Glad to finally get to sit down and write this post. Since I got back from my trip, it feels like we’ve been busier than ever. Sometimes a couple gigs a night, sometimes going off till 7am. Dutty Artz crew is in full force right now. And that force is global.
Altitude 2,640 M
04º 38′ N, 74º 05′ W
Major Exports: Flowers, Petroleum, dope music.
This is it. The cradle of afro-latin music. I check in to the hotel around 12:30am on a friday night/saturday morning but I learn that the bar scene in Bogota has been much regulated in the past couple years and the clubs now close around 2am. We decide to stay in for the night. Its raining and after the night I had on thursday at Que Bajo?! I could use the sleep. Lots planned for the rest of the week.
On Saturday morning, we drive just a couple blocks and the first thing I notice is the graffiti. Bogota is covered in colors. You find the intricately woven name tags but also styles that infuse indigenous art and that’s what really stands out.
I meet Diana, an up and coming PR agent under an overpass and walk over to the LFA headquarters. She introduces me to Choco and Lil Chris. These kids are organized! Their office is my dream work space. They started off as Colombia’s first hip-hop clothing line but they’ve flourished over the past 11 years into a much larger non-profit enterprise working closely with UNICEF to use hip-hop as a platform for teaching workshops to di disadvantaged youts dem in afro-colombian villages throughout the country. I am standing in epicenter of Colombia’s urban music scene.
We enter the storefront where you can buy top quality mixtapes, original albums by local hip-hop, reggae and fusion acts plus hoodies, shirts, jeans, magazines, and of course, spray paint. It’s after hours and the store is closed but they show us around the space. Past the register there is a partitioned off computer bank with four work stations. This is where the forums for workshops are created.
Upstairs, another computer bank is where the administrative literature and emailing for funding goes down and the general business is managed.
There is another office for the Program Director who I meet only briefly as he is meeting about a trip to the Pacific coast this week to do some workshops and volunteer work . I’m impressed but this is still only half of the center. Next door to the store/HQ, the rec center where they host workshops for kids and are training an army of hip-hop soldiers to fight the revolution.
Familia Ayara luuuh da keedz! Monday through Friday they operate an after school program teaching kids break dancing, graffiti and forums on community issues ranging from teen pregnancy, drug abuse, and issues concerning race. I notice a collection of tasteful murals on huge murals stacked along the wall. Kazar explains were part of a city-wide gallery display highlighting their work in business throughout Bogota. These murals will be at a gallery in Toronto in May/June and could not be photographed.
Up one spiral staircase you find, Ayara Studios, where Choq Quib Town, Midras Queen and several other local acts have come to lay down the future of Colombia’s musical exports. Having recorded the whole of Buzzrock Warrior in a far less elaborate workspace I am happy to see the family is opening doors for like-minded artists that are trying to release music of substance. As a record label, LFA’s releases parallels their work in the community. They release conscientious urban music that fuses Colombia’s rich musical heritage and addresses issues relating to race and the community.
Bogota has an overwhelmingly white demographic. One doesn’t feel the racial tension at first because there just arent that many people of color in sight. The Afro-communities of Colombia are mostly relegated to the coast which has a lot to do with why the music is so good out there. I asked almost every cabbie, music store clerk and local that I had an exchange with where I could find cumbia or afro-colombian music in bogota and the overall consensus was that Bogota just isn’t feeling either. There is no radio station dedicated to cumbia. Kids listen to pop. They listen to Rock and Reggaeton. They listen to salsa and vallenato… but all that old time music, cumbia, bullerengue…. its all dead in Bogota. Ayara’s die-hard quest to keep those traditions alive by infusing them with modern technologies and working out there in rural Colombia to both volunteer and document and shine a light on the racial divide in Colombia.
After touring the facility we go to dinner with Choco, Diana and Chris who are all rapid-fire in answering my questions about the underground in Colombia. I hear about Voodoo Souljahs, Profetas and Midras Queen who works at the clothing store and is about to release her album, which was currently being mastered. (I got an early copy and standout choon is a latin dancehall number called Irreverente). I hear about several hip-hop and dub influenced acts but I’m trying to get in deeper. They offer up Mojarra Electrica y Bomba Estereo. Great stuff but rated PG in my book. I’m looking for a big wobbly monster that lives in a cave.
Throughout dinner I keep hearing the name Reeechard, the sound engineer that masters most of the labels music, helps them record and produces some great music. Their regard for him sits somewhere between generous man and patron saint. Richard Blair, better known as Sidestepper has lived in Colombia over a decade and I am witnessing the impact he has had on a generation of young Colombian musicians.
It wasn’t enough to make new Colombian music which resonated with these kids. It’s the fact that he works directly with them on their projects and contributes his time, skills and craft. The interview I had hoped to sit down with him for was conducted via email because I done up my phone creds and called a little late and missed my window. He was up early and had studio time reserved for 1pm. Man a Badman in my book. ( catch that interview here next week. )
Of all the local musicians I learn about the most chatted up and promising act on roads from Bogota is ChoqQuibTown. Choco tells me that historically, the Atlantic coast has always received a lot more attention for its musical contributions and what is innovative about CQT’s sound is that they are infusing the often overlooked Pacific Coast sounds like currulao and bunde and instruments, like the marimba with hip hop and dancehall synthetics . Some of you may have caught them rocking SXSW a few weeks ago and left there with a crush on MC/songstress Goyo. Their brand new album “Oro” drops this month. Their tune San Antonio is sittin pretty at 140 and ripe for the wobbly remix.
