Tag Archives: Colombia

Big Party Coming Up In Bogota

19 Mar

For the past week I’ve been furiously trying to organise a party in Bogotá to celebrate the launch of the Sounds and Colours Colombia book. Finally everything has been confirmed and the line-up is looking pretty damn good.

There will be live music from both Andrés Gualdrón Y Los Animales Blancos (experimental pop) and Carmin Duo (folkloric sounds from the Caribbean coast), as well as La Blanquita Farm DJing what he calls “exquisite tropical tunes” all night. In addition, I’ll obviously be seeling a few copies of the Colombia book. I think it should be an interesting one.

If anyone reading this happens to be in Bogotá on Saturday 23rd March they should definitely come along. You can find more details on the Facebook event here: facebook.com/events/576888175662428

Leaving Colombia

5 Mar

My journey was so quickly planned that once I got to the bus station I couldn’t even remember the name of the place I was heading.

It’s name – once I remembered – was Cucuta, the most popular border stop between Colombia and Venezuela. Despite this particular recognition it’s also rarely used by travellers. An incident in which two elderly Germans were kidnapped by the terrorist group ELN in November last year has put the border crossing on a blacklist for many foreign offices. Quite why two elderly foreigners were walking around a hill in the middle of nowhere is still unknown [supposedly they will be set free in March 2013 so we can find out why then] but it has given the border a reputation.

The plan once I got to Cucuta was to take the colectivo across the border to San Cristobal in Venezuela and find out if there was any planes or buses to Caracas. Unfortunately trying to book any of these things online is a problem as it’s impossible to book a flight with less than 48 hours notice and the bus company websites are simple to say the least.

Idle Chit Chat

25 Jan

“We took them down. All the leaders, all their families. We took them down. Now, there’s just one leader left. We know where he is. He’s in the West now in the mountains. We assassinated his family, one by one we took them all down. He has no-one now. That’s why he’s trying to arrange a peace deal… But, I’m tired of helping other countries. I don’t know why we have to stick our nose in, solve other countries problems. It was the same in Afghanistan. They’re crazy there. There was this one guy, he had two RPGs, AK-47s, assault rifles. We took him down. Our entire unit swarmed in, assassinated 15 or 16 of them. They didn’t stand a chance. If you’re gonna pull that kind of shit on us then we’re gonna take you down… But, I don’t like America. I don’t want to go back there, it’s grimy. The people are grimy. When I retire maybe I’m gonna come and live in Colombia.”

Small talk with US army members can be a little intense.


20 Jan

I’m sat in the food court of a shopping centre in Medellín. In front of me a woman – early 50s, pretty flowery dress, long, dark, glossy hair, pale, carefully made-up skin – is sending a message on a pink phone. Next to her is a little one-year-old, cushioned in a pink and brown pushchair that looks so ridiculously comfy I’m tempted to jump in there myself.

To my left a more elderly lady is on the phone. She has darker skin, slicked back black hair that’s greying around the temples; two reams of pearls flow around one of her wrists, a gold bracelet round the other, and a thick silver chain sits around her neck. She’s dressed in pink.

Sandwiched between these two women is a couple, both also wearing pink (there seems to be a theme). In the twenty minutes I’ve been here they haven’t smiled once. Presumably whatever’s in the three bags around their ankles isn’t enough to raise a smile.

It’s this side of Colombian life, this side of life in any country that I don’t understand. People, couples, families work hard all week – in many cases through jobs that they can barely stand and with people they will easily forget about when they decide it’s time to leave – and they reward themselves by spending their Saturdays in a shopping centre like this. They spend money on things they barely need, eat generic fast food in the food court, finding themselves stuck with only each other for company and nothing to say, and so they sit in silence.

Do they not realise they could be at a football match, walking through a forest, drinking a beer with a friend, or even making plans for more exciting adventures than “shall I buy another pink blouse today?” It really doesn’t make any sense to me.

Nuqui In Photos

10 Jan

I’m not a big photographer. I find it distracts me from what is actually happening in front me, instead of talking to people, interacting with what’s going on, I’m hiding behind a camera, thinking about how to get a good shot. Then when I get home I look at my memory drive, fresh with 100 photos from the previous day; I copy the photos to my hard drive, but then they languish there for weeks before I get round to picking out the best ones. It’s not a greatly enjoyable or efficient process, and one I generally skip.

However, the beauty of the digital age is that there are thousands of people who like taking hundreds of photos a day, organising them and then putting them on the web for all to see.

Below are some photos of Nuqui by Luis Perez. They are not the most professional photos you’ll see, but they give you an idea of what Nuqui is all about:





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: indiegogo.com/sc-colombia

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.

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 soundsandcolours.com/articles/colombia/onda-tropica-rejuvenating-colombias-tropical-music for more info.

Medellin At Night

2 Feb

At night Medellin is covered in God’s sparkly dandruff: