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L-Gante, rapper who caught the eye of Argentina’s right-wing media, remains in custody

Elián Valenzuela has been held for a week, accused of making threats with a weapon and holding a neighbor of his family against his will after a fight at a nightclub. His fans are posted outside the detention center to demand his release

L-Gante
The Argentine rapper L-Gante, in Buenos Aires in 2021.SOPA Images (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett)
José Pablo Criales

A prosecutor from the province of Buenos Aires on Tuesday rejected a request for the release of one of Argentina’s most popular rappers. Elián Valenzuela, 23, will remain in prison after being arrested last Tuesday for making threats with a weapon and kidnapping a neighbor of his family following a fight at a nightclub on May 27. “If I don’t come out winning, I’d rather not come out at all,” he wrote in a letter he shared Monday with his five million Instagram followers.

Considered the best exponent of the new Argentine cumbia, L-Gante became one of the most popular people in the country in July 2021, thanks to a compliment from Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. During an official event at a school in Buenos Aires, the leader cited an interview in which the musician said that he had recorded and edited his first viral hit on one of the computers distributed by the State in public schools. “Élegant,” as Fernández de Kirchner called him, was a good example of how the five million laptops that the government distributed between 2010 and 2015 (when she was the president of Argentina) could be used by young people to “start businesses” or “discover their artistic qualities.” “I recommend that you listen to him,” Kirchner advised. “He says that, with that Connect Equality he received in 2014 and a little microphone, he made a song that today has 176 million views on YouTube.”

What the vice president was aiming for was to champion her government’s public policies with the story of a young man born poor who changed his own destiny. But the opposition media took it as an endorsement of songs that encouraged drug use, promiscuity and misogyny. “The new icon of ‘Cristina’ culture,” was how one of the most influential journalists of Argentina’s political right, Eduardo Feinmann, described L-Gante, although he ended up inviting him to his program.

L-Gante made a point of contradicting the vice president, saying that, in reality, he had received the Equality Connect computer from a friend because he had already left school. “Do you know how to sing?” the rapper asked Feinmann as soon as the interview began. “Me neither,” he quickly added without waiting for an answer, the went on to dazzle the journalist for half an hour with captivating stories about how he started using drugs at the age of 15 and detailed descriptions of the small house he shared with his mother on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

2021 was the year of L-Gante. In March, he recorded a song in the most famous music studio in the world, Bizarrap’s; in July he was all over the news; in October he was received by the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández; in December he moved to a private neighborhood with his girlfriend and their one-year-old daughter. He was arrested on Tuesday at that same residence.

On May 27, one of his former neighbors from the municipality of General Rodríguez, on the western outskirts of Buenos Aires, filed a complaint in which he claimed that the rapper had pointed a gun at him and forced him to get into his car during the early hours of the morning. It happened after a fight between him and L-Gante’s friends inside a nightclub in the area. According to the complaint, the man, Gastón Torres, was forced into the musician’s car at gunpoint and kidnapped for almost half an hour, while the rapper made sure that his friends had not had problems with the police. “Prepare a little field for me, we’ll kill him there,” L-Gante allegedly said in a telephone conversation while walking his hostage, according to the Télam news agency. On June 6, he was arrested at his home after four searches to find him.

L-Ghent has spent a week in police custody, while his relatives and fans continue to camp outside the premises. On Tuesday, the prosecutor handling his case refused to release him while the investigation continues. It is not L-Gante’s first brush with the law: he had already been arrested in March 2021 for public order disturbances and in February 2022 for intimidating another young man with a firearm. His lawyer claims that the police have been merciless with the singer. Meanwhile, his legions of fans sit outside the detention center, demanding the release of a singer viewed as a hero of the humble folk, someone who sings about the social reality of a country where 40% of the population lives in poverty and social exclusion.

In an audio recording leaked to the press, the man who filed the police complaint says that he and his family have been getting threats all week: “They even threatened my 13-year-old daughter. It’s shameful. We don’t know what to do. If we go out they threaten us, and if we stay indoors they throw stones at our house.”

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