- Afro-Colombian Hip-Hop: Globalization, Transcultural Music, and Ethnic Identities by Christopher Dennis
The Americas today are politically, economically, and culturally interconnected, but inequalities persist between and within countries. In this book, Christopher Dennis examines how Afro-Colombian hip-hop artists situate themselves within the currents of national and transnational cultural flows, using music to express their own experiences on the periphery of Colombian society and of the Americas as a whole. Despite the recent constitutional reforms and discourse of multicultural inclusion in Colombia since the 1980s, Afro-Colombians continue to face poverty, cultural invisibility, displacement from rural lands, and violence. These problems have only been exacerbated by U.S. programs like the war on drugs. Hip-hop has provided black Colombian youth with a way to bring recognition of their plight to an international audience. While there are differences among the many hip-hop groups examined in this book, most challenge the official Colombian discourse on race by highlighting the local situations they collectively face as a marginalized group. Dennis convincingly makes the case that we should listen to these distinct voices, for they represent the often-silenced narratives of globalization.
Afro-Colombian Hip-Hop is an important contribution to Latin American scholarship because of the insight Dennis provides into the largely neglected area of urban black youth’s cultural expression. Anthropological studies as well as political leaders have historically focused more on Native people and the concept of mestizaje, or racial mixing, in Colombia, without much regard to the more than 10 percent black minority. Dennis employs a variety of sources on globalization and race theory to explain the political and economic environment in which black hip-hop artists exist. He defines globalization as a recent phenomenon, connected with neoliberal policies of the 1980s that relaxed capital flows and encouraged capital accumulation in various new ways, not just a continuation of older trends. As both an economic and cultural phenomenon, globalization is paradoxically responsible for the continued high poverty level in the Afro-Colombian population as well as the transcultural development of hip-hop as a form of resistance to this economic inequality. The contradictions of globalization in Colombia are many. Although hip-hop is a style that is associated with the United States and is popularized through mass media, it has been adopted on a local level to express a particular regional identity. Colombian rappers, especially on the Pacific coast, have developed a unique style incorporating various local genres. Dennis writes, “In brief, the integration of local, black musical material enables artists to appropriate rap as a foreign cultural good and consciously ‘Afro-Colombianize’ it, [End Page 292] which results in unique musical forms with specific narrations of different geographical scenarios and ethnic-racial landscapes” (110). ChocQuibTown is a particularly good example of a group distinguishing itself by incorporating folkloric elements from Afro-Colombian culture to express the group’s regional black identity. ChocQuibTown is from the Chocó region, which has the highest percentage black population in the country. They are featured in the book because of their unique style and international prominence, having performed at the Grammy Awards in 2011. Some black groups are more Afrocentric than others, but they collectively form one movement of social nonconformity and view themselves as speaking for the disenfranchised.
Dennis builds on Peter Wade’s (2000) history of Afro-Colombian music and racial identity. While Wade does not discuss hip-hop, his approach is relevant because similar types of processes are involved with the earlier development of música tropical he deals with. Both hip-hop and música tropical are black art forms that seek to express a black identity in a country where they have been marginalized. The two books overlap time periods only briefly when, in his eighth chapter, Wade covers multiculturalism and race relations in the 1990s. Dennis is ambivalent with regard to the political reforms included in the 1991 constitution and the discourse leading up to it, since a rhetoric of multicultural inclusion has become part...