Bogota Reinvents Itself Through Tropical Music

PHOTO: Venezuelas President Hugo Chavez waves to the press upon his arrival to a polling station during the presidential election in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012.

There was an appropriate air of excitement at Bogotá's Teatro Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on a recent September evening. A buzzing crowd had come to hear a broad array of musical acts native to this capital city, a magnet for internal migration, and celebrate its designation as Creative City of Music by UNESCO, announced last May. They had just feasted on the rap-fusion energy of vocalist Midras Queen, who was followed by a classical choir dressed in red and black, singing a porro, a folkloric style from Colombia's pacific coast.

Clarisa Ruiz Correal, the Secretary of Culture, Recreation and Sports, took the stage and tried to make sense out of Colombia's diversity of culture and music. "Our musical syncretization has brought warmth to this gray and solemn city, an upland plateau," she said. "Bogotá has become tropicalized. The map of the city is tattooed with a pentagram of sonorous circuits that range from jazz and salsa to mariachis, reggaetón and hip-hop, to chirimías [a coastal music] and rock."

Bogotá has been a symbol of the country's long struggle and desire to project itself as a multicultural nation, a mandate that stretches as far back as the acceptance of composer Lucho Bermúdez's adaptation of Afrocentric coastal rhythms in the early 1950s, to the protection of ethnic diversity explicitly stated in its 1991 constitution. Musicians from the northern coast cities of Cartagena and Barranquilla, or Valledupar the home of vallenato, as well as interior Andean and the llanos plains that border Venezuela, have long gravitated to Bogotá.

More recently, the seemingly unending civil war has had an unfortunate side effect: thousands of Afro-Colombians from the coastal area of Chocó have been displaced and forced to migrate to larger cities, helping to create an emerging hip-hop culture in Bogotá's barrios, led by groups like this year's Latin Grammy nominees ChocQuibTown.

But now, efforts spearheaded by the office of the recently elected mayor, Gustavo Petro, the city's Chamber of Commerce, and an affiliated agency called Invest in Bogotá, have resulted in the recent designation of the city by UNESCO as a Creative City of Music, and following a basic strategy of globalization, the city is trying to capitalize on this moment to attract tourism and investment.

In early September, a series of meetings were held with representatives of sister Creative Cities of Music, Bologna, Italy, Gent, Belgium, Sevilla, Spain, and Glasgow, Scotland to compare notes and strategize future events.

One of the centerpieces of Bogotá's efforts to establish itself as a creative city of music is the annual Bogotá Music Market, to be held on October 16 and 17. Designed for networking and allowing musicians to adapt to the world of social networking, publishing, and licensing, the fair hopes to attract participants not only from Colombia, but different countries in Latin America. While the purpose of the market is on the one hand helping musicians make corporate alliances, it can also serve as a way for the most folkloric musician to make his/her digital footprint on an increasingly globalized music market.

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