Archive by Author

Where have all the photos gone?

10 Jan

While I was in England – i.e. not “On The Road” and therefore not updating this blog – it got infected with some horrible malware or viruses. In a snapshot decision I deleted the entire blog (though backing up the WordPress database beforehand), thinking I could rebuild the site from scratch. I did however forget that this would dispose of all the images I had uploaded to the site, and which are now represented on the blog by big empty square with nothing inside. I need to remember to backup those uploads next time!

This does mean I’m seriously lacking photos on the blog, something I will put right very soon!

Nuqui Has It’s Charm

4 Jan

It feels like the logic of just hanging around in a small town with nothing to do has started to pay off. If I had brought more money with me then no doubt I would have headed off to some of the more touristic places around here – seen the waterfalls at Guachalito, the thermal baths at Termales, checked out the surf at El Valle – but not having cash meant I stuck around in Nuqui. Here, there is very little to do other than drink coffee in the daytime, beer in the night, and take the odd stroll along the beach (when it isn’t raining that is).

Yesterday seemed to be the day when it all came together. To start off with I had to make sure I had someway of leaving Nuqui after the weekend. All the flights were booked which meant boat was the only option. As there is no discernible port here I presumed the guys who hang around the restaurant on the river might now. They pointed me in the direction of a house further up the river, the one with the wooden boat outside (every house had a wooden boat outside). So I went off walking, asking along the way for the owner of the boat to Buenaventura. Eventually I was told to go down a little mud road, kids playing in the street, clothes hung up outside the houses, lack of windows meaning you could see every little going on, until I got to the end of the street and saw a man sitting inside a wooden room. He was alone, but he had some papers on his laps. “Are you the owner of the boat to Buenaventura?” He was, and he was the funniest guy I had met so far. His name was Yiyo.

Somehow this small event, including the countless opportunities to practice my Spanish, made me feel more comfortable about being in Nuqui, feeling less like the only white guy in a town that was completely black. With renewed vigour I headed down to the beach for a walk around. After watching the kids try and swim across to a nearby island I started to walk back towards the town, only to be ushered towards a house by a gregarious, big-bellied, and quite loud, Colombian. For the next hour I sat with him, drinking aguardiente, looking out at the sea in front of us. His level of drunkenness ensured that our levels of Spanish were almost identical. After he had taken his fifth toilet break in the hour we spoke I decided that I needed fresh environs and headed back into town.

I sat writing at a bar/restaurant on the corner. Eventually a couple of guys I recognised from my hostel turned up and we sat drinking until about 9pm, which is when the town goes dead – the fact that Nuqui is not the most touristic of places seems to mean that everyone simply goes home at 9, maybe it’s when everyone’s favourite soap opera is on. To be fair, it’s also the time when the tiredness takes over, Nuqui’s climate of hot, humid, suffocating air proving too much to take.

If I was ever looking for an example of why having no plans is better than an itinerary yesterday would be it, a day spent doing very little and somehow finding out more about Nuqui than I could have imagined. Bring

Arrival in Nuqui

3 Jan

The beauty of being outside of your comfort zone is that you completely free your decision-making. The idea of ordering a full English breakfast, black coffee and the cheapest room in the hostel are not as sure-footed as they once were. Instead, you’re brought back to the basic questions, “what do you have for breakfast?”, “what do you have to drink?” and “where can I stay?”

In Nuqui the answers are “fish”, “juice” and “Hotel Marimar.” The last of these is at 30,000 COP the cheapest thing you can get round here and with an owner who oozes maternal instinct (she’s got my back!)

Frustratingly though Nuqui has the one thing I could really do with right now, a cash machine. I have a habit of arriving at these backwater places with very little money at hand, and Nuqui is no different. In truth, I have enough to have a good stay rocking around Nuqui but it doesn’t look like there’s a great deal to do around here. Read any travel article about Nuqui and generally they’re talking about the Nuqui district, a huge expanse of coastline with the only route to anywhere being by boat or plane, and neither being that cheap. With a couple of days to kill until the NuquiFestival starts I really wouldn’t mind going off on a trek, hitting the surf or even see some turtles (they’re hatching around now I’m told) but these things all cost a lot of money – they seem designed for rich Colombians – so they may have to wait.

