The Welfare Poets
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The Welfare Poets

Band World Hip Hop


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"The Welfare Poets: Defrocking the Empire by Aurora Flores"

"Most rappers deal with the subliminal wanna be criminals. For them being unoriginal is habitual. But our lyrics are clinical, can be a vehicle to cleanse the spiritual, apprehend the one-dimensional..."

-Ray Ramirez

An African adage says the job of a poet is to expose the king in his nakedness. The Welfare Poets expose global contradictions to reveal their history in the world.

These 21st-century griots embrace their axiom as their shield of cultural identity, seamlessly weaving Hip-Hop, Plena, Salsa and Bomba into their form of radical poet activism and social education.

The '50s gave us the beatniks, who fused rhyming radical reason with bongo beats. The '60s produced The Last Poets, who hit us up with words backed by congas thumping in the streets. Nuyorican poets gave the '70s a whipping. In the '80s, musical poets busted rhymes, swapping instruments for turntables, while in the '90s the form was co-opted, turning socially conscious rappers into commercial violators.

Armed with their first Cd, Project Blues, Ray Ramirez and Hector Luis Rivera take the stage with the burning rage of the educated poor. The two young poet warriors found each other, and enlightenment, inside the ivy-covered walls of Cornell University in the early 90's. Student activism, history, theater and prose proved more engaging for Ramirez than his engineering scholarship. The two friends soon started writing poems for the school newspaper, and quickly began receiving to recite at other campuses.

"As Puerto Ricans born in the U.S., our goal is to reclaim our culture through the Hip-Hop that we helped to create, while reclaiming the Salsa music of our parents," explains Ramirez, whose poem, "The Shadow of Death." is a concise history of Puerto Rico seen through the eyes of this barrio boy:

"Yet, sadly, we fear the price of freedom and would rather pay the cost of slavery. Yes, we rather be cowards than walk through the shadow of death with bravery. And it is a tragedy when you look at our history, for over five hundred years we have had no control over our identity, over our destiny."

"We also play the protest musical genre of Plena and Bomba, mixing it up with rap to show that they are both part of the same musical tree." says Rivera, who hails from the South Bronx and taps his poetry with machine-gun rapidity, proclaiming. "In the inner city, s--- ain't pretty."

Dahu Ala, the elder poet from the same housing project as Ramirez, rounds out the lyrical triumvirate while playing trumpet in this culturally, racially and intergenerationally diverse group of urban rhymesters. Having lived through the civil rights movement and incarceration, Ala keeps it real, composing lyrics and music that lob words wrapped in stones at the system in a funky, R&B style that sums up the message of these urban rebels with a cause:

"You know Africa never really did s--- to you. She blessed you, nurtured you, she made you anew, she showed you civility and showed you what to do. So from the womb of my ancestor's tomb, I'd like to cast this here spell on you. Your racist government will cease to exist. Then nature itself is gonna put an end to your s---."

Influenced by the power of Pedro Pietri's rhyming style, The Welfare Poets point to The Last Poets and writer Piri Thomas as a source of inspiration. Conducting workshops in schools and other institutions, says Rivera. "We listen to the young people and stay connected to the community." What's hot with young people these days, are rappers like Tego Calderon and 50 Cent.

"But we try to help young people understand that although rappers like these have a lot of talent," says Ramirez, "they only use it to benefit themselves."

When faced with the question of why misogynistic lyrics predominate in much of the rap genre, Ramirez reasons that the U.S. popular culture is a sexist one.

"It's the hottest selling popular culture globally, but it's co=opted completely, and it's a big, mega moneymaker. Objectifying women is what makes a lot of money in this country... from selling cars to selling soda. So they keep the sickness going."

Their music is deep and funky, if somewhat loose and free form, resounding with a hint of Gil Scott Heron, a sprinkling of Curtis Mayfield and un chîn de Santana. It grooves in a way that gives you chills, like when you hear the chorus in the song "One Two": If the cops take one, we must take two - the police are the biblical beast in blue."

"Our logo is a double-sided axe, bearing African colors facing the Lares flag of independence." Rivera explains. The symbol hangs from their necks as evidence of their roots and tenacity. The group's name plays on the word "welfare," using the spanish vernacular (wélfanos) to refer to themselves and Puerto Ricans at large as orphans of the U.S. state. Tight and intelligent, The Welfare Poets' mixture of Salsa and Soul goes beyond Fat Joe's chant of "Puerto Rico-Whoa!" They check it with reality when they follow with: "Puerto Rico is a colony of the 21st century."

- New York Daily News: Viva New York


"Sak Pasé" is the first single from the newly released album "Rhymes for Treason".

Sak Pasé
From its monumental revolution and establishment as the first free Black nation in the Western Hemisphere, to its current crisis, Sak Pasé is a cry for liberty and freedom for a nation that has contributed so much to the world; Haiti. The song is played in Cuban Cha Cha Cha with a touch of Hip Hop, with usage of Haitian Creole. Some terms used are Sak Pasé, Nag Bulé, Liberté a Ayiti translated to What’s up/Burning or I’m hot/Emancipate Haiti, respectively. Also mentioned is Bwa Kayman, the spiritual site in Haiti where Vodou Priest, Boukman held the ceremony that started the revolution in the 1790’s, which is still inspiring ideas of freedom and revolution in the minds of millions around the world.
The single is currently being streamed thru various internet radio stations like simplyradio, wefunk, beatbasement as well as many college radio stations, National Public Radio stations and Pacifica radio stations throughout the United States.



The Welfare Poets interpret indigenous forms of poetry and music, including Hip Hop, Bomba, Plena, Afro-Cuban Jazz, Funk, and Blues.

Ray Ramirez (vocals) Born in Harlem (El Barrio), New York and is the cofounder of the Welfare Poets. He has worked as an educator in various Community-based centers and over the past 6 years has consulted as a Writer-in-Residence at over 40 schools through out the city, working through Teachers and Writers Collaborative and The Caribbean Cultural Center. He has published close to 50 student anthologies and spoken word Cds and was the Assistant Engineer on the Project Blues album. His work has been published in various anthologies including A Gathering of the Tribes, and the award winning publication, Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Café.

Hector Rivera (vocals, congas) Cofounder of the Welfare Poets, he has been writing, performing and teaching poetry for the past 12 years. His poetry was commissioned for "Blind Alley," a Puerto Rican Traveling Theater production written by Nancy Nevarez. His poetry was also included in Taller Boricua (NYC) 30th. Anniversary exhibition. As an activist, Hector has participated, organized and led many community struggles around housing, environmental justice, police brutality, political prisoners, and most recently, Vieques. Hector has participated in two acts of civil disobedience against the immoral presence of the US Navy in Vieques. Hector is also an educator at many New York city-based schools.

Keith “Dahu Ala” Hughes (vocals, trumpet and percussion) Born in the village of Harlem, Dahu has studied music in East Harlem and performed in a wide range of conservatories such as Manor House, Boys Harbor, and the Jazz Workshop. In his youth, Dahu was victimized by the criminal justice system. His poetry reflects the brutal treatment he received in their system creating a unique aesthetic style of verse.

Djibril Toure (bass guitar) Producer and Electric Bass player, Djibril has performed with and alongside a wide array of artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Ayers, The Roots, Fat Joe, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Slick Rick, Q-Tip and Jeru the Damaja. His work can also be heard on several recordings by Wu-Tang Clan, Hedrush, Rise & Shine and Rha-Goddess. He is also a committed grassroots activist and has been involved in organizing efforts around police brutality, political prisoners, and Vieques PR.

James “Jamaki” Knight (drum and other percussions) Hails from St. Croix in the Caribbean. It was there that he developed his love of rhythm. He incorporates reggae, jazz, hip hop and African beats into his playing style. One of the founding members of NYC based fusion band Survival Soundz, Jamaki spearheaded the "AVANT YARD", an urban multimedia showcase. Jamaki has recorded with Amel Lariuex, Lyricist Lounge, and has performed with Black Thought, Mos Def, Jessica Care Moore, and Wunmi to name few. Currently based in NYC, he is engineering and producing at UWMSC recording including projects like the X-executioners, and Def Jamaica, Ghetto Roots and Tall Grass.

Jorge Vasquez (timbales, congas and other percussions) Jorge was a member of Los Amigos de la Plena, and is a founder of Yerba Buena. He has played with Viento de Agua Unplugged, Los Instantáneos de la Plena (of El Rincón Criollo), Los Bomberos de Brooklyn, and Taíno. Jorge has performed at prestigious venues throughout the country and Puerto Rico, as well as on radio and television. He was bestowed a Masters’ honor by the folkloric institution Los Pleneros de la 21. His mentors include masters Alberto “Tito” Cepeda and Giovanni Hidalgo. Along with the Welfare Poets, Georgie is a member of Ya Está and recently recorded on their debut album Afro Latino Soul.

Lynn “Emi” Augustin (keyboards and trumpet) Emi grew up playing both piano and trumpet. Also a songwriter, producer/composer, Emi has played for many bands including Survival Sounds, Jazzyfatnastees, Rha Godess, Alkebulon and many others. Emi has also provided keyboard and trumpet for Wu-tang, I.G.T, and has his own crew of performers/producers, the Ah Brothers.

Angel Rodriguez (congas, timbales, chekere) Has been playing percussion for 35 years with the likes of Vanessa Williams, the Apollo Rockers (house band of the Apollo), Seventh Star, Paquito Guzman, Latin Jazz Coalition and many others. Angel has been teaching percussion to South Bronx youth (for free) for six years at the Point CDC. Angel is a master percussionist who documents and preserves the vast cultural legacy Puerto Ricans and Latinos have in this country, particularly in the Bronx. Angel recently was featured in the New York Post's 200th Anniversary issue.

Fidel Paulino (guitar) Born in the Dominican Republic, he has been playing guitar since the age of 12. He has played in many diverse groups and genres such as Ricanstructions (hardcore punk), Palo Monte (Afro-Dominican Roots music) and Yerba Buena (Jibaro and Afro-Puerto Rican music)