Exploring a City Through Dance: AfroConex Medellin, Colombia Recap
I came to Medellin, not to explore the infamous history of Pablo and narco trafficking (that history is forever part of Medellin and well documented). I came because I wanted to explore the burgeoning Afro Colombian dance and music scene.
As a lover of all types of Afro diaspora cultures, Colombia with the largest population of black people in Spanish speaking Latin America, was high on my list. Having previously explored Brazil and Cuba (stay tuned for those recaps) through dance, I wanted to have a similar dance and music exploration in Medellin; exploring the blossoming urban Afro dance scene happening in the city.
For me music and dance have always been my gateway to connecting with people from other cultures. The diversity of black music and dance is mind blowing, but what’s more fascinating is the common connection Afro descendants share regardless of country. It is this diversity, yet commonality between Afro cultures that fascinates and inspires me.
So how do I sum up Medellin? I would summarize it by saying, Medellin is rising. I’ve often heard stories of how black Harlem came to be. A refuge for black Americans fleeing the American south seeking more opportunities, freedom and less discrimination in the Northeast. There is something about what’s happening in Medellin that feels like this. In speaking to Afro Colombians during my trip, many have origins tied to the coastal areas of the country. Many migrated from the Pacific coast or the Caribbean coast, which have large black populations, and resettled in Medellin. With the migration they have brought their music and dance customs. Customs that from my brief introduction to the city seem to be taking shape and molding the identity of Afro culture in Medellin.
From social media I knew several Afro dancers in Medellin. AfroConex previously collaborated with Julio Mosquera and Sankofa Danza afro. I used these connections to dive into the community and experience it first hand. That exploration took me outside my comfort zone (more on that later) and had me criss crossing the city into various communities.
Dancing through neighborhoods.
Traveling to meet dancers and exchange dance actually took me to various parts of the city that are not on the tourist map. I loved it because it allowed me to go into the communities were dancers live and see how dance exists. What I discovered was not only nostalgic but inspiring. In whatever community I visited, dance and music was everywhere. This is actually something that I absolutely love about Latin America—the presence of music and dance throughout daily life. In parks, dancers gathered in groups to cypher and exchange dance. Music blasted from various speakers creating a mashup of musical genres. Hip Hop, Reggaeton, Dem Bow, Dancehall, Afro Pop, AfroHouse and the lists goes on permeated the air. Of course I was mind blown because not even in New York City where I’m from do you hear such an electric variety of Afro diaspora sounds in one setting. Nor do you see dancers gathered outside dancing different Afro diaspora genres. I was literally in heaven. Here I was, miles away from home on a different continent, in Colombia seeing the full diversity of the the Afro diaspora loved and appreciated. It’s what I always wanted New York City to be, a place where all types of black music and dance is celebrated and appreciated.
It was nostalgic to see young adults and teens gathered outside and dancing. It was reminiscent of my youth, and something lacking/missing from much of the urban Afro dance scene happening in NYC. For me this is how urban and street dance should exist, in the community, in the streets and free form. Yes there is the studio and professional aspect of the dance, but at its core black dances are social and communal and when those aspects are removed, the dance looses context.
Nightlife in Medellin was no different. The parties i experienced continued the theme of openness to black diaspora sounds. Djs masterfully weaved between genres, playing everything under the sun, and I loved it. I often complain about music in NYC especially in “Afro parties” that always play top 40 Afro tracks predominately from Nigeria and South Africa. Medellín delivered the opposite; a full palette of Afro sounds. From thumbing Reggaeton, to coupe de Cale, to Ndombolo, to Afrohouse, Ragga, Dancehall, Dub step, Amapiano and more!! I was absolutely floored by the diversity of sounds and couldn’t stop dancing. It was refreshing for me because it showed that people in Medellin (at least in the parties I attended) truly appreciate all types of black music. Moreover, they also played their local music mixed into the global music being played.
Another noticeable aspect of the music was the type of Reggaeton they played. While major Reggaeton pop stars (J. balvin, Maluma, Karol G) all hail from Medellin, I appreciate that the Reggaeton I heard while out was harder, less mainstream and more grimy. And, Dancehall was easily woven into the Reggaeton mixes. One club I went to was nothing but pure couple up grinding; front to bumper and waistlines wining! Absolutely fantastic!!
Live music was also often part of the experience. Which again stands out from the purely DJ culture of NYC. Who said live music cannot enhance a DJ experience? I believe great live music has an unmatched ability to transcend an audience and enhance the musical experience. One party I went to had a full on drum band taking the crowd on a musical journey. The festive atmosphere and the energy at the party, really reminded of the energy of carnival in the Caribbean.
In summary dancing in Medellin was an amazing way to discover the city. It is definitely a destination I recommend, and an Afro culture to key an eye on, because I believe this is only the beginning.
Some images and videos from Medellin:
Met and exchanged with many dancers: Urban Afro, Julio Mosquera, Sankafo Danza Afro, and more
The Parties had excellent music!
Chila Sound System (@Chilasoundsystem) played a mix of eclectic sounds that fused AfroColombia rhythms with Reggaeton, Dem Bow and Dancehall.
I didn't get the name of this band, but I was told it's Afro Colombia music from the Pacific Coast of Colombia
Indus during their set at the Afrika Futura concert
AfroPower Urbano (@Afropowerurbano) performs a Champeta routine during a break between live dj sets at the Africa Futura concert.