PICO is a new programme of sonic inquiry led by artists Invernomuto & Jim C. Nedd. In this exhibition, the documentary film PICO: Un Parlante de África en América (60 minutes, HD film, 2017) examines the rich and flamboyant tradition of picós: vivid, technicolour, wooden structures housing powerful sound systems, which turbocharge street parties, bars and restaurants across the Afro-Colombian port cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena.
The film brings together the various actors involved in the production and dissemination of picó culture, who together track its legacy across the cities that were once key points in the transatlantic slave routes. It is here, in the Atlantic costeño, that the Afro-Colombian cultures formed new aesthetic and sonic styles were popularised to represent these new linguistic and cultural groups.
These ports continued to be key entry points to the continent throughout the 20th century, granting access to emergent technologies and cultural products as well as vinyls from across West Africa. From the 1960s, local producers began using these new systems for the circulation and dissemination of music outside of mainstream radio and record production, bringing an explosion of African sound to the streets. This was dominated by the newborn genre called Champeta, which brought together Salsa, Latin and Caribbean music. As sampling technologies developed, an updated version of Champeta emerged, and later the adjacent genre Guarapo. These new Afro-Colombian sounds, reverberating from the culture of picó, came to represent acts of freedom in a national context divided along the lines of race and class.
The picó has become the loud and animated public vehicle through which this diasporic vernacular of rhythm and language is articulated, in which a diverse subjectivity is united through the empowering acts of dance and music. The film explores how these physical contexts enable communities to come together and re-define social relationships against the backdrop of racial capitalist subjugation, and how sound system culture as an attitude towards production enables producers and audiences to celebrate multifaceted and kaleidoscopic cultural histories.
For this project at Auto Italia, this investigation will situate picó culture within a global discussion on the role and potential of sound system cultures as sites of sonic resistance. This will be explored through a digital programme of text, mix and image commissions led by an international community of producers, DJs and artists for whom sonic practices are communal devices to explore the global resonances of African diasporic sound within music production. This will focus on the ways in which uprising and protest are explored through music, and highlight how the formal communalities and shared concerns resonate between networked physical and digital sound system cultures across the globe.
This investigation will also include a newly commissioned public work by Jim C. Nedd, installed on the facade of Auto Italia’s project space. This will draw from the lens of documentary film and explore the political potential of music in public environments of celebration and dissent.
Special thanks to Murphy Johnson, Julia Ligeza, Sarah Lynch-Jones, Ellie McManus, Rosy Schofield, Max Silvey and Emma Todd for helping us bring it to life.
The exhibition PICO: Un Parlante de África en América has been made possible with the support of Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Londras.