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  • "To Take Something and Change It without Destroying It"An Interview with David Gaviria Piedrahíta
  • Juan Fernando Velásquez Ospina

Some months ago, amid ongoing sociopolitical protests in Colombia, David Gaviria Piedrahíta deconstructed the country's national anthem. Gaviria Piedrahíta, a young composer who teaches at the Instituto Técnico Metropolitano in Medellín, is an emerging figure within the local art music scene. Gaviria Piedrahíta holds a master's degree in Latin American and Caribbean musics from the Universidad de Antioquia; in 2020 he won the grant #Unidos por la vida 2020 from the government of Antioquia, and is a tireless cultural activist. Gaviria Piedrahíta's Himno deconstruído (deconstructed anthem) premiered on May 5, 2021, during a public outdoor concert in Medellín by a group of young musicians organized as La Revolucionaria Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Susana Gómez. After the premiere, several videos of this first performance and a later sound recording disseminated quickly through social media across the country and among Colombian expatriates living abroad.1 Thus this Deconstructed Anthem became a viral and significant milestone within the intermittent wave of protests that have shocked several Colombian cities for more than two years.

An unprecedented social upheaval began on November 21, 2019, when the two largest labor unions in Colombia called for a nationwide strike to oppose unpopular national social security and tax reforms. The strike grew when students, cultural associations, indigenous groups, Afro-Colombians, LGBTQ+ communities, feminist collectives, and environmental activists joined the unions. Together, these actors used social media to mobilize citizens. The response to this call was massive, as more than two hundred thousand Colombians attended nonviolent marches in Bogotá, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena Manizales, Medellín, Cali, Popayán, and Pasto, among other cities.

Clashes between violent protesters and official forces—especially the National Police's Anti-riot Squad (ESMAD)—led to violent repression and curfews in several cities. The citizen's response to these curfews has shaped [End Page 94] the still-prevalent protests. After invitations spread on social media, at 8:00 p.m. on November 21, people banged pans from their homes, standing on their balconies and doors so that the sound would be heard. In the following days, musicians performed several concerts in parks, known as cacerolazos sinfónicos (symphonic pan-bangs), and artistic troupes joined marches to express their grievances creatively. Thus, sound and music in public spaces became means to resist violence and to gain the authorities' attention. This diversity of actors came together to denounce the disenfranchisement of the urban middle and lower classes, the ongoing assassination of social and environmental leaders, the tortuous implementation of peace agreements signed with the FARC's guerrillas in 2016, and political roguery. In the midst of all this tension, social media has remained the main conduit to deploy a repertoire of activist strategies, ranging from symbolic actions (like the toppling of Spanish conquistadores) and massive cacerolazos sinfónicos to block the streets.

As illustrated by David's composition, young Colombian artists are reacting to this grim panorama while thriving to create a collective but peaceful alternative to challenge the status quo and to overcome fear. I invited him to an interview for Americas: A Hemispheric Music Journal to learn more about these events, the composition of his piece, and its viral social embrace. More importantly, we discussed how people in Colombia feel given their current political situation.

Juan Fernando Velásquez:

Hello, David. Let's talk about the strikes first. At this point—June 29, 2021—these protests have been going on in the streets in different cities for at least two months. Everything started in response to a tax reform, but it quickly changed into a bigger movement bringing together different actors—indigenous groups, students, unions. It is significant that these peaceful expressions of protest have incorporated music. Regarding your anthem, how did it come about?

David Gaviria Piedrahíta:

Hello, Juan, and readers of Americas. Students and friends of mine called me because they were going to engage in a peaceful demonstration with music, and they asked me to do something with the Colombian national anthem. But they said: "Now! You...