I’m obsessed with Chocquibtown.
I first caught wind of the Fugees-esque trio three years ago right as they were dropping their sophomore album Oro on Nacional Records to what would soon be massive critical acclaim. Hailing from Colombia’s Pacific Coast, Goyo, Tostao, & Slow were making major waves with their uniquely infectious blend of hip hop, funk, and alternative rock with the traditional salsa and marimba sounds of their homeland. Chocquibtown’s raw energy and honest lyrics were resonating with audiences of all types, both inside and outside of South America; suddenly, the group found themselves painting a different, more accurate, more African face of Colombia (recent estimates place the number of Afro-Colombians near 10.4 million, yet they are rarely represented on a national stage, including in both media and politics) and by 2010, they had won a Latin Grammy award in the “Best Alternative Song” category for De Donde Vengo Yo. Their win certainly propelled them onto an even larger stage, and audiences–from SXSW to Glastonbury–were treated to the talented group’s amazing live stage performances.
My obsession with Chocquibtown doesn’t start with their Latin Grammy, or the first time I heard Somos Pacificos, or even the first time that I saw the jaw-dropping video for De Donde Vengo Yo, filled with beautiful, energetic Afro-Colombians celebrating the history and geography that gave rise to them. Nah, for me the story begins a bit earlier.
It starts when I’m five years old, and my lil homies are demanding to know why my very dark-skinned mother has that “funny” accent and how in the world she is speaking Spanish.
Or perhaps a more accurate place to start is that time in seventh grade when my teacher had us work on a project that entailed researching our parents’ educational background. I can still remember how shocked I was at hearing my mother say, “I never went to high school; I went to sewing school. Where I’m from, people who look like me don’t get to go to school.”
It lies in every single time I would try and heed my father’s advice to have pride in my Central American roots but would simultaneously have to battle the racial slurs that many of the non-Black Latino kids at school would call me on a daily basis. Or always having to hear a variation of “Don’t worry, you’re not Black. You’re Panamanian,” when someone needed an excuse to kick it with me. And how I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “I’m BOTH! I’m BOTH!” but could never find the voice to do so.
And as a child, how I would constantly sit through my aunties’ and uncles’ stories about how great their country was; how where they were from, people weren’t so capitalistic and self-serving; how people there would share their last piece of bread with their neighbors if they were hungry. And me, wanting so badly to be there, to magically transport myself to the little casa in Rio Abajo, patacones frying on the stove, beads of sweat crowding along my brow, agua de pipa juice dripping down my chin and arm, crashing into a tiny stream around my toes; I wanted to be THERE. I wanted to discover the landscape that, by then, existed mainly in my people’s memories; the landscape that I felt I would never have access to.
It’s the story of identity and survival.
De donde vengo yo // La cosa no es fácil pero siempre igual sobrevivimos
Of attempting to cultivate pride when what seems like the entire world is telling you in not-so-subtle-ways that you should feel shame for what you look like, and how you move, and how you sound.
Con raros peinados o con extensión // Critíquenme a mí o lo critico yo
It’s the struggle to find the voice to sing, to boast to those around you that your heritage is, in fact, beautiful.
Y aquí se habla mal pero todo está mucho mejor
And it’s a story that took me a long time to realize is not only mine. The story is universal, one that I share with millions of dark-skinned Latinos in countries around the world, countries with governments that try desperately to ignore their existence.
Invisibilidad nacional e internacional // Auto-discriminación sin razón // Racismo inminente mucha corrupción
It’s the story of an almost super-human resilience of a people who, through it all, choose life over death, and joy over despair.
Tenemos problemas pero andamos happy
I’m obsessed with Chocquibtown.
Because not only do they represent so much of the struggle and triumphs of my people, but they’re also unbelievably fucking talented. They rhyme; Goyo (the girl) can sing her ass off; Slow takes the reigns on production, handling many of the group’s beats; and Tostao has a flow that few raperos today can contend with. The album runs the gamut–from the title track Oro that tells the familiar tale of a land being robbed of its riches and Pescao Envenenao, a metaphorical song about resisting institutionalized plans to both corrupt and destroy, to the record’s love song, Alguien Como Tu, and everything in between. The variety in their songs’ subject matter, coupled with the brave experimentation of genre mixing, creates a sound that feels progressive and complete.
It is so refreshing that Oro isn’t formulaic. It breathes easily from one track to the next: steady, eclectic beats, intelligent arrangement, brave composition. Nearly three years after the LP’s initial release date and the group’s subsequent studio album, Eso Es Lo Que Hay, Oro continues to stand head and shoulders above much of today’s urban music releases throughout the African Diaspora.