For now I’m going to head back to the Marimar, knock back some juice and brush up some Spanish, and probably head down to the beach at 4 when the tide comes back in. With or without a cash machine, things could be a lot worse.

I’m Back!

2 Jan

It’s hard to contain the excitement of being back on the road again, and especially of heading straight to a place I know nothing about.

On Saturday and Sunday Nuqui will be hosting the NuquiFestival. As far as I’m aware it’s being organised by Arianna Vallecilla, a Colombian married to Will “Quantic” Holland, a relatively famous (he’s played some big festivals, Southbank Centre, Lincoln Center in New York, etc.) British producer, musician and extreme convert to the Colombian musical cause. I had met both of them last year, Will at Discos Fuentes in Medellín where he was working on his Ondatropica project and Arianna in Cartagena where we got talking about música pacifica, the distinctively Afro-Colombian music of Colombia’s Pacific coast. On that occasion she sold me a copy of Una Sola Raza by Grupo Canalón de Timbiqui, as pure an expression of Afro-Colombian music as you’re likely to find.

I’m hoping that Grupo Canalón will be at NuquiFestival, as well as Will and a few other musicians I’ve met along the way. In truth, it’s hard to know who will be at the festival as all that exists to even prove it will be happening is a Facebook page that includes a couple of directions and an apology for not updating the page very often.

I’ll be flying to Nuqui from Medellín. It will mark my first visit to Colombia’s Pacific coast and my first visit to the Pacific coast since spending a week in Máncora (Peru) what seems like an eternity ago.

It’s the Pacific coast of Colombia which I’ve most wanted to visit since leaving Colombia last year with a bag full of new Colombian music and the names of a hundred artists I wanted to listen to. The music from this region has retained it’s sense of origin despite influences of salsa and jazz. It’s music which can hit you right in your soul; devotional, passionate, hypnotic, a beautiful example of how African slaves were able to adapt their sacred music to a new environment while also bringing in a different catalogue of instruments.

This is the music which I am hoping will be rife in Nuqui, and the reason why I had to give up my New Year’s Eve to get a New Year’s Day flight to Colombia and make sure I will be in attendance.


17 Dec

Don’t call it a comeback! Well, maybe you should. It seems like the road is once again going to be road more travelled. Tickets to Colombia are booked for 2nd January 2013. The journey will resume once more…

New Book Celebrating Colombian Music and Culture

28 May

This week I have been mostly working on Sounds and Colours Presents Colombia, a new book/CD celebrating Colombian music and culture. A lot of the research for this book was done during my Colombia travels earlier this year, all documented below, but since then the search has continued and I’ve delved head-first into anything Colombian I could find, and managed to get a few good collaborators along the way.

Which means this summer I’m going to be editing this new 208-page book (limited to 1,000 copies) and accompanying CD that will celebrate everything that’s great about Colombia, with lots of articles traditional styles of Colombian music as well as the current music scenes, Colombian cinema, Circo Para Todos, the giants of Colombian literature and theatre, original artwork, and lots more. It’s gonna be really special for anyone interesting in Colombia.

To raise the money for the printing costs we’re currently selling advance copies through a fundraising campaign. If you want to help a great project get off the ground, as well as discover a hell of a lot about Colombia you should really check out the link:

Palenque: The African Heart of Colombia

8 Feb

An hour’s bus journey south from Cartagena bus terminal (which itself takes an hour to get to from the centre of Cartagena) lies San Basilio de Palenque, a small village of 3,000 people descended from African slaves. Much of the coast in Colombia in fact has a large population of African descendants, but Palenque is the one place that has remained resolutely African.

The village is full of wannabe guides who I walk past as I get my bearings. The main square has a statue of Benkos Biohó but little else except for a few shops and bars. There’s an old woman in the corner of the square with some pots and pans so I go to see if she’s got some food, which she has; a soup full of bones followed by a plate of rice. While there I am joined by Daniel, one of the wannabe guys from the arrival. I ask him a couple of things about music in Palenque and he seems to know what he’s talking about. Considering the village looks nothing more than row after row of houses I agree to pay him 10,000 Colombian Pesos (about GBP3.50) to show me around.

