From Tango to Rap Star: Embracing my Argentinian Persona

From Tango to Rap Star: Embracing my Argentinian Persona!

My heart is pounding… my nerves are shot… my thoughts are racing as I approach the stage. I am in the middle of Buenos Aires, in a rock/jazz music venue, surrounded by highly talented musicians and some of Argentina’s greatest rappers. I am being asked to join them on stage to freestyle rap.

Uri, my Argentine friend, insists: “Shalom, just freestyle. Say whatever you want!”

We originally agreed on the possibility of me joining the band to do a casual cover of Sting or Adele. I imagined that I would be singing while reading the lyrics on my phone, and that everyone would be aware that it is raw, unrehearsed, casual. What was about to happen had not been discussed!

“Uri, I don’t freestyle,” I reply. “I don’t even know what to say! I’m not a rapper! I only know lyrics to one rap song!”

I had rapped my favorite song, Nicki Minaj’s “Moment for Life”, the week before. But that had just been in front of three people, not an entire venue!

Uri isn’t having it. To him, what he had seen me do the week before was evidence that I was good enough to get on stage right now.

“Then just do that song,” he instructs. “You will be speaking in English. They won’t even know what you are saying. Just go.”

“Oh my God, Uriiiii…” my voice trails off as he drags me closer to the stage.

What brought me to Buenos Aires was my love for Argentine Tango, and my determination to master it, so I signed up for Mente Argentina’s Tango Program. I first came in 2015 for two weeks and vowed I would return to continue my dance studies. Not only did I manage to return, but I arranged to stay for six weeks. This time I wanted to excel in Tango, which requires extreme vulnerability and being open to experiences and all people. I wanted to grab every moment of my stay in Buenos Aires by the balls and live the hell out of it!

Oh man, was I seizing this moment. I had this moment in a vice grip, with no sign of letting go.

Uri is speaking sternly yet enthusiastically with one of his professional Argentine rapper friends, letting them know to give me a turn at the mic. My stomach is doing a gymnastics routine. My palms don’t sweat when I’m nervous, but if they did they would be soaked. What am I doing? I ask myself. These guys are legit rappers. They make Busta Rhymes sound like he’s speaking in slow motion! I am going to forget every line and make a fool of myself.

“Uri, I don’t freestyle,” I reply. “I don’t even know what to say! I’m not a rapper! I only know lyrics to one rap song!”

As I am wrestling my fears, the rapper onstage finishes slaying. He’s speaking three times faster than the Argentines I hear on the street, and I can barely understand them. Rapper Cee loudly announces something in Spanish, followed by “Shalom de Nueva York!” It sounds kind of cool.

Based on stereotypes, I look the part: chocolate brown skin, my hair extended with twists to my waist, wearing a jean jacket with ripped jeans and boots. But will my voice match the part?

I grab the mic and my rum and coke, trying to calm my nerves. I introduce myself in the best “rap” like way possible. “Shalom in the home…Shalom is in the home…” The crowd responds with a quizzical buzz. I take a deep breath and let the lyrics fly.

“I fly with the stars in the sky…” My voice comes through louder than expected. The crowd goes into full Drake concert mode. It feels like my whole life led me to this moment, on this stage, in front of these people, in this country, doing exactly what I am doing.

In this moment, I forget about the absurdity of me performing next to some of the greatest Argentine rappers. I forget about worrying whether the audience suspects that the closest I ever come to rapping at home is singing along to popular rap songs while dancing.

The majority of my life I have been afraid to perform with my voice out of fear of forgetting lyrics, or stumbling over words. I grew up with some of the best actors, singers, dancers and musicians. Sure, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but I can remember as a child watching my mother perform hour-long, one-woman shows. She would pause and I would wonder, Will she continue!? Will she remember her next line? But she always would.

This is what traveling enables. At home I am surrounded by support in my daily routines, people who know me and what I am capable of. This is both a blessing and a glass ceiling. I limit my movement to the confines of this space. When I travel I leave these ideas behind.

I have not been afraid to dance. My love affair with dance will not stop until I cease to exist. But dancers aren’t required to speak! Our bodies do all the communicating.

In this moment in Argentina I was being given an opportunity to embrace a side of myself that I always knew existed, yet rarely show. It was about a foreign environment presenting me with a possibility that I could fully embrace, or let pass me by.

As I recited my favorite lyrics as loudly as I could with as much energy, enthusiasm and dynamism as I could muster, something changed in me. I remembered every verse. Every word. I began to act out the message Nicki is sending. Pointing to the crowd, musicians, and now fellow rappers with purpose and delight, I couldn’t believe it! I felt a sense of peace, commitment and capability. I felt like I could do anything! It felt like the audience could also feel my internal shift because they responded with so much enthusiasm and appreciation.

This is what traveling enables. At home I am surrounded by support in my daily routines, people who know me and what I am capable of. This is both a blessing and a glass ceiling. I limit my movement to the confines of this space. When I travel I leave these ideas behind. I redefine each moment and each interaction with people who expect nothing of me. I am able to explore the facets of my personality that remain in the shadows. Traveling gives me the chance to step outside my comfort zone in an environment incapable of judging me by my past. When traveling, you can create the person you want to be, do things you might never do at home, and experience life in a new way.

From Tango to Rap Star: Embracing my Argentinian Persona top image: Flickr/Kevin Dooley

About ShalomIsrael

ShalomIsraelShalomIsrael Diggs is a graduate of SUNY Brockport where she obtained a B.S. in Dance. She studied in Kingston, Jamaica at the Edna Manley School of Visual and Performing Arts during her senior year. She also obtained an Associates Degree in Graphic Design. After graduating she went on to work for several notable organizations offering art and dance, including Ballet Hispanico, Idina Menzel’s Camp Broaderway and Maksim & Val Chmerkovskiy and Tony Devoloni of Dancing With the Stars’ Dance With Me Studios. She currently is a teaching artist for Alvin Ailey Arts in Education and the owner of her own art & dance organization: Word Art by ShalomIsrael.

3 thoughts on “From Tango to Rap Star: Embracing my Argentinian Persona

  1. Avatar
    October 9, 2016
    Reply

    B’HUEtiful story Shalom so happy and proud of you. Keep soaring Doll.

  2. Avatar
    Ayana
    October 8, 2016
    Reply

    This is beautiful and so are you Shalom. Thank you for sharing. You give me chills and inspire me to follow my dreams. Love always

  3. Avatar
    Gabriel
    September 30, 2016
    Reply

    Shalom is an exceptional ,fearless and inspiring human being! This article makes me want to dust off my passport and head to the nearest International terminal. Bravo!

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