the prison bakery, Gonzalez watched a video on the television of Uruguayan rap group Dostrescinco performing and liked it. That was when he started writing.
The rapper said he liked it at Punta de Rieles because the prison “promotes culture,” unlike other penitentiaries, where all inmates talk about is “how to make a knife, how to defend yourself, how to make trouble and selling drugs.”
Gonzalez chose Kung Fu OmBijam as his stage name because he loves the martial arts and was introduced to yoga during a workshop at the OmBijam studio in the prison.
Prison official Pamela Martinez invited Gonzalez to rap during an event marking the anniversary of the yoga studio’s opening after hearing songs he performed on the radio.
Martinez introduced him to music producer Sebastian Peralta, who listened to his work and offered to back an album, titled “Desahogo Cultural,” that the two men worked on.
Kung Fu OmBijam said he delivered a direct message in his songs and had never been censored even though his music reflected the grim reality of prison life.
Thanks to Article 120 of Law 18,315 of the Uruguayan Constitution, Kung Fu OmBijam is able to perform at concerts under police guard.
On Nov. 7, Kung Fu OmBijam will release his second album at the Teatro Solis, the most important performing arts venue in Uruguay.