My hope, as I’m sure yours would be too was to find something beneath all the layers of boom-bap I knew I’d have to sift through. I’m asking Lil Chris and Choco where the Bogota bassheads at? I learn that Bogota isn’t really the hot spot for new music in Colombia. It has had a thriving Dub/Jungle scene for years but if you want the club banging hotness you need to go to the coast….. and beyond.
Lil Chris played me some crazy shit from Dj Buxxi off the ipod. There are two islands off the coast of Colombia, San Andres y Providencia and out there you can find a scene fusing dancehall, zouk and hip hop. Nearly all the MC’s I heard from out there toggle between spanish ragga, caribbean patois and creole. This tune was one of the many gems I picked up from my trip.
DJ Buxxi seems to be at the forefront of this sound producing for nearly all the big MC’s on the island which sits between Jamaica, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia. If our up on Los Rakas you’d be into most of the stuff he’s collaborated on. He comes down and records in Bogota about once a month to record with La Familia Ayara and is making a name for himself and his San Andres cohorts SA Finest, Hety y Zambo (zambo = sambo).
“its like the San Andres Ricky Blaze” – Uproot Andy
The rain came down aguacero style over the course of our dinner conversation. We called it a night jumped in a mini-cooper sized cab and head back to the telly. I spent the next couple days checking out landmarks and spending time with Pop Dukes and Mrs Jones.
The museum of gold makes you want to believe in El Dorado.
The Salt Cathedral which is still an active salt mine was an impressive human feat. They’ve gutted x amount of metric tons of salt out of a mountain for centuries and have left 14 cathedrals in the excavated caverns adorned with insane sculptures and collosal crosses.
We railed up to cloud level and took a couple shots of something akin to mamajuana from the Dominican Republic to ease the effects of gravity. The view from here is amazing. Bogota refuses to be condensed into the lens of a panoramic camara.
I get off my cloud and realized I haven’t acquired anywhere near enough music so Tuesday becomes my day for diggin. The pirate industry here is thorough. I enter San Victorino’s bootleg emporium. Roughly 40 booths all slangin MP3 CD’s and DVD’s. Next door a similar market full of just cellphone venders.
There is a strange but orderly fashion to how the shopping districts are arranged. Four blocks straight of nothing but optical stores along Carrera 13 at Calle 7. Further down el expresso to meet DJ Blanko, I notice a few blocks of lechonera’s, Bogota’s roast pork district. There’s no time for food tho. I just missed a book release party about female MC’s in colombia because I’m hungry for more music.
I met DJ Blanko at his brand new shop which had just opened 23 days earlier. He tells me he’s one of the few tornamesistas (turntablists) in Bogota. Not alot of kids can afford turntables but alot of them want to learn so he hosts workshops there for kids and teaches junior deejays the ways of the samurai wiki-wki. He lets me look through the shop and I pick up a couple titles. He tells me he doesn’t want my money. I trade him a couple mixtapes. Blanko and his turntablist friends have been to almost every major city flea market and knook and crannie and are great diggers. For you hardcore vinyl heads write him in advance and he keeps a list of stuff he digs for out of towners.
I scour malls, and shopping districts for deep afro-colombian jams. I find Etelvina Martinez, Maria la Carmen, Peregoyo and Gualajo. AMAZINGGG stuff. If your into the Afro-colombian sound of the pacific coast be sure to go down for the Petronio Alvarez Festival.
At the hotel, I listen to the new digs and seriously contemplate extending my trip to go to the coast.
Email from Jean:
u have a gig on the last day u r in bogota in case u wanna play on the 15th
call them if u want
My week could not get any better. With the exception of La Cumbiamba Eneye, an ensemble that plays traditional folkloric music from Colombia that I often DJ with, I run the only afro-colombian remix party in New York city longside my partners Uproot Andy and Jean Bernabe. Now I get my chance to play our stuff in Bogota. I suss out Club Penthouse and its a new and happening spot in town. Wednesday night everyone said the place to be was Quiebra Canto but that was also the night of my gig. La vida es asi.
I got there early and found that I’d be using CDJ’s for the evening via serato. Not my fave but it ain’t gon’ make a difference once I’m on. I notice the kids at the club are wearing the same bright yellow jeans and teal t-shirts one would see in Williamsburg and I decide I can pretty much play and wear whatever I want.
When I come back to the club, the resident DJ is playing warmers. Orishas, Amparanoia, some latin dancehall cuts. He picks up the decibles for MIA’s Bamboo Banga and Crookers version of Day n’ Night. I’m feeling in my element and plotting my set when some next guy jumps on dex and yanks the steering wheel hard right and slams us into 90’s drum and bass for 20 minutes. I go downstairs to the salsa floor to get my head right. (I can still name the first three tunes dude played so any hardcore junglists tryna say Geko Jones is h8tin on D&B hold your heads, or come clash Dutty Artz and see how you make out)…
The promoter tells me there is a band that is going on before me which is perfect cuz I have to get my box in. I think if they played 8 songs four of them where Madonna covers. I’m not too into the kitsch thing but the crowd is eating this up. The sound guy tells me this is their last song. I come in with a dub plate… from the stage the promoter is waving like an air traffic controller. FALSE ALARM. I wheel and the band does one more …..
Bogota loves the cheeze factor but I gotta give it to the band they kept the crowd moving.
Finally….. its game time.
Hard and heavy tropical bass and digital cumbia hits Bogota.