¡Saludos from Colombia!

From fruit vendors chanting their maracuyeah-hawking anthem, to el maestro Rubén Blades opening a set in Plaza Simon Bolívar with the classic “Chica Plástica” to a cross-generation crowd of thousands, to street performers dancing puppets to reggaetón, or outdoor salsa classes on Sundays for all sorts of urban fauna (see video below): music often appears in unpredictable, public moments to build an uninterrupted, buzzing soundscape across Bogotá.

I’m very grateful to be on the ground in a place that I’ve imagined for a long time from my perch in Boston. I’ve spent the past few years in the northeast working in an arts non-profit by day, and by night expanding my craft as a DJ, organizer and event producer. As a DJ, my work is inspired greatly by my Ecuadorian-Lithuanian roots and also by the possibilities I’ve seen for artists through hybridized, digital music as a tool for artistic agency and self-representation.

In Boston I was involved in creating a space for celebrating roots and also new innovations of hybridized music by co-founding a monthly global dance party called Picó Picante. The party’s grown to be a platform for not only celebrating and promoting local artists but also for inviting international touring artists and to contribute to the dialogue with like-minded collectives. Previously my work with immigrant and specifically Colombian artists has been through the diasporic communities on the east coast, which inspired me to be in Latin America to more deeply understand musical and social contexts for my own heritage and also the communities I collaborate with.

Explosión Negra of Medellín performing live at Picó Picante last fall. Photo credit: Nick Minieri/Beantown Boogiedown

Through my project through Fulbright-mtvU, for the next eight months I’ll be investigating how emerging Internet-powered productions create opportunities for artistic agency and social visibility for Colombian musicians traditionally deprived of resources to access the music industry. With unprecedented access to production technology, under-resourced artists are elevating their own culture, radicalizing tradition and evolving indigenous sounds derivative of regional styles such as currulao, bullurengue and gaita. I’m interested in the possibility of these digital productions creating a cross-class, intergenerational Colombian soundscape by using regional musical traditions as a baseline, paired with international electronic club sounds such as house, techno and hip-hop. In Colombia, this looks a lot like experimentations spanning the likes of dubbed cumbia, bass-heavy marimba and chirimia with dancehall vocals– and so much more I’ve yet to experience.

Here’s the questions I’ll be focusing on:

What does Internet-driven, low-barrier access to digital music production and distribution mean for marginalized, rural Colombian musicians? What possibilities do online, informal distribution networks hold for recontextualizing emerging Colombian artists in the international market, or even for turning the music industry upon its head? How do these digital networks simultaneously radicalize and promote tradition?

Internet-available tools include production software like Fruity Loops, publishing sites like Soundcloud, file-sharing services like MediaFire, and promotion through blogs and social media. Otherwise online-only networks can physically manifest in event-based meeting spaces for participation, building a movement through collaborative access points for musicians, visual artists, event producers, photographers and more. Since music is a reflection of the social context it’s created in, I’m interested in investigating how the hybridization reflects accelerated interaction between rural/coastal & urban musical communities in Colombia, driven by free, accessible Internet resources.

Bogotá Street Dialogue

As for the product of my project, I’ll be curating a monthly mixtape package to illuminate a cross-section of instances where producers construct vibrant, transcultural visions, which will accumulate to a digital catalogue of Colombia’s emerging producers. Each release will be paired with an interview that explores producers’ backgrounds and influences, and digital liner notes to contextualize cultural and historical references.

To create a physical space for the project, I’ll host a monthly release party at a performance space in Bogotá accessible across the socio-economic spectrum. To connect to the mixtape prompt, performing artists of the sampled traditions will perform alongside digital producers, encouraging horizontal dialogue between all variations between tradition and contemporary. I’ll also be producing a bilingual webseries documenting my immersion in Bogota’s digital music scene to create a multimedia portrait of the emerging movement.

Homemade Sound System In The Making

Lastly, I’ll be hosting a digital production workshop series in collaboration with La Lengua de mi Barrio, an organization that trains youth leaders from Colombia to use hip-hop to transform their communities through non-violence. The workshops will provide students with a practical set of skills to utilize Internet production and distribution resources as tools, as well as to develop and share personal narratives and expand their musical register. To widen the workshops’ reach, I’ll also train leaders at the organizations’ other outposts in Cartagena, Barranquilla and Medellín, and will host the materials online for future sharing.

Looking forward to a year of connecting, listening, learning and sharing throughout the process!

First week in Bogotá with fellow Fulbright amigos. (L to R) Ari, me, Chris, Corinna. Photo Credit: Corinna M.

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