In conjunction with our exhibition PICO: Un parlante de África en América we’re sharing a weekly series of online commissions by a global group of visual and sonic practitioners. This series maps Afro-Diasporic visual and sonic practices as both an outcome and facilitator of cultures of resistance.
For this week’s contribution to the digital programme we’re pleased to share an interview between Auto Italia and Invernomuto & Jim C. Nedd.
Auto Italia in conversation with Invernomuto & Jim C. Nedd
Auto Italia: Presented in this exhibition, your film PICO: Un parlante de África en América highlights the importance of music and sound system cultures as both an outcome and facilitator of cultures of resistance. Can you speak a bit about this in relation to PICO – why is music so important in this context? Does it facilitate agency? What does it mean to reflect on this now?
Invernomuto: Histories related to sound systems always implicate a culture of resistance, be it picos in Colombia, the Jamaican tradition and its diaspora in the UK and across many countries, baile sonideros in Mexico City or tecno brega’s massive robots in the north of Brazil.
Across cultures, the emission of low (Kingston) or mid (Barranquilla) frequencies by huge systems is an act of both manifesting identities and escaping reality. In this sense, music is a vehicle that truly facilitates agency and creates community. Since the emergence of the internet things are maybe changing, and now the real question is: what happens when this public space is transferred into a more porous and unrooted meeting spot? What forms of resistance might emerge?
Jim C. Nedd: Unlike human beings and public spaces where verbenas [street parties centered around picos] happen, sound systems are able to resist through time, performing on the run, collecting and delivering stories through music and spoken languages. They cross eras, bringing a specific statement of resistance with them that feed their own community self-consciousness. The pico is indeed an important vehicle for information because it constantly reminds us (Afro-Colombians) how we came and who we are, especially because the institutional information lacks enthusiasm in doing so. In this very context I’d say that Afro-Caribbean music and oral traditions are the diary of the story that keeps being omitted or deleted.
AI: Guarapo grew out of a mix of African and local music, creating a new genre in the 2000s. It still is the most present in the Caribbean-Colombian cities that have a higher population of Afro descendants. What were some of the political or social shifts that paralleled the turn to African music? How does its history and its origins connect to contemporary Pico culture?
IM: According to Deborah Pacini Hernandez in her 1996 text ‘Sound Systems, World Beat and Diasporan Identity in Cartagena, Colombia’, “the transnational term ‘música africana’ suggests that Black Cartageneros tacitly acknowledged the existence of and their participation in an African diasporic community, whose boundaries transcended national borders”. This is probably the main reason why African music became very important in northern Colombia from the 1970s onward. From a wider perspective, it’s also interesting to note that costeños in Colombia were listening to African music way before even a vague idea of ‘world music’ was introduced in the Western music industry.
JCN: Guarapo is a derivative genre of champeta, which is the Colombian version of afrobeat, a genre that became popular in the 1980s. Champeta was founded by the community of San Basilio de Palenque, then spread across the coast of Colombia. The arrival of West African records in the country is part of a process that started with the recollection of memories and mimics of African music whose traces were gone.
AI: All of you work with music in different forms, which transpires throughout the film in the layering of image and sound, the background noises, the visibility of a recording device held by one of the self-identified “loyal followers and lovers of pico culture”. Could you speak about your approach to these constituents?
IM: We always consider image and sound on the same level – even in this film, which is probably the closest to a documentary, in linguistic terms, that we’ve ever made. We are glad you’re mentioning the recording device: it happened almost by chance in [our previous project] Negus and we decided to replicate this technique in PICO. It’s a very simple gesture but it connects us – and spectators – with the speaker in a magical and intimate way. We love to create complex relations between image and sound, questioning which one is more evident, and why, and challenging these relations.
JCN: We realised that the Afro-Colombian identity and sound needed to be expressed in their own complexities. There were things that had to be told verbally, not just visually, the choral need of telling a story was very present, so we went with that. As both a photographer and a vocal performer, PICO was the perfect platform to invest my feelings into. I can especially recognise myself in the look and the sexuality of the young crowds in Barranquilla during the Guarapo verbenas. On the other hand, I can also see myself on stage, doing vocals over a track. Both are complementary states of shared psychedelia, making it into an experience that never adapted to Western “progress”. I always feel that verbenas are magic rituals that treat pico as a living character but also as a place to meet in a different dimension.
AI: PICO was a collaborative project made in 2017, which expanded into a range of outputs/formats such as the Guarapo compilation published by Honest Jon’s. How have the collaborations initiated through the project continued or developed? Are there any new projects or collaborations that have been borne from the film since then?
JCN: Indeed the Guarapo compilation is a derivative research from the work of PICO in every sense. We came across this music while we were rolling the film in 2015. On a very personal level it was also the beginning of a very intimate collaboration with Harold Montes, with whom I also kept working for commissioned OSTs in my own work as a musician.
AI: Several of your projects focus on localised yet globally interwoven phenomena in music as sociocultural practices. International collaboration seems to be the core approach to these projects. This also comes through in the online programme for this exhibition, which facilitated collaborations with other practitioners in a moment of renewed potential for convening networks through online gathering. While hosted online, the theme of ritual also threads itself through the practices of some of the contributing practitioners. Can you speak on this approach to collaboration, of meeting in a different dimension through the central figure of the pico, and maybe through music production of the global African diaspora, in the extended sense? What might these possibilities mean for you moving forward?
JCN: On the occasion of Auto Italia’s online programme the active involvement of local figures has been crucial. Sidney Reyes Reyes, for example, has been a source of inspiration through this whole period of time, as for many Afro-Colombians. This is also true for the work we’re going to show at the Liverpool Biennial in 2021, for which we are collaborating with historians, artists and musicians from Barranquilla and San Basilio de Palenque in order to maintain a constellation of information that keeps the Afro-Colombian identity intact, even if processed by our point of view and imagery.
IM: Collaboration has always been an important aspect of our practice, both offline and online. In the last two years we’ve been working on a project on the Mediterranean called Black Med, assembling a sonic archive that considers a multiplicity of voices and spirits from many different geographies across the protean area of the Mediterranean and beyond. At the same time we are very aware that certain types of rituals need specific conditions in order to happen (the soundsystem, communities, social gathering, etc) so online rituals can sometimes be scarce.
Most of the time we experiment with formats. In the case of Auto Italia’s public programme – as you say – the pico is the totem around which all the contents take shape. Each contribution feeds, or feeds back, the preconditions of the project.