Colombia Diaries: An Unexpected Adventure With Latin Rock Legends

English / Spanish

In November 2010, Alt.Latino and PBS's Music Voyager went on an adventure throughout Colombia. We traveled from city to city, town to town, interviewing musicians. Throughout the next two weeks we'll be sharing those experiences with you on this blog. You can also see interviews and extended footage of performances on Music Voyager.

Colombian Rock Icons Aterciopelados Play "Ataque De Risa"

A few years back, I embarked on a group vacation to a paradisaical city in Latin America. I was with a close friend and a group of acquaintances. Being some of the few Latin Americans in the group, my friend and I were de facto tour guides.

A few days into the trip, despite the breathtaking beaches, the incredible architecture, delicious food and gorgeous artisanship, we both started to tune into the suffering that was hiding behind the touristy façade but seeping through the cracks nonetheless. The child beggars. The ridiculously young local girls strolling hand in hand with very old European men. Two pregnant women fighting over a leftover slice of pizza in the garbage.

While most of our traveling companions where wishing they could move to this heaven on earth, we became deeply sad. It was like we and they were tuned into two different radio signals. I guess traveling as a tourist isn't the same as returning to a place you consider part of your heritage.

When Felix and I headed toward Colombia, we did so not as vacationers but as music journalists. We were prepared to be wowed by the beauty — and were — but we were also willing to face the ugliness. After all, music is born out of pain and anger as much as it is from joy and pleasure. In order to understand it you have to be willing to know the wounds it springs from.

We found excellent tour guides in the legendary rock group Aterciopelados (The Velvety Ones). The group has always been socially conscious, which is in part what attracted me to them as a teenager — that and the fact that they rock. And they were one of the few high-profile Latin rock bands fronted by a woman, Andrea Echeverri. Check their classic "Bolero Falaz" and tell me what's not to love.

YouTube

We met with Aterciopelados in the oldest part of Bogota, the neighborhood known as La Candelaria, where the Spanish colonizers first set up. It is a true relic with colonial houses and narrow cobblestone streets that were definitely not built for cars.

La Candelaria, Bogota i i

hide captionLa Candelaria, Bogota

Jasmine Garsd/NPR
La Candelaria, Bogota

La Candelaria, Bogota

Jasmine Garsd/NPR

Before performing, the band insisted on taking us to meet with leaders of the Arhuaco tribes, who have been forcefully displaced and killed by the ongoing armed conflict in Colombia.

In a small commune dedicated to the protection of the Arhuacos, we sat around a fire drinking coca tea. The words of the tribal elder stuck with us all: "Please," he said, "don't fly over here like a passing bird, take a snapshot of our music, our musical instruments and then fly away. Listen to our story. Tell the world about what is happening to us."

NABUSIMAKE, COLOMBIA: Colombian natives of the Arhuaco ethnic attend a ritual to pay tribute to nature in Nabusimake, department of Cesar, Colombia. The ritual also celebrates the summer solstice.

hide captionNABUSIMAKE, COLOMBIA: Colombian natives of the Arhuaco ethnic attend a ritual to pay tribute to nature in Nabusimake, department of Cesar, Colombia. The ritual also celebrates the summer solstice.

MAX MORALES/AFP/Getty Images

The meeting with the Arhuacos taught an aspect of the Colombian conflict that I was unfamiliar with. It also gave me a whole new level of respect for Aterciopelados. They could have easily made this their moment, basking in the attention of foreign press. Instead they shared the spotlight with a cause they are deeply involved in.

Later in the day, they did a small performance for us. Among the songs they played was "Ataque De Risa," ("Laughter Attack") a pacifist song that contains lyrics such as "instead of karate, I propose caresses." That might seem like a very cheesy line to an American audience. In a country like Colombia, which for generations has endured violent conflict, it's more like seeing things the way they are — and the way they could be.

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Aventuras En Colombia: Una Tarde Con Aterciopelados Y Líderes Aruacos

Andrea Echeverri, lead singer of Aterciopelados i i

hide captionAndrea Echeverri, lead singer of Aterciopelados

Music Voyager
Andrea Echeverri, lead singer of Aterciopelados

Andrea Echeverri, lead singer of Aterciopelados

Music Voyager

English / Spanish

Hace unos meses, viajamos a Colombia junto al programa de televisión Music Voyager. Durante dos semanas, recorrimos el país de punta a punta, entrevistando a músicos. En los próximos días, compartiremos nuestras experiencias con ustedes en este sitio.

Watch Aterciopelados play "Ataque De Risa"

Hace un par de años, me fui de vacaciones en grupo a una paradisíaca ciudad latinoamericana. Éramos yo, una amiga, y un grupo de conocidas. Siendo unas de las únicas latinoamericanas en el grupo, mi amiga y yo nos convertimos en las guías turísticas.

