JULY 21, 2009
The Nat Geo Music Interview: Choc Quib Town
Nat Geo Music Catches Up With Colombia's Newest Musical Exportby Simón Calle, Photos by Catalina Villamizar
Lately the sounds of Colombia's underground music scene have been capturing the ears of music heads far beyond the nation's borders. In the last ten years Bogotá and other major cities have witnessed an explosion of new bands that incorporate elements of Colombian traditional musics with everything from salsa and jazz to rock, electronica, and hip hop, and artists like Aterciopelados, Juanes and Carlos Vives have made major international reputations for themselves. Now comes Choc Quib Town, who blend the traditional sounds of Colombia's Pacifc Coast with laptop hip-hop and an explosive live show.
Originally from Choco - a state in the Pacific Coast of Colombia, one of the most marginalized regions of the country with a large indigenous and Afro-Colombian population - the members of Choc Quib Town gained local recognition with their 2008 debut album Somos Pacifico in which they sang about their place of origin and culture. With their new release Oro they're taking their message beyond the Colombian frontiers as they begin to tour the world - already blowing away Stateside audiences with a series of knockout shows at this year's SXSW festival in Austin, TX.
Talking from their home in Bogotá, Choc Quib Town's three vocalists, Tostao, Goyo, and Slow, discussed their group band, their musical influences, and how the remote Colombian Pacific, invisible even to many Colombians, connects to the world through music.
Nat Geo Music: What does Choc Quib Town stand for?
Tostao: Well, the name Choc Quib Town is a made up word, which isn't in English or Spanish. It translates something like "Choco, Quibdo, and town." It's an homage to the place we come from, a region from Colombia that very few people talk about, what we call "Africa inside Colombia," the Colombian Pacific coast. We chose the name because it's very sonorous, and in music all the elements you use must be focused in sound.
How did you guys came together and decide to bring together elements of different musical styles?
Goyo: Choc Quib Town began approximately nine years in Cali, Colombia. We moved from the Pacific Coast to join the Colombian hip hop scene in Cali. Slow and me are from Condoto and Tostao from Quibdo. Since the beginning we began to use the sounds from the Pacific. The band was the result of our experiences and the hybridity of the Pacific Coast of Colombia.
Tostao: After some year in Cali, I told the guys we should move to Bogotá. There if you want to sell rocks, people would buy them. We participated in hip hop festivals and later we had the chance to work with some local bands. That opened the doors to some venues and we slowly begin to build our own audience.
When you moved to Cali you were looking forward to perform hip hop or to introduce your fusion with traditional music into the scene?
Slow: I think that hip hop was always with us. That was the music that we liked, that we lived, the fusion happened spontaneously. We grew up listening to our traditional music, but at the same time we listened to urban genres like ragga and hip hop, so we decided to make all these genres one.
Goyo: We always have in mind all the music we grew up listening to. Choc Quib Town is the result of our experiences. It is also the result of the hybridity of the Pacific coast of Colombia. Choco is in the northern part of the Pacific coast, so Panama is very close. From there we began to get ragga and hip hop in Spanish in the late 1980's, and we made it our own. Later, through the port of Buenaventura, we began to get all the hip hop from L.A. and New York, and we also made it part of our culture.
In Slow's and my case, our dad had a closet full of records? vinyl, CDs, and tapes. Since we lived in Condoto where there were no record stores, he ordered from catalogs from Bogotá. Then we had access, at the same time, to the music of Michael Jackson, merengue from Las Chicas del Can, and local chirimia bands like Saboreo and La Contundencia, vallenatos from the Atlantic coast, among others. As I grew older I began to recognize all these genres as my history and influences.
What does hip hop represent for you?
Tostao: Well, hip hop for us is a confrontational urban sound. We use hip hop, but our music goes beyond it, because we take elements from salsa, traditional music, jazz, and funk. Although it continues to be a channel through which we communicate what we like, what we dislike, our heritage, our sense of belonging and identity, and many more things we think about. We talk about what we know.
You mentioned that the Colombian Pacific is Africa within Colombia, can you tell me more about that?
Goyo: Well, we come from a tradition in hip hop that speaks out and criticizes society. We wanted to tell the world how we see our people. For Choc Quib Town it's very important to speak and sing about the things we agree and disagree with. In our songs through analogies we talk about the lies of politicians in Colombia and Choco, we also talk about the diversity of our region, its customs, the social problems, and how its invisible to the world.
Tostao: We are here, but we are not here. You turn on the TV in Colombia and you don't see many Afro-Colombians. The analogies we use do not criticize society in general, but our own region. For that reason we use Afro-Colombian slang from our region. Other Colombian rappers would not use that language or talk about these problems. So, if we, who come from that region, don't speak about it, who is going to do it?
We are narrating a Colombia that does not appear in mass media. We want to make music that identifies us all over the world, so musicality is also important in our work. People in Poland or the United States might not understand what we are saying. So, we are trying to accomplish our own sound, with its own identity. We don't want to copy anyone to make ourselves more invisible.
So language is really important in your work?
Tostao: No, we would make a record in Sanskrit, Arabic, or Chinese if we could.
Slow: The music carries our identity.
Tostao: We want to create a wide channel to deliver a message without distortion. We want to show that Colombia is much more that cocaine, marijuana, coffee. Beyond of what people see in mass media there are many other things. That is what we speak about.