Chor Boogie is a widely awarded aerosol artist whose work has appeared everywhere from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to the Great Wall of Oakland, the Torrance Art Museum in Los Angeles to the Smithsonian in Washington DC. But many don’t know he is also an initiate of an African spiritual tradition that utilizes the powerful visionary entheogen Iboga in their core practices. We talk with him about everything from his own personal healing to how cultural appropriation is affecting both street culture and plant medicines.
How did you get interested in Iboga? What was it that propelled you to try it? And why do you later go to Africa and do a full initiation in the Bwiti tradition?
So the first time I traveled down to Costa Rica to do Iboga, and it was a profound experience. I came out of the journey saying “I Love My Life!” That’s how deep it was. But as life-changing as that experience was, it was still just a sliver of what I experienced 6 months later when I went to Africa to really immerse myself in the culture of Iboga, the Bwiti tradition.
What did Iboga reveal to you about hip hop and street art culture?
In my visions with Iboga I saw how many different traditions, not just Hip Hop, have their roots in African culture. And whats even deeper is that Iboga itself did not start with the Bwiti; it was introduced to them by the Babongo people—you may know them as the pygmies.
They have been cultivating and guarding its secrets for longer than anybody knows. But what I saw is that the hip hop culture I grew up in and had been expressing was based in this African tradition, so in a way I had already been practicing Bwiti before I even went to Africa and got initiated. Both cultures have also been resilient to colonialism, but are now facing the latest manifestation of the colonized minds known as cultural appropriation.
You have been actively addressing cultural appropriation in aerosol art culture lately. What are the parallels with iboga and other plant medicines?
In aerosol art we have outsiders of the culture coming in and creating their own systems of documentation that put them at the center of it. People who don’t know or acknowledge the roots and pioneers of the culture itself, like Phase 2 and other artists from the 70s who laid the groundwork for the entire art-form, yet mostly never got the respect and recognition they deserve. Now that street art has become a big thing, a world wide thing, these outsiders are taking the credit for themselves. I call this the perspective of the colonized mind.
For many of these people, this kind of colonization seems natural. And that’s because it has been going on for generations and is normalized. And I hate to say it, but it’s more common among certain races and cultures, and it seems to be taken to an extreme in what I call the “West-world”.
We see the same thing now happening with plant medicines, including Iboga. You have outsiders who want to market these traditions but without bringing the traditions themselves to the table. The first doctors, the first scientists are the ones in the bush, the ones in the jungle, the ones that discovered the medicine and created the traditional ways. You even have colonized minds now that want to isolate the alkaloids from the plants just to control the medicine itself. Control the visionary experience. Colonization is about control, by outsiders, so that they control, own, take credit for what is not theirs.
How does Iboga (and other plant medicines) help us to de-colonize our minds and reverse this process?
You know it’s really a personal thing that is going to be different for each person. Plant medicines in my opinion are the closest thing you are going to get to a “savior”. But you can’t expect them to do the work for you, you have to listen to them. What it comes down to is whether you are willing to listen to the plant medicine, or whether you are going to try to control it, which is what is happening with these colonized minds.
While I know many people that have been helped by plant medicines, like myself for example, there are still lots of people out there who do lots of plant medicines and still keep perpetuating the same colonized mind. So like I said, it really depends on the person.
What’s in the near future for Chor Boogie?
I have art projects coming up, but I am also beginning a new chapter of my life here in Costa Rica, where I first did Iboga and now live with my wife and newborn son. We are in process of opening up an environment that helps people with self discovery called the Sunriver Retreat Center. We will focus on Iboga, where people can come for an authentic experience with Bwiti initiated facilitators who keep the medicine within its tradition and original purpose. We will also help to create ceremony space for other medicines and qualified providers.
The best way to reach us right now is through . We have already started bringing people down, but the first group is already full and so we are taking reservations for later in the year at this point.
Ocean Malandra is a widely published freelance writer that divides his time between Northern California and South America. He is the current author of the Moon Travel Guide series to Colombia, a former environmental columnist for Paste Magazine, and the co-editor of an anthology on plant medicines forthcoming in 2021. Follow him @oceanmalandra