Cholo goth. Makes total sense. Especially when you see “Ready to Bleed” the newest video from San Diego-based Prayers. This isn’t sad emo Morrissey stuff. Instead, hard-edged, rap-tinged lyrics about pride and struggle slam against swirling goth synth and pounding drums. NBC San Diego’s Dita Quinones has compared lead singer Rafael Reyes to Jay-Z in his HOVA persona, and there’s no denying Reyes’ street cred or the redemptive power of music in his life. He says:
My music has saved me from myself and it has saved others from me.
A two strike offender, Reyes was born in Michoacan, Mexico and raised in the Sherman Heights section of San Diego. He grew up as a member of the Sherman Heights Grant Park 27 gang. At 18 he shifted away from gang banging and opened Pokez, San Diego’s funky vegan/vegetarian Mexican restaurant, which 20 years later his family still owns and operates.
Reyes’ two felony assault convictions happened in his late 20s, after his father’s death, a direct visceral reaction to the loss. He used his time behind bars to develop his art and writing, and in 2011 published Living Dangerously, a poetic cholo coming-of-age novella about graffiti crews and gang life. Full of violence and sex, redolent with street slang and snappy, hard-boiled dialog, Living Dangerously reveals the author’s bravado and humanity.
Reyes also began painting in earnest and creating sculptures using mannequins and animal skulls. (Full disclosure: Reyes’ “Magdalene’s Temple” was included in Two Johns and a Whore, the gallery show I curated that ran from January 11 -25, 2014).
Reyes’ artwork, blending Catholic, Chicano and occult imagery, blurs the line between redemption and damnation. His skills as a bold graffiti artist, developed during his time as tagger, served him well in the San Diego’s alt/street art community; his art sells steadily and he has devoted collectors. But Reyes craved a more direct, active way to communicate than art and the written word, so he formed the goth bands, Baptism of Thieves and Vampire, receiving local acclaim and notoriety. Cholo goth, a term Reyes wryly coined, had hit the San Diego scene.
With his latest venture, Prayers, Reyes–accompanied by Tijuana native David Parley, a Rasputinesque foil to Reyes’ Byronic street vibe—calls out evil, demands respect, and fears no man or devil. Prayers’ first video for “From Dog to God” had Reyes playing against and breaking traditional macho stereotypes while blending goth angst with street realities:
From dog to god, I’m all alone in this world
This fucking world
All of my friends have forsaken me
I get more respect from my enemies
I never ran when they tested me
The video for the single “Ready to Bleed” embraces classic goth imagery—blood and saints—contrasting them with gritty shots of graffitied walls in Sherman Heights. There are hard, harsh scenes as Reyes expresses his love for neighborhood and warns that he is self-aware, aware of his surroundings, and will protect all that he cares for, all that he has worked to become: An artist, a businessman, a community leader, redeemed by living his true will while avoiding negative societal traps.
Reyes and Parley blend classic goth, glam and New Wave like Bauhaus, Bowie and Pet Shop Boys with cholo street life.