April 2018

Cholita Wrestlers Star In New Music Video, “Firebird”

By: Hailey Quackenbush
Projects Abroad Volunteer

What do a German band, the English language, and Bolivian women wrestlers have in common? They are all components of a new music video released by the German folk-rock group Milky Chance.

Milky Chance is a German band formed by Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dauch, who met while they were still in secondary school in Kassel, Germany, and began collaborating together in 2012.The group has since released three albums, and although Dauch and Rehbein are German, their songs are written in English, as they claim this gives the songs a nicer, smoother sort of sound. Their music has been described as a mix between folk-rock, electronic beats, jazz and reggae; and their lyrics have been compared to those written by folk singers.

One such song whose lyrics are especially meaningful for Rehbein in particular is "Firebird", which was released in March 2017 as part of the album "Blossom". Rehbein, 25, who recently became a father a few years ago, was reportedly inspired to write the song as an open letter of sorts to his young daughter, sending a message not only of love, but also of empowerment.

This message of empowerment that the song embodies was added to even more with the recent release of the "Firebird" music video, which was posted on the band's official YouTube page (Milky Chance Official) in February 2018. The video opens with a panoramic shot of the Bolivian city of La Paz at sunrise, and then goes on to follow the daily life of an indigenous Aymará woman and her young son in El Alto, some 1,000 additional meters above La Paz proper. She first gets the small boy ready for the day, the pair then catches a trufi, and after the son is dropped off at school, the video continues to follow the mother as she heads to the local wrestling ring and gets ready to practice her fighting skills.

The Aymará woman featured in Milky Chance's new video is known as a cholita luchadora, and she is part of a new tradition of indigenous and mestizo female wrestlers that has been taking place in El Alto since around the start of the 21st century. The lucha libre Mexican-influenced style of professional wrestling has been practiced in Bolivia for about 50 years, but it originally only included men. However, in the early 2000s, audience interest had started to wane, and in 2001 the idea was put forth to introduce women into the program as a way to try and recapture audience engagement.

The initiative definitely seems to have worked. With their painted faces, carefully-placed old-fashioned bowler hats, and multiple layers of thick, colorful skirts all spread out like wings as they fly through the air, flinging their fists and jumping atop one another, these fighting cholitas are quite a sight to see. Cholita luchadora matches have become a favorite Sunday pastime for many of the locals in El Alto, filling up rows upon rows of benches in small stadiums.

Cholita luchadora wrestling also seems to have been successful in another way, too: it has given some of its participants an outlet of expression that they didn't have before; a way to assert themselves in this world as powerful beings.

People of mixed (Spanish and native) descent faced a fair amount of discrimination in post-colonial Andean society—native indigenous people even more so—and in the past, the word "chola" was a term that was sometimes used as an insult toward these groups of people. "Cholita", however, is a twist on this word, the addended "-ita" turning it instead into more of a term of endearment. By calling themselves "cholitas luchadoras", these women are, in a way, taking this term back, and making it their own. They are inserting into it their own power, their own voice, and turning it instead into a sort of title of honor.

Being able to assert their physical strength in the ring is also important when taking into consideration the sort of male-dominated, machismo culture that has influenced Bolivia and other Latin American countries. For so long under this machismo paradigm, women have in many instances generally been seen as weaker, as not as capable, and in some ways have not been given quite as much power or privilege in society as men. So for these cholitas luchadoras to be able to step into the ring and declare their physical might in this way—to stand up for themselves, to show the world that they are just as capable and that they can fight just as well as men (and sometimes perhaps even better than some of them)—is quite a powerful statement, indeed.

Rehbein and Dauch of Milky Chance thought so, too. To them, the strength and tenacity embodied by the cholitas luchadoras seemed to be a perfect visual representation of "Firebird"'s message of empowerment, which is why the band invited some of these women to participate in their music video. For, as is declared by the song's lyrics, "courageous wings make things go far"; and this inspiration to be bold, to be empowered, is a message that can be appreciated and striven for not only by young girls like Rehbein's daughter as they navigate their way in this world, but by all children, by all women, and by all people everywhere.

For the Love of Fish
According to a report released in 2014 by the organization FishBase, around 50% of the world's estimated 15,000 known species of freshwater fish are found in the tropical regions of South America. Bolivia's rugged and mountainous landscape is carved through in all directions by several hundreds of rivers and lakes, making it an important habitat for many of these freshwater fish species. However, with current practices like deforestation, commercial agriculture, dam-building, and overfishing on the rise, many of these populations are struggling to stay afloat. [...]
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