Colombian hip hop fusion band ChocQuibTown spoke out about racism in their country, Afro-Colombian culture, and the power of music.
In an interview with Colombian newspaper El Espectador, the three bandmates of ChocQuibTown- Tostao, Goyo, and Slow- step up as representatives of Afro-Colombian culture and discuss it’s complexities and challenges. All three agree that racism persists in Colombia, and that even as world-class musicians they have experienced bias and discrimination.
The group first responded to a question posed about the recent law passed in Colombia that criminalized racial and other types of discrimination with penalties of one to three years in prison and fines of up to $4,500 for those found guilty. Tostao said that “in Colombia, the issue of racism has not been defined, there is a fine line between what is and is not racism that is crossed all the time. The fact that the law has defined the matter is very healthy because if not they would not be able to control educational and disciplinary measures…In this country, which is multi-ethnic and multicultural, there hasn’t been the capacity to understand the differences.”
Goyo went on to explain how racism has affected her, and many Afro-Colombians, saying “here in Colombia racism still exists, although many people say no. One walks into a bank and feels persecuted, and it’s the same in a supermarket. In Colombia it hurts to accept this. Once we were interviewed on Univision and they asked if we had experienced a racist act and we responded that (racism) affects us every day. When we said that, people started responding to that on Twitter and I thought no sense in telling things as they are not. Why should I claim that in Colombia there is no racism when my mom and my grandmother and I have lived it? I’d rather have millions of people mad at me for telling the truth, than disappoint my family.”
El Espectador interviewer went on to inquire about the moment in which the band members began to discover their musical roots, to which Tostao replied “that is implicit- since we were young, because that is the life of a child growing up in Choco: you wake up listening to salsa, chirimia, and the music coming from Panama. It is imperceptible. We are raised that way, when one lives among the sugar cane and gets used to always smell sweet, or if you live by the sea and become accustomed to the salty smell of the air. When we left Choco we realized that the world outside was very different, and a way for us to stay close to our culture was to be connected to the music.”
When asked in which ways there music was reviving their cultural values Slow explained that “we want to tell, show, and save the things that our people were already forgetting. Our music is telling young people to not seek the answers outside, but rather inside.”