Author: Daniela Pomes
Photo Credit: Ross Uribe
“The first time the police arrived, seven neighbours from the building came down to say that it wasn’t true that people were complaining about the noise. The second time they arrived, the neighbour from the corner shop invited them to eat empanadas and so the police stayed“, says Ana Izquierdo, one of the people behind Génesis Sound System, a sound system that rolled through the streets of Bogotá during the 2021 National Strike. On its busiest day, Génesis paraded with 500 people walking alongside it.
On 28 April last year, the largest national strike in recent Colombian history broke out. It was also the one with the most police violence. According to figures published by the independent Colombian NGO Temblores, from its beginning until 15 July 2021, at least 4852 cases of police violence were registered, and among them were at least 44 cases of homicidal violence at the hands of the National Police. However, the Ministry of Defence, together with the Attorney General’s Office, only acknowledged the deaths of 24 civilians in the protests. Temblores also recorded at least 35 victims of sexual violence by the security forces, among other figures.
Against a backdrop of state violence and censorship, especially against young people, music was present during the strike: hundreds of batucadas provided music for the marches throughout the country, as well as symphony orchestras, punk bands, rap crews and sound systems. Alongside the community meals in various cities, indigenous people from the communities of Cauca, in the south of Colombia, danced and made music with ancestral instruments. It was the youth who found a fortress for resistance within music.
The electronic scenes also mobilized to join the National Strike, from different sectors and cities. Collectives in Bogotá such as Génesis Sound System and Fuerzas Sónicas Unidas, and Motivando a la Gyal in Medellín, were three initiatives in which young people bet on activism through electronic music, in the midst of a convulsed and broken country.
Genesis Sound System: “Festive occupation by women and queers”.
While the neighbourhood woman managed to distract the police with empanadas, more and more people joined the Génesis Sound System, attracted by the sound of the guaracha and the speeches of young people who took the open microphone that May afternoon at the National Strike.
This purple sound system was built and led a little over a year ago by Lima-based visual artist and researcher Ana Izquierdo, and US DJs Mitchell Mora and Cole Carter, who are also members of the Bogota-based cuir (queer) collective La Putivuelta. The project was born with the aim of opening spaces, amplifying voices and being a platform for women and diverse communities. With a commitment to the democratization of music and party spaces, Genesis opened safe spaces of representation for women and non-binary people in the framework of the Paro.
In one of their first events during the Paro, they joined forces with the Red Comunitaria Trans, a network that fights for the rights of trans people at a national level, and the ECO collective, which is committed to self-management and the interdependence of electronic scenes, to take over a strategic point in Bogotá and open their microphones to anyone who had something to say. At the same time, sounds such as Neoperreo or Guaracha alternated with the discourses of resistance of the people passing by.
Without electricity or a trailer to move around, Génesis was located in the Chapinero district of Bogotá. “Bringing the sound system outside not only created a space for feminist collectives and organisations, but also brought together neighbours from the surrounding area and created this space for dialogue and organisation”, says Ana. The focus they wanted to give to the day was: “Struggles must be intersectional”. For her, one of the most interesting lessons learned that night was to witness “the plurality that can only be achieved through the sound system”.
On the other hand, Mitchell remarks, the musical selection for the day was a political gamble. Guaracha, a genre that carries a classist stigma due to its popular origins, was chosen to generate a familiar bond with those who accompanied them that day. The cultural background that “unites us as Latin Americans”, observes Ana, has found in rhythms such as Perreo and Neoperreo, dance and partying, a form of catharsis in the face of violent contexts and social inequality. That is why, for her, what happened that day was collective healing through music.
This event was a demonstration of what was happening in so many streets around the country: cooperation and resistance among attendees and neighbours in the face of police brutality. Vendors in the area paid for the electricity for the sound system, neighbours defended the soundsystem against police who came to harass them, and local businesses, so affected by the pandemic, managed to sell more than usual. There was a whole chain of collaboration that day.
“Spaces of encounter, music and celebration are underestimated, but this event demonstrated the importance of having moments of togetherness and joy in a context of resistance within such a long strike and such dense moments,” concludes Cole. Mitchell, for his part, stresses that by their very existence, electronic music cuir spaces are already political: “When we are at the party or in the street demanding our rights, we are expressing that we have a right to exist“.
Fuerzas Sónicas Unidas: music production and digital activism
Rosana Uribe, Miguel Isaza and Catalina Vázquez (Kathiuska) are the basis of F.S.U. (Fuerzas Sónicas Unidas), a project from Medellín created by artists, producers and DJs who supported the Paro through a form of digital activism using experimental electronic music such as noise, soundscapes and more.
Ross and Miguel, who are also the heads behind Éter, a music label and laboratory for sound and audiovisual experimentation, created F.S.U. during the #21N demonstrations in 2019, a social outburst that preceded the great National Strike of 2021. The idea of creating musical compilations to raise funds came “From the need to do something through music, to contribute to the demonstrations, to help the people who were in the streets and the social organizations leading resistances“, remembers Ross.
Through Éter‘s connections, they called on industry networks to donate their knowledge and skills: music production or creation, mastering, broadcasting or design, all for the strike’s sake. “Those of us who love music and make music know that it is a tool for transformation, (…) to build a healthy social fabric“, says the artist. “That’s why music will always be part of the mobilisations and what happens in the streets. We are clear that music is a fundamental part of these historic moments of change“.
