Tucked in the hills on the west side of Medellin, is Vallejuelos. A small community easily accessible by cable car from the San Javier metro station. It Is there where I meant the inspiring young stars of Urban Afro. A group that embodies how Afro dance is connecting the Afro diaspora and inspiring a new generation of young dancers.
Vallejuelos is a marginalized community, and dance serves a bigger purpose for the students of Urban Afro. This was apparent upon meeting the group; their dedication and determination was front and center. As were their discipline, camaraderie, and the pure joy they have when dancing. The students were fast learners who were eager to learn more about Afro dance styles. They had many questions about Afro dance, of which I tried to answer as I best as I could.
I taught the students Kuduro, gave them a brief history of the dance and the evolution of the dance in Angola. When I saw them dance, I recognized that they were already familiar with many popular Afrohouse moves. However, they were unaware that the moves were Kuduro/Afrohouse moves from Angola.
I sat down with the groups manager Jose David to understand the role of dance for these young stars.
AFROCONEX: Who started Urban Afro and why was it started?
URBAN AFRO: UrbanAfro started at the end of 2018 as a youth initiative of several student leaders, among them was Juan Esteban Murillo (Juancho). This initiative arose because a large number of young people from the Afro population in the city of Medellín were part of criminal gangs and had violent encounters where they physically attacked each other with sharp weapons. As a result of this, many of them, our friends lost their lives and for this Urban Afro was born to rescue and resocialize all these young people who were part of these criminal gangs. At the end of 2019 Gargola and myself (José david) arrived and officially took the reins of the group. Today UrbanAfro is recognized as an official dance group at the city level.
AFROCONEX: What is the vision for Urban Afro, what do you want to accomplish with the group ?
URBAN AFRO: We are an Afro-Colombian group that practices social inclusion a lot. By the year 2025 we want to be a group of international stature, operating in many parts of the country (Colombia) I envision we can develop the personal growth of more than 600 young people in the country.
AFROCONEX: Tell me about Vallejuelos? What type of community is it ? Do the people of Vallejuelos feel connected to Medellin city.
URBAN AFRO: Vallejuelos was previously a cemetery, by the year 2000 it began to be populated with people from other districts of the city and its surroundings. It has a large number of people from the Colombian Pacific region, such as Uraba and El Choco. Many were displaced from the Pacific region. At the moment, Vallejuelos is a neighborhood of the peripheral zone of the city that is in its limits, it is between Comuna 13, Comuna 7 and the jurisdiction of San Cristóbal.
AFROCONEX: How many students make up urban Afro and what is the age range ?
URBAN AFRO: Currently the group has 40 members. Of those 40, 90% are students. Some are university students but most of them are currently in high school. The youngest member of the group is 10 years old and the oldest is 33 years of age. This includes the management part of the group.
AFROCONEX: Juan and Yeison appear to be the oldest students how old are they and what is the their role with the group ?
URBAN AFRO: Juan is one of the group leaders, he is the spokesperson for the group and assistant to the director (Williams Torres, Gargola) of the group. When William is not there, Juan is in charge of making the tracks (music) with which we perform our choreographies and coordinating organizational issues. He works under the direction of the group’s manager Jose David and WillIam Torres the director.
Yeison is an active person in the group. On many occasions, when the group leaders are not there, he takes the reins of the group. He supports the group logistically and in the artistic area. He is also a very influential person, and motivational to his peers; this is an important factor for the group.
AFROCONEX: How is the group financed ? Does the group get any support from the government or cultural organizations in Medellin?
URBAN AFRO: the group since it was created has no support from the mayors or the government entities of the city, UrbanAfro is a non-profit group that sustains itself from presentations and activities organized by the same people in the group to be able to subsist in the environment artistically.
AFROCONEX: Does urban Afro perform throughout the city of Medellin ? Can you give some examples of where the group has perform ?
URBAN AFRO: UrbanAfro appears in any type of space where our services are requested, through dance shows, rumba classes, aerobics, personalized classes ETC.
We have presented ourselves at the city level in many events, such as in FERIA DE LAS FLORES (flower festival) CONCIERTO DE LAS OSADIAS SEMANA DE LA JUVENTUD, (youth week concert) At the departmental level we were winners in 2 categories in the FESTIVAL DE POR SU SALUD BAILELO PUES, representing Medellín. On 2 occasions we represented Medellín in the municipality of Amalfi. In the 2022 EDUCATIONAL FORUM and in RIONEGRO in 2019. We also presented in 2019 in TOUR COLOMBIA 2.1 DE CICLISM. We presented our play called SILENCIO EN LAS COMUNAS (silence in the communities) during AFRO NIGHT in November 2020, in the Metropolitan Theater of Medellín and in other stages of the city.
AFROCONEX: Why do you think Afro dance has become so popular with the dancers in Medellin ?
URBAN AFRO: Afro dance began to be formalized with great impact around the year 2019. Many of the Afro population in the city grew an interest in knowing about their ethnic and cultural traditions. This gave rise to people within those cultural traditions to begin practicing Afro dance.
The story of Urban Afro is one of hope and the power of dance. Yes dance is performative and it is an art, but we cannot overlook that dance is also community, and can be used an instrument for positive change.
KenKen and the dancers of Urban Afro
left: William Torres (director of Urban Afro), middle: KenKen (co-founder AfroConex), right: Jose David (Manager of Urban Afro)
Juancho (Juan Esteban Murillo) founder of Urban Afro
left: Yieson. Middle: KenKen (AfroConex). Right: Juancho
KenKen giving a class with the students of Urban Afro
KenKen giving a class with the students of Urban Afro
Urban Afro students performance
Urban Afro Students performance