- “Somos Afro”: Champeta Music as a Means for Cultural/(Political) Organization for Afrodescendants in Colombia
It can be affirmed categorically that no other people in the history of humankind have suffered a level of violence so devastating, massive, and for so many centuries, and that, nonetheless, responded with greater creativity to oppression. Their contribution to the arts, music, dance, song, theater, literature, sports and to the process of mestizaje in American and universal culture are of such magnitude that, each time, it surprises and disconcerts those who lately have taken up the task of quantifying their contribution.—Manuel Zapata Olivella, Las claves mágicas de América Latina 1
In the Colombian realm, culture is a vehicle of change that aims to hold the State accountable for the rights of Afro and indigenous peoples included in the new Colombian constitutional paradigm. In the Northern coast of Colombia, in particular, champeta music has shaped a powerful cultural/political movement that allows Afrodescendants of the region to assert a cultural identity in their own terms to make accessible new venues of economic survival through the subversion of official and exclusionary channels of artistic creation and through alternative modes of marketing and distributing music. Its very own background as a black Atlantic musical synchretic expression that combines Lumbalú, the funeral rhythms of El Palenque de San Basilio, with African souscous and other pan-Afro Caribbean accords, subverts officially backed musical trends that displace the Afro dimension of Colombia’s new multicultural and multilingual face. To better understand the impact and the changes effected by champeta in the Colombian Caribbean, it is necessary to examine the reality of Colombia in the 1990s regarding constitutional changes and the effects of neoliberalism. This can aid our understanding of why culture has become essential to new forms of resistance developed by Colombian Afrodescendants. [End Page 391]
The Age of Renewed Violence(s): Colombia in the 1990s and the Cure of Cultural Constitucionalismo
In the early 1990s, constitutional reform unfolded ethnic identity processes that continue to shape local activism among the large Afro populations of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Fascism and market fundamentalism took hold of the official political sphere simultaneously. These two puzzling and contrasting trends are direct results of the Washington Consensus, which pushed forth neoliberal ideologies that avow the cult of hypercapitalism and free market economies. In fact, Colombia is a perfect example of the implementation of the tenets of the Washington Consensus, and one that has been, nonetheless, mostly ignored beyond a handful of important studies on violence, democracy, and the causes of national fragmentation.2 Other widely circulated studies address the oversight of the outcome of the consensus in Colombia and offer historical and sociological analysis of the dire situation of its poor, a category that includes indigenous and Afro peoples, the elderly, women, children, and the disenfranchised urban and dislocated rural populations.3 The footnote to these publications seems to pose the same important questions: What is left to help build community when nothing works to empower citizens and collectivities to act upon their disadvantaged social standing? If neither mainstream political organization nor syndicalism, grassroot movements nor outright armed struggle can lead a subjugated majority to overturn a system, to improve their possibilities of survival, and to maintain the most basic tenets of human rights, what can bring people together to act on their situation and force the status quo to create a new national reality that offers Afrodescendants a rightful place?
In spite of the chaos occurring in Colombia throughout the 1990s that the daily news duly highlighted, the centrality of Colombia in the saga of the Washington Consensus has been sorely overlooked (Massey et al. 15). When looking at the case of Colombia, the aftermath of the consensus becomes even clearer when examining it at the regional level, for it underlines how each segment of the population experiences social, political, and economic marginalization, circumstances upon which race and class bear definite weight.
Countering Neoliberalism in the Colombian Caribbean
In the Northern coast of Colombia, also known as the Colombian Caribbean, champeta music delineates popular culture as a site where the design of (cultural...