For Ross, the party, nightlife, electronic music and the music industry are political spaces and elements in themselves, which is why they set out to collectivize their power: “Although we all have different political positions, F.S.U. is not about homogenizing, it’s about building from diversity, from the shared thought that the strike, mobilization and change in the country is absolutely necessary“, she adds.
Digital media and social networks were vital to F.S.U.‘s activism. Bandcamp, the online music shop, was a bridge to ensure that the proceeds from the compilations went to collectives and organizations on the frontline of the strike.
The prices ranged from voluntary contributions to five dollars, and between each contribution they raised 800 dollars, which they distributed among initiatives such as the Resistencia Antirracista (Anti-Racist Resistance) in Valle del Cauca, community kitchens in Cali, Medellín and Bogotá, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca and health brigades. Those who took part in the compilations donated 100% of their work for this purpose.
The first compilation in 2019 brought together 42 artists, labels and collectives from all over Colombia and some outside the country, including Éter, Monofónicos, Insurgentes, Discos Nutabe, Rouge Collective, Unknown, Radio Chigüiro and Píldoras Tapes. With the pandemic, the flame of the outbreak died down and F.S.U. was inactive.
However when it returned in 2021, Miguel and Ross understood that the essence of this initiative would remain active and at the service of social change. For 2021 they reactivated the initiative with the help of Kathiuska, who designed and illustrated the covers and social media pieces.
Ross stayed on as curator and manager, and Miguel took care of the mastering. During the strike, they completed five compilations with over ninety tracks. The greatest achievement for them was to build this network that weaves through the threads of music and finds its potency in uniting for social change.
Kpuchxz’s Motivando a la Gyal Party
Julieta Rodríguez, DJ and psychologist, Chara Castaño, workshop facilitator, and eleven other women make up Motivando a la Gyal, a collective that was born in 2017 in Medellín to manage social transformation actions based on feminism.
At the beginning, they were four friends who came together to build multidisciplinary training spaces, in which other women and diversities could share knowledge and leave the domestic places to inhabit the streets.
Julieta clarifies that these spaces are not exclusive, and they move outside the niches of feminism in order to have an impact on spaces where there is room for discussion and reflection.
Among their lines of action is “Fiestology”, in which they reflect on celebration, music and dance from a political perspective. When they organize festivals, the closing event is a ceremonial party, and they have strived to make it safe and inclusive, to reduce violence and mediate the conflicts affiliated to night and consumption in a non-violent way. Under the premise of “Collective Care” they advocate for parity and decent pay for DJs, staff and all the people who make up the party.
During the 2021 strike, Motivando a la Gyal was active on different fronts. “We gave our lives to the strike,” says Julieta. “We were present from day one, we attended all the mobilisations, we did interventions in public spaces, sit-ins with other collectives, we wallpapered on bicycles, we did graphic interventions with women and dissidents, and we did the Kpuchxz or Capuchinas Party (Hood Parties) to disguise it“. This was in a tourist spot in Medellín, and they fused dance and electronic music with social protest; they also collected funds for the Primera Línea del Paro, volunteers for pre-hospital care and community kitchens.
The day, which took place on 5 June, included various activities. There were talks on the history of paramilitarism in Colombia, and on the strike. Then banners were printed and created, and from five in the afternoon the party got underway with music and beer. There was also an exhibition of video, visuals and photos of the explosion for sale. The cover cost 4.5 euros for those who could afford it. We had the party after the mobilisations to celebrate the fact that we survived”, says Chara. “It’s important to have that affection, care and care for each other, in the midst of a situation that was politically very rough. We resisted because of that, because we had Motivando and our friends.”
That day, they built a line-up adequate for this context. “At the beginning it was a lot of protest music, and then it became more frenetic,” says Julieta. “For us, music was a companion in the midst of a high-risk situation, of very strong emotions, adrenaline, stress…” she continues. For them, “Music has always been a mere political tool. (…) it is also a way of protesting, which is why its presence and that of the fiesta in the sit-ins and marches was so important“.
After live performances by artists such as La Última Flor, Tristeza Tópica and Licencia2, the electronic section came in the hands of Marian and Karen, from the collective, and Alejandro Cardona from Discos Nutabe at the end. For them, the relationship around the beats, the closeness of the bodies and the complicity of the night manage an ecosystem to meet in diversity, which erases the barriers of thought. Julieta concludes that La fiesta de Kpuchxz was constructed as a political action. “Not politicizing parties has been a very serious problem because it has allowed a lot of violence to become naturalized. As a society it is our duty to take care of whoever is next to me. Parties are political because they’re a very broad stage that reflects social realities’‘. And the strike was an example of this.
Like these three, there were several initiatives during the social outburst of 2021 that had electronic music at their core for the management of social work and activism. If these stories demonstrate anything, it is the visible link between electronic sounds, partying, dancing and the social and political context of the country, and that music is undoubtedly a key vehicle for social mobilization in Colombia.
About the author
Daniela Pomés has a degree in Literary Studies from the National University of Colombia. For more than two years she has been writing journalistic articles on culture, counterculture, public space, urban art, music and social issues with a gender and feminist approach.
Most of her texts deal with women, gender dissidence and LGBTIQ+ people. She has published mainly in the independent media Cartel Urbano. She also writes fiction, especially short stories and prose poetry. She is currently the Operations Manager of Vídeo Club, one of the most important electronic music clubs in the Colombian and Latin American scene.