I caught up with Monosóniko as he was preparing for the second edition of his Rarezas Bailables (Danceable Rarities) party with selector Barba Roja, featuring rare vinyl selections “que ni Shazam con toda su fama puede encontrar” (that even Shazam with all of its fame couldn’t find). Monosóniko relocated to Bogotá from Barranquilla, where he grew up observing Afro-Caribbean sounds and picó soundsystem dancers in the neighborhoods of La Chinita and Simon Bolivar, developing his particular style from watching his father and brother, seasoned picoteros (picó soundsystem DJs).
As a performer and party starter, Monosonóniko jumps between the roles traditional in a picotero set– whether selecting tracks, being the animator or emcee to hype the crowd or call out dedications, or as the improvisor working with a sampler over the songs. His setup of choice is a pair of Technics 1200 turntables and a Casio SK5 sampling keyboard, which he uses to improvise effects over the selections.
In the video below, Monosóniko shares a demo of his improvisation style in a live champeta set with the SK5 keyboard’s sample catalogue called perreo (named after the samples of dogs barking). Keep reading for a full live vinyl set after the interview, in which he describes his experience representing costeño culture in Bogotá. ¡Para gozar! (Enjoy!)
Note: You can enable English captions in the video player.
Sara: Having grown up in the picotero community in Barranquilla, how would you describe the sounds that you were surrounded by?
Monosóniko: The picó is world music. In the beginning it was mostly styles like son cubano, música jibara, cumbia, bullerengue, all types of Colombian folkloric music. However there came a moment that the picoteros started to look for more distinct and exclusive tracks, and they started to program Haitian compás, zouk, soul, funk, disco, reggae, dancehall. In this search for these styles they found African music like soukous, a new and contagious rhythm for dancing and the most complicated to find. In the 70s and 80s there was a boom of African music in the picós.
Many of the youth, artists and singers from this era in Cartagena and Barranquilla started to take on the instruments played in African music, because these styles of music have a lot of space for instruments, guitars, bass. They started inventing their own versions of the songs, emulating the African singers and reinterpreting the music, singing in Spanish.
That’s where champeta criolla was born. It’s a genre that was born with the picó as the father and the African music as the mother. Champeta criolla is self-defined as an indigenous urban culture of Colombia. There’s a lot of factors that converted it to be a very rich and complex urban culture– it has a soundsystem, a musical genre that’s champeta, a style of DJ set, a style of dance battling and freestyle, a multicolor and psychedelic graphic style and an emcee-animator that improvises over the tracks, inviting everyone to dance and enjoy the party.
This belongs to the people of these specific neighborhoods, and perhaps that’s why the rest of the world hadn’t known it so well, just as they hadn’t in Colombia either until it had a small national boom in the middle of the 90s. Since it was considered something very much from the hood, the press, the radio and television wasn’t interested in it, except for when it created problems for the public order.
Sara: It seems like champeta is having another strong moment right now in club culture. How did it make its way from the coast to cities like Bogotá?
Monosóniko: When I arrived to Bogotá seven years ago at the end of 2006, there was an alternative scene developing, a few champeta songs that you’d here in a small circuit of bars for alternative music. Groups like Bomba Estéreo and Systema Solar were growing, that had a clear influence from the picotero culture and champeta. Many young people in the capital started to rediscover this cultural movement of the Colombian Caribbean.
Now we’re seeing that champeta criolla is again playing on commercial radio with artists like Kevin Florez and his song La Invite a Bailar, which I think is now on almost all of the commercial stations in Colombia. It’s a song that was created in Cartagena, thirteen years after the last national boom that happened at the end of the 90s, with artists like Mr. Black, El Afinaito and El Sayayin.
Sara: Has this national popularity changed picotero culture on the coat?
Monosóniko: In Barranquilla and Cartagena, the picotero culture is super strong. This popularity has of course changed picotero and champeta culture. Young talents like Kevin Florez are examples to follow, because his style is new and it mixes together new genres. It also influences the programming for the picós and as they see what styles are most liked in the country, they solicit exclusive songs just for their sets, recorded in this new style called Champeta Urbana.
Related to the word champeta– the people that listen to champeta are called champetuo. And champetuo is a derogatory term. To say champetuo is to tell someone that hey’re lower-class, from thepueblo (village). The term is something older than the genre, which was born in the middle of the 80s. The word champeta the name for a knife– bigger than a dinner knife but smaller than a machete. The music instead was commercialized with the name terapia criolla, but these days it’s reclaimed its original name. Now it’s something cool, in-style. But fifteen years ago, it was a negative association.
Sara: It seems like there’s a few spaces that have been particularly open to helping this community grow. How has it been working with venues like Chapinero’s Latino Power?
Monosóniko: Latino Power is the place in Bogotá that’s been the most open in terms of music. Before Latino Power it was called Boogaloo, and before this Piso 3, but it’s the same idea that’s just changed its name and continued evolving. They throw parties of all types of music, like reggae, global bass, cumbia, electronic, hip hop, rock, salsa, vallenato, balkan, really anything (laughs). The people that come to Latino Power I think are people with a very particular interest in the music; it’s a public that’s open to rediscovering the traditional but also open to knowing what’s new. I think it’s been a pioneer in Bogotá in that it’s opened a space for all types of music of the independent alternative and traditional of Colombia.
Sara: When you throw parties in Bogotá, do you find that there’s a heavy costeño presence or is champeta something that’s become more universally-appreciated?
Monosóniko: I see it as something universal. In the alternative music circuits, people come out from all of the cities across Colombia and the world. Of course there’s also a lot of people coming from the coast because they identify with this music. It’s cool that the world gets to know that we have a culture in Colombia to offer them. The Internet facilitates that this can spread and Bogotá is a key point for its growth. The world needs to know this culture, it’s a commitment that we have to make it an international language so that champetúos can grow in Germany, Cuba, China, Spain, Jupiter (laughs).