TOTE PASCUAL: REVOLUTIONARY MASTER OF HAIR AND MIND
Tote Pascual is a man who many asuncenos know by name. A hairdresser, hair stylist and barber, he’s the owner of Raio Bemba – perhaps just the hippest hair studio in Asunción. What’s more, over the past five years of the existence of Raio Bemba, Tote has definitely made his way into the hall of fame of the creative souls in the city. He has become a social influencer that local magazines write articles about and national tv channels love to interview. Yet what exactly is it that Tote has done what other people haven’t?
Raio Bemba – hair studio of a new era
When Tote’s hair studio, Raio Bemba (the expression radio bemba is Cuban slang for word of mouth) opened its doors five years ago, Asunción was far from being the emerging hub for creativity it nowadays is. As stated by Tote and graffiti artist Oz Montanía, still only seven years back, the city was a cradle of dormant conservatism with no space for mental diversity. While all Paraguayans born before the year 1989 used to live at least partly under the 35-year-dictatorhip, it is only recently that the country has seen a generation of young, open-minded adults with access to the whole world. And according to 38-year-old Tote, this so called ‘clean generation’ is the one which has slowly began to change the social paradigma.
Hair in the center of culture
As a stroke of luck, Raio Bemba was born at the dawn of this new era. What started out as a small enterprise of six, has since then grown into a cultural complex with nearly 30 workers. Nowadays the premises of Raio Bemba host a hair studio, a barbershop, a fitness gym, a make-up artist’s atelier, an architect’s office (Tote’s wife’s), a space for bachelorette parties, a cafeteria and a courtyard for events. Over the years, the courtyard has been stage to various artistic events from concerts to theater plays and magical shows, and at present, it serves as a playground for whoever has the time and will to produce such activities.
As for the interiors of Raio Bemba, the place is an imaginative and stylish mishmash of design and vintage, of photography and contemporary art, of recycled and new, and in all colors of the rainbow. Many of the old objects have been scouted and restored by Tote and his architect spouse themselves – and what began as a necessity for the hair salon, has since then turned into a small business: nowadays the objects the couple finds and restores are sold out to consumers, if not used within the premises or Raio Bemba.
This puzzle of music, art, style is definitely far more than just your ordinary hair studio. The things that keep accumulating over the years all share a common denominator: the owners’ authentic interest for bringing together everything they like. They wanted to have a cafeteria, so they opened it inside their hair studio. They wanted to have a bar, so they opened it inside their new barbershop. Tote likes photography, so there’s photography on the walls and a small setup for studio-like photos. To quote his own words, if Tote liked ping-pong, there would no doubt be a ping-pong table in the middle of his shop.
The man behind the revolution
Since his early childhood years, Tote Pascual was immersed in the world of hair. His mother was an extremely traditional hairdresser, and although Tote learned the basics of hairdressing observing his mother, she had never been a fan of teaching nor had he been eager to learn her profession. Yet, 14 years ago, something changed. At the age of 24, Tote came across a very particular teacher who taught him the very essentials of what a contemporary hairdresser can do. Around the same time the brand TIGI landed in Paraguay. With his eyes wide open to these new influences, Tote ultimately decided to ditch journalism and dedicate himself to hair and everything he could build around it.
As most hairdressers I know, Tote Pascual loves to talk and listen. Although he realizes that most people come to a hairdresser because of their hair, he says he never overlooks the opportunity for meaningful conversations with his clients. In fact, Tote says that one of the things that is very typical for him, is his will to understand all individuals. And that’s why he adores cutting more than anything: it gives you the possibility to look people in the eyes while you speak to them.
Hair for socially conscious publicity
Sometimes talks with clients lead to great ideas and creative projects: even some of Raio Bemba‘s commercial campaigns have been born through right conversations with the right clients. In fact, in addition to differentiating itself from others in hair and creative concepts within the studio, Raio Bemba‘s commercial campaigns are known for expressing strong opinions and carrying social messages. According to Tote, the best campaings are not just about publicity, but about authentic, meaningful and fresh ideas that also manage to bring in clients.
Donation of hair for cancer
A campaign which brought many new clients and heaps of positive publicity to Raio Bemba, was one done a couple of years ago for children from low-income families. Done in collaboration with a Paraguayan foundation, throughout a year Raio Bemba collected hair for whigs for children who were treated with cancer. The hair was sent to a Brazilian foundation which made the whigs and later sent them back to Paraguay. What Raio Bemba offered his clients in return was: for one radical haircut (long to short), one for free. According to Tote, the clients were more than happy for getting a discount on cutting their hair whilst also giving out for a good cause.
New hairdos for politicians
Another action was done with political posters. The first idea was to change the hairdos of three politicians in election posters into mohaws and other extreme hairstyles. These pictures of hairdos were then glued onto the faces of three politicians all around the city. Under the pictures it read: renovar la cabeza (renewing the head). Although quite an extreme campaign, it turned out a success of laughter. This lead to numerous people visiting the webpage of the campaign: www.renovarlacabeza.com.
Later on, the campaign turned into something bigger due to a scandal in Paraguay. In 2013, one of the senators was accused for using state money for personal purposes. To make him stand for trial the other senators were asked to vote pro or contra his lawsuit. As it happens, all 23 senators voted against a lawsuit. Therefore, together with an advertisement agency, Raio Bemba created a campaign where they photoshopped the hairdos of all the senators. Underneath the photo it read: “si no cambian ellos, los cambiamos nosotros” (if they don’t change, we change them). This campaign, which was published in local newspapers, not only won prizes, but also evoked various manifestations. And here’s is what the pimped senators looked like:
La Guarida – new barbershop in town
Although Tote Pascual has been part of many influential campaigns, he doesn’t deliberately go looking for what’s wrong in the society. Quite the opposite: he says he has perfected his skill is seeing the good in it. He also doesn’t go comparing himself to the other hairdressers in town and according to him, he’s quite out of what happens in the hair scene in Paraguay. Yet, he’s surely in the know of everything that goes on in this field around the world.
For example, beards are the thing right now, right? Well, guess what? Only a month back Tote started the new la Guarida barberos, a hybrid of a barbershop and a bar. Open from 12am to 10pm, the shop serves as the perfect place for an after-work, and even more so if in need of a hair or beard cut. As not to remain solely a man-only location, the theme of the inauguration party was: ”come with your beard or with your bearded fellow”.
Tote’s barbershop is located in a classical building from the colonial era, which usually means pilars and large hallways. Him and his wife looked for such a place for many years, and to their surprise finally found it not too far from Raio Bemba, in the neighborhood of Villa Mora. According to Tote, the new shop is situated at an important crossing of two paved roads – a fact which can never be taken for granted in Asunción. It’s interior design is retro all the way – a homage to the the barbeshops of old times. And the name, la Guarida? Dedicated to a famous club of the 60s and 70s which gave refuge to subversive musicians of the times.
La Guarida barberos:
How I met Tote Pascual?
I first saw Tote in a Facebook live video by my friend Melissa. She, as well as other people in arts, marketing and communications, is a usual customer of Raio Bemba. In the video, she had her whole head shaved. But what caught my attention even more than her new haircut, was the extravagant hairdresser caught my attention. I asked around who he was and to my delight, Tote came to meet me and cut my hair on his day off (because on the other days he would’ve been fully booked!).