A pesar de las increíbles playas, la magnifica arquitectura colonial, la comida deliciosa y las bellas artesanías, mi amiga y yo empezamos a enfocarnos en el sufrimiento que se escondía tras la fachada turística. Los niños mendigos. Las chicas demasiado jóvenes paseando del brazo de turistas europeos prácticamente ancianos. Dos mujeres embarazadas peleándose por un pedazo de pizza encontrado en la basura.

Mientras que la mayoría de nuestras acompañantes de viaje se la pasaban deseando poder mudarse a este paraíso terrenal, nosotras nos sentimos profundamente apenadas. Era como si estuviésemos sintonizando distintas señales. Viajar como turista no es lo mismo que volver a un lugar que de alguna manera pertenece a tus raíces.

Cuando Felix y yo nos dirigimos a Colombia hace unos meses para investigar la música de ese país, fuimos en función de periodistas. Estábamos listos para ver todo lo bello que tiene que ofrecer ese país- y créanme, la belleza de ese lugar nos dejo sin aliento- pero también preparados para enfrentarnos a los aspectos dolorosos de esa sociedad. Después de todo, la música no solo nace de la alegría y el placer, sino también del dolor y la ira. Para entender la música, uno tiene que estar dispuesto a conocer las heridas de las cuales ella nace.

En Bogotá, la banda de rock Aterciopelados fueron increíbles guías. El grupo siempre ha tenido una conciencia social, que es en parte lo que me atrajo a su música cuando yo era adolescente. Además de que tienen un sonido espectacular, eran una de las pocas bandas de rock en español de esa magnitud, lideradas por una vocalista mujer, Andrea Echeverri. Aquí les paso su clásica canción, "Bolero Falaz" un himno feminista pero divertido. ¿Como no enamorarse de semejante banda?

YouTube

Nos encontramos con Los Aterciopelados en La Candelaria, el barrio más antiguo de Bogotá. El lugar es una verdadera reliquia, con casas coloniales y angostas calles empedradas que en definitiva no fueron hechas para automóviles.

La Candelaria, Bogota i i

hide captionLa Candelaria, Bogota

Jasmine Garsd/NPR
La Candelaria, Bogota

La Candelaria, Bogota

Jasmine Garsd/NPR

Antes de tocar para nosotros, la banda insistió en llevarnos a conocer líderes locales de los Aruacos, una tribu que ha sufrido el desplazamiento forzoso debido al continuo conflicto armado en Colombia. En los últimos años centenares de indígenas a lo largo del país han sido asesinados al encontrarse en medio del conflicto.

NABUSIMAKE, COLOMBIA: Colombian natives of the Arhuaco ethnic attend a ritual to pay tribute to nature in Nabusimake, department of Cesar, Colombia. The ritual also celebrates the summer solstice. i i

hide captionNABUSIMAKE, COLOMBIA: Colombian natives of the Arhuaco ethnic attend a ritual to pay tribute to nature in Nabusimake, department of Cesar, Colombia. The ritual also celebrates the summer solstice.

MAX MORALES/AFP/Getty Images
NABUSIMAKE, COLOMBIA: Colombian natives of the Arhuaco ethnic attend a ritual to pay tribute to nature in Nabusimake, department of Cesar, Colombia. The ritual also celebrates the summer solstice.

NABUSIMAKE, COLOMBIA: Colombian natives of the Arhuaco ethnic attend a ritual to pay tribute to nature in Nabusimake, department of Cesar, Colombia. The ritual also celebrates the summer solstice.

MAX MORALES/AFP/Getty Images

En una pequeña comuna dedicada a la protección de los Aruacos, nos sentamos alrededor de un fuego a tomar te de coca. Las palabras del anciano líder aun resuenan en mí hoy: "Por favor," nos dijo, "no vuelen por encima de nosotros como un pájaro, grabando nuestra música y fotografiando nuestros instrumentos, para luego irse y olvidarse. Escuchen nuestra historia. Cuéntenle al mundo lo que nos esta pasando."

La reunión con los Arhuacos me enseñó un aspecto del conflicto colombiano que yo no conocía. También me hizo respetar aun más a los Aterciopelados. Hubiese sido tan fácil aprovechar el momento para deslumbrar a la prensa extranjera. En cambio, usaron la oportunidad para hablarnos sobre una causa importantísima.

Mas tarde en el día, nos dieron un pequeño concierto. Entre las canciones que tocaron, aquí les paso "Ataque De Risa", una canción pacifista, con letras como "en vez de karate, propongo caricias." Para algunas audiencias, esa frase puede llegar a sonar cursi. Viniendo de habitantes de un país que durante generaciones ha soportado un conflicto armado, se trata de ver la realidad tal como es—y soñar sobre como podría ser.

Aterciopelados i i

hide captionAterciopelados

Music Voyager
Aterciopelados

Aterciopelados

Music Voyager


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