Raka Dun and Raka Rich of Los Rakas just released their debut album, El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo.
Raka Rich and Raka Dun make up Los Rakas, a Latin urban music and hip-hop duo of Panamanian descent that lives in Oakland, Calif. Their Latin urban sound is, by all means, original and rather unique in the sense that they fuse hip hop, plena, reggae and dancehall music styles while rapping and singing in both English and Spanish.
So what is a “Raka”? Raka comes from the Panamanian word “Rakataka,” which (according to the two cousins) is a negative slur used to describe someone from the ghetto.
Los Rakas released an EP, Raka Love, in 2012. They are currently promoting a new album, El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo, which released in April. During an interview with Living Out Loud, Los Rakas speak about their stage name, musical influences, past experiences and much more.
Living Out Loud: Tell us about your band name. It’s derived from a saying in Panama, is it not?
Los Rakas: Yes, it’s a Panamanian term that describes a person from the ‘hood, from a poor upbringing. So many people in Panama wouldn’t want to call themselves a Raka because they would be embarrassed. Ever since we moved to the U.S., we’ve been wanting to keep some aspects of our homeland alive, and so we decided to name ourselves Los Rakas to show the world that someone from that background can still make it.
LOL: What were some of your musical influences growing up?
LR: Our musical influences came from several different genres because in Panama, you listen to salsa, merengue, dance music, reggae, a little bit of everything. So when we moved to the U.S., we really began to listen to hip hop, which doesn’t play that much in Panama. That said, our music has evolved, and we’ve developed a truly unique sound over the last seven years. Our sound is very “experimental,” but so far, people have loved our work. It’s something they had never heard before.
LOL: You performed at the Smokeout Festival in 2010 with Cypress Hill, Snoop Dogg and Erykah Badu, among others. How was that experience for you?
LR: We approached it like we approach all our work. It was an honor to share the stage with these great artists we grew up listening to. Also, we were the only artists who were singing in Spanish out of all of them who were doing English sets.
LOL: You are in the middle of promoting your new album, El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo. Tell us about the process of recording this album.
LR: The process was very fun. We recorded the majority of the album in California. The aim of the album is to serve as a documentary of sorts. It talks about aspects from our personal life, and it talks about our experiences, our country and some of our family that’s left behind in Panama and we haven’t seen in like, 12 years. It also features music that is more romantic and easier to dance to.
LOL: What inspired you to write “Sueño Americano,” and what can you tell us about the lyrics?
LR: Well, ever since we were little, we would always hear about the American Dream and the promise of a place where one can seek a better life. It’s a fairy tale people in countries like ours hear all the time. However, when you actually get here, you realize it’s not all roses. You have to work extremely hard to make something like that happen. The song hopefully serves as a message for people in Latin America who still think like that.
LOL: Tell us a bit more about “No Tan Listo.”
LR: “No Tan Listo” is very fun and great to dance to. It serves also as a warning to our competition that we’ve arrived, and they better watch out.
LOL: Your set at your record release party was very engaging and created lots of energy. Do you guys carry that energy with you 24/7, or does it just come out whenever you’re performing?
LR: We grew up watching the Panamanian Orchestra, and they always put up quite a show. They sometimes make you think but always make you dance. That’s where that energy comes from.
LOL: What’s it like to live in Oakland?
LR: It’s difficult to describe. It’s almost like living in another country. Better yet, another planet. Living in Oakland taught us a lot about our African heritage and taught us how to be independent. We even have what are called “Sideshows,” which you can’t find in any other place, regardless of what the police say. Oakland is where we became men.
LOL: How do you use social media in your career?
LR: It’s something that’s been with us from the beginning. We have followers everywhere, from Germany to Mexico. It’s been a huge part of getting our name out there.
LOL: What’s on your agenda for the next few months?
LR: We’ll be at a couple of reggae festivals, as well as a few performance dates in the U.S. and Latin America.
LOL: What is your greatest satisfaction in your career up to date?
LR: Our new album. It’s something that is very special to us, and took us a long time to put it together. When Universal told us they would take us in and distribute our work, we felt very proud. This is our debut album, and not many people have been able to make that happen. That told us they had faith in us and what we’re doing.
LOL: Is your music geared towards just a Latin audience or do you intend your music to reach more people?
LR: Our music has something for everyone, from people who love to dance to people who just like to love. Our music explores themes every human being experiences.
El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo is currently available. For more information, visit losrakas.com.
Edison Millan contributed to this story.