Hip Hop al Parque

The last weekend of October I checked out the seventeenth annual edition of Festival Hip Hop al Parque hosted at Parque Simon Bolívar. The festival celebrated more than 30 years of Colombian hip hop and brought together some of Colombia’s best emcees, DJs, graffiti artists and break crews. The festival, like other publicly-funded series Salsa al Parque and Rock al Parque, is offered free to the public so that there’s low barriers to attend, aside from the three rounds of heavy pat-downs to clear security at the entrance.

The festival featured local and district artists as well as invited international artists like headliners Public Enemy (US), Danay Suárez (Cuba) and next-level scratcher DJ Revolution (Australia). I hadn’t expected to focus so much on hip hop culture during my time here. But now that I’m here I see the strength of the music and culture in Colombia at this moment, and the possible capacity of events like this blur social barriers that often divide communities in Bogotá. More on that in future posts.

One of my favorite performances came from Bogotá-based emcee Aguila Tway, a fixture in the local scene and known for her message of positive empowerment that she also shares through her hip hop workshops for disadvantaged youth in the city’s southern barrios. Tway was also the first female artist ever to be selected to perform from the 152 artists that competed in the public auditions organized byIDARTES, landing one of the eleven coveted spots. Artists T-Lonius y Tynoko, Engendros del Pantano, Mackia, Censuradox, JemboD, Producto Hip Hop, Diez, Yhon Secuaz and Bison also made it to the stage through this process.

Aguila Tway performing Dimelo. Reposted from Revista Sono.

Something special about the publicly-funded festivals here are the week-long (or sometimes month-long) series of free lectures and artistic workshops that coincide with the live performances. I checked out a beginners-level production workshop focusing on sample-based remixes and recordings hosted by Mr. Green, a New York-based hip hop producer who’s collaborated with artists like Outsidaz, Malik B and Jedi Mind Tricks. He’s also host of the Vice video series Live from the Streets alongside director Sam Lipman-Stern, which showcases street musicians and turns field recordings of their performances into hip hop beats (keep a future-eye out for an episode from their time in Bogotá).

Green broke down his minimalist production style to a packed room of producers (a great feat at 9 AM on a Monday, the day after the festival) with steps like basic sequencing composition and sample arrangements, illustrating with examples like his collaboration with Pace Won, Children Sing. Here’s an example of how he works with this process for Live from the Streets–

Side note: It turns out my very presence at the festival was a bit of a talking point. Responses ranged from some friends mentioning that they were there and had been into it, to others remarking that (paraphrasing here) so many poor people go to that festival so crazy things must’ve happened, that it’s super “ghetto” (whatever that means) and a number of other comments stigmatizing the hip hop community along those lines. You get the picture.

Opinions on poverty and privilege aside, there were more than 40,000 people in attendance each day– in any crowd that large there’s a chance of something happening regardless of the demographic. I’m not denying that there were some crowd-control issues (a few fights breaking out, people rushing the stage when the bigger acts stepped out), but all in all my personal experience was positive and what I witnessed was nothing apart from any festival regardless of genre that brings together thousands of humans in an enclosed space.

To be real, I don’t mean to paint a completely rosy picture of the social inclusivity of this particular platform. Something also to note was the social Othering that came from the rhetoric of this community as well– a number of the emcees like Pereira’s Malú 2 Eskinas riled up the crowd by repeating anti-reggaeton calls like “¡No al reggaeton!” (something I’ve witnessed also in club settings). Reggaeton’s presence is a highly-charged issue here, especially with the widely-believed implicit indications of “low-class” associations, thought by many to be a degradation of music culture.

In any case, keeping these imperfections in mind, it was inspirational to see hip hop in a light that I found reminiscent of 90s sentiments– using the medium as a political voice, a tool for social commentary, harshly critical of not only institutions but also the social stratification and fear isolates people and communities from each other. If we party together, we learn together. Highlights included crews like “hip hop protesta y propuesta” group Censuradox speaking out against restricted freedom of expression using classic 90s hardcore rap beats mixed with blues and soul samples, and Lucia Vargas’ tribute to the victims of forced disapperances in her track Sangre y Rosas.

It was fitting that one of hip hop’s political consciousness innovators Chuck D closed out the festival, on the mic to thousands of people (“We love you Bogotá! Paz y amor.”) that Public Enemy had inspired, giving new energy to the Colombia-specific breed of the art form that’s alive and well.

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