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Colombia al Parque - Colombia's Cultural Weapons
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On the 13th and 14th of October, the Metropolitano Simón Bolivar Park in the heart of Bogotá, Colombia’s turbulent capital city, will hold its eleventh annual hip hop festival — ‘Hip Hop al Parque’. Starting its days as ‘Rap a la Torta’, this hip hop heaven brings together one of the biggest collections of rappers, DJs, breakers and graffiti artists within the Latin Continent. The performers span the globe, from Bogotá and Colombia, South America, Europe and beyond, offering its audience a paradise of professional spitting in Spanish, English, Portuguese and, at times, a little German.
‘Escuchar rap no significa ser malo’ — Listening to rap does not mean you’re bad
However, it is neither the size nor both the musical and linguistic diversity of this festival which so appeals. The importance for many, both artists and audience, comes from the social dimension of this event. Unlike so much of today’s commercial ‘bling-gangsta-ho’ spins of this genre, Colombia’s growing independent scene seems to take us back to where it all began, to the social and political platform which this form of poetical expression can be used so effectively for.
In an interview for Fly, JHT, a Bogotan rap celebrity, tells it simply: “Colombia is a country with many economic, social and cultural problems, so it’s more likely for an MC here to address issues of great importance.” This festival is no gangsta rap meeting, it is more a counter-celebration of such an image, an image of rap which is, for JHT, “foreign…pumped out by the TVs over here… both US MTV and local stations,” and extremely damaging to this music. ‘Escuchar rap no significa ser malo’ — Listening to rap does not mean you’re bad (Barry, MC with Real Audienzia).
To tackle crime is then not simply to punish offenders, but to increase community, renew social integration, trust and respect for one another.
Yet, it is not only lyrically that this event reeks of politics. ‘Hip Hop al Parque’ is one of many free festivals funded since 1995 by the City Mayor’s ‘Secretaria de Cultura, Recreación y Deporte’, a yearly line up boasting Rock al Parque, Jazz…, Salsa…, Opera…, Ballet…, Ranchera…(a branch of traditional Mexican folk), and most recently Niños y Niñas (Kids)’ and ‘Colombia al Parque’.
During this same 10 year period, free, government-led cinematic, theatrical, dance, poetic and literary events have increased drastically, with Bogotá this year the first Latin American city named ‘World Book Capital’ for achievements in promoting and making available this art form amongst, in particular, its poorest citizens. Finally, and again since 1995, Bogota’s murder rate has dropped 71 percent, street robberies by 52 percent, traffic fatalities by 50, bank robberies by 93, assaults by 9 percent…and the list goes on.
Though the wonders of Wikipedia summarise these latter improvements as a simple “result of participatory and integrated security policy first adopted in 1995,” the link between increased cultural events and decreasing crime rates is no coincidence.
Since ‘95, the city has been led by what many term a spate of ‘maverick mayors’ most famously Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa, whose policies against violence, inequality and injustice in this city — including city-wide “Ciclovias,” — night marches to “collectively conquer the night, to conquer fear.” (Penalosa)-, the use of street mimes to ‘socially embarrass — rather than legally punish — traffic offenders’ (Mockus) — and the creation of 1,200 new public parks and hundreds of significantly free events as ‘spaces of equality and community’ — focus on changing the behavior, attitudes and culture of their people. “Violence frightens people… [and produces]… a sense of fear and distrust which both creates and is created by crime…’ (Mockus)
I feel ready to flee… not because of crime itself, but from the creation of fear and suspicion, of strangers and spy communities which, according to Colombia’s cultural tactics will not, in fact, protect the fearful UK population
To tackle crime is then not simply to punish offenders, but to increase community, renew social integration, trust and respect for one another. Even the United States and United Nations are starting to take notice of Bogotan creativity, with the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) adopting what they now term a ‘cultura ciudadana’, or ‘culture of citizenship’, as an alternative model to fight crime in various target locations.
So as I sit and watch (or rather am watched) as UK officials install the four millionth CCTV watchman, exhaust the world’s third largest military budget, all the while blaming 50 Cent’s rap lyrics and fifteen year olds in hooded jumpers for the apparent surge in British crime rates, I feel ready to flee… not because of crime itself, but from the creation of fear and suspicion, of strangers and spy communities which, according to Colombia’s cultural tactics will not, in fact, protect the fearful UK population.
Yet, through the rose-tinted haze of decreasing crime rates and increasing rates of free music events, I must be wary. Corruption remains rife in Colombia, extending as far as the hip hop festival itself, with line-ups and prize winners often, according to JHT, “fraudulently chosen” and the practise of ‘payola’, of music company bribes for TV and radio station playlistings, remaining one of the greatest hindrances for the largely independent hip hop scene of the city. Yet rather than belittle these efforts, this seems to me to be just one of the many reasons to support this up and coming independent music scene. So go to the hip hop festival if you can — you’ll not only be blessed by some of the world’s most truly talented artists, including special guest JHT, you’ll also be helping to celebrate part of an, albeit imperfect, new and inspiring crime fighting campaign.
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