“We want to put our culture on the map, but not just at the international level. Even in Colombia itself, the lifestyle of Afrocolombians is unknown. We live and feel our African heritage, but as Africans in Latin America.” Carlos Valencia (Tostao) is passionately describing the purposeful drive behind hip hop trio Choc Quib Town’s music as I interviewed them in the Fall of 2009 at the World Music Expo in Copenhagen. He continues to explain that every part of the artistic vision of the group he leads with childhood friend and wife Gloria Martinez (Goyo) and her brother Miguel Martinez (Slow) is about representing their roots, from the choice of their name – Choc Quib Town – which fuses the names of region of Chocó and its provincial capital Quibdo – to their fiery mix of funk, hip hop, salsa, and rhythms from their beloved Pacific Coast.
Goyo is equally eloquent about the importance of that particular region of Colombia, which is practically virgin territory: “When people talk about Choco, they speak of oceans, rivers, gold, unpaved roads, and of animals and jungle that are vital for Colombia and the world. We are an important part of Colombia, we generate life and oxygen. And as far as music, it´s a part of everyone´s life, everyone plays an instrument, sings, harmonizes…but it’s not the cumbia, it´s not vallenato, it´s not the Atlantic Coast. It’s the Pacific Coast and it’s rhythms such as currulao, bambazu, aguabajo.”
I was curious as to some of these rhythms that I’d never come across, and Goyo detailed a few for me: “For example, ‘aguabajo’ (down the river) is very mystical, it’s the feeling of being on the river, moving along very slowly in a canoe. It´s a beautiful rhythm, expressing happiness or sadness, but also longing. Another very different one, ‘levantapolvo’ (dustraiser, from kicking up dust as you dance) is super danceable – it calls you to party. Tostao adds the instruments they choose and sample are also key, giving me the example of how they incorporate the marimba made with chonta palm wood (declared Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNSECO in 2010).
I had the chance to talk again by phone with Goyo on July 4, shortly before the band took the stage at the ‘Rock en El Parque’ concert series in Bogota. Since the time I interviewed them in Copenhagen, the group has won the Latin Grammy for Best Urban Latin song (2010) and also received a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Alternative Album (2011), so they certainly appear to be on the way to accomplishing their goals. Goyo noted that indeed they are pleased to be taking what she considers are the first steps in raising the visibility of Afrocolombian’s and their unique heritage. But she emphasizes that it’s just the beginning of a process: “…this is something that is needed for all of Latin America and not just Afro-descendants but other indigenous and aboriginal peoples. It’s important that we as Latin Americans and Colombians begin to rediscover ourselves, and give Afrocolombians their rightful place in the culture….on TV we should see the stories of Afro-descendants. Let’s not be embarrassed by that! We are all one people and we all bear only one national ID that identifies us as citizens of the Republic of Colombia!
Choc Quib Town performs July 9 at the amazing Latin Alternative Music Conference in NYC!