Palenque is quite famous as the home of champeta criolla, a style of music that mixed Afro-beat with local Colombian styles (check out the Palenque! Palenque! to listen to this style in full flow). Daniel takes me to the house of Rafael Cassiani or El Maestro, leader of Sexteto Tabalá, a group with a strong Afro-Cuban feel. I felt a little bad for not buying any of the CDs he offered me but they were 30,000 Pesos (10 pounds) for CD-R’s with badly photocopied artwork. I told him I’d like to buy an original, to which he replied that they are the originals and that they sound better than the official ones which are actually broken. Apart from that dispute though, I got on well with Rafael. Then we met one of the two old singers from Las Alegres Ambulancias, a more traditional palenque group. Her CDs had proper liner notes and cases and were only 25,000 Pesos so I bought one. We also checked out La Casa de La Cultura, where many musical events happen on the weekend and at holidays.

In essence, if you plan on going to Palenque you’ll definitely need a guide as otherwise you will just find yourself walking along dirt roads past very similar-looking run-down houses. You should also know that the bus will only drop you off at the entrance to Palenque and from there you will need to get a moto for the final 2-3 miles to the village. It’s definitely worth it though for a taste of Afro-Colombia!

Academic Nonceties

4 Feb

I was under the impression that Oscar Guardiola-Rivera must be an interesting guy. He has written a book entitled What If Latin America Ruled The World?, regularly attends talks about South American culture in London, and was now appearing at the Hay Festival in Cartagena. In reality, his talk followed the same path as his book – which I’m currently reading – in that it never even attempted to answer the question that his book tempts you in with. Instead he delivered rhetoric after rhetoric with an academic glee, picking apart quotes from great thinkers in a last ditch attempt to show he had something to say.

Essentially the talk represented everything wrong about academia. Here was someone with great knowledge using that knowledge to prove that he had a lot of knowledge. Surely the only point of knowledge is in it’s application. Instead Rivera revels in it’s intricacies, using it to flatter the crowd who are pleased when in agreement, which considering he’s just dressing up history, is no real surprise. Not once did he even contemplate the question “What If Latin America Ruled the World?” which was the title of the talk. His book – which you can see here – follows a similar path, rich in history, low on insight. If Rivera simply referred to himself as a historian rather than a thinker and author he would gain a lot more respect from me.

Medellin to Cartagena by Bus

4 Feb

The big talking point on this bus journey was whether I should have gone at all. I was told nothing would be happening on the last night at Discos Fuentes for the Ondatrópica guys, just tidying up, that kind of thing. So I booked an overnight bus to Cartagena. No point wasting 13 hours of the day on a bus. However, they ended up having a listening party for the whole album, starting literally just as I left. Which meant not getting to party with some amazing Colombian musicians, including Fruko.

But anyway, really I wanted to talk about the journey itself. Essentially, there is just one thing you need to know about taking the overnight bus. For God’s sake bring a blanket or lots of layers. The bus drivers are sick individuals that feel more than okay in spraying freezing cold air down your next for the entire duration of the trip. It’s not pretty!

Ondatropica in Medellin

3 Feb

So the reason I came straight to Medellin was to catch what I could of Ondatrópica, a new project featuring Colombian musicians old and new, a “tropical” exchange of ideas. The project is headed by Will “Quantic” Holland, a British producer, and Mario Galeano Toro of the ridiculously good Frente Cumbiero. In total they recorded 34 tracks in Discos Fuentes studio – known for it’s unrivalled productions of Colombian salsa and cumbia. The results are already sounding legendary, and could be an album that really takes off when it’s released – slated for April 2012. The aspiration is for it to get close to the success of Buena Vista Social Club.

A slimlined version of the group, called Los Irreales de Ondatrópica, will also be appearing at the London Olympics as part of the Cultural Olympiad. That’s on July 21st/22nd and is definitely gonna be worth checking out. I wrote about this whole project in length at Sounds and Colours so check out for more info.