Tour Diary: Algodón Egipicio at Bogotá’s Resilient Festejo Radio Pachone

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Photo by: Backstage.

I recently traveled to Bogotá, Colombia, for the very first time, to participate in the Festejo Radio Pachone as the sole international guest. Needless to say, I was excited with the idea of playing in front of a Colombian audience, getting to know the city, and meeting the Bogotan indie scene. And I got all of that and a little something extra that I’m still not sure I was ready to face.

Radio Pachone is an organization that started a couple of years ago as an online radio station, but is now involved in promoting shows in Bogotá, as well as in generating content in different art disciplines. They focus on one thing: exposing people to new and exciting projects made in their city, country, and continent; and connecting creators and cultural agents to form networks. They take a similar approach to what like-minded projects like Mexico’s Nrmal have been doing (the Pachone guys consider them an inspiration.)

Last year, they threw the inaugural edition of their festival, but called it a festejo instead to differentiate it from the rest of the local festivals and to emphasize the celebratory side of the event. The line-up included the Meridian Brothers, Andrés Gualdrón y Los Animales Blancos, Suricato, and Resina Lalá, as well as discussion panels and a big fair. They managed to do it all outdoors, and this, from what I heard, is a very difficult and rare thing to do for an independent organization. Outdoor events are normally put together by the government, like the humongous Festival Rock al Parque, and other festivals which showcase new regional talents, like Festival Centro, are confined to clubs and theaters. But the Pachone guys did it, and this year they wanted more.

The 2014 edition of the Festejo Radio Pachone was supposed to take place in the Parkway, a beautiful park right in the middle of today’s Bogotan hipster neighborhood, La Soledad. With a 6 band line-up, interesting discussion panels with lots of guests, and a bigger and improved fair, the festival was meant to be a hit, for both the organizers and the community. They had been working on it for over six months, and with a grant from the Ministry of Culture, and with the approval of the Mayor of Bogotá himself, it felt like nothing could go wrong. But the last few days were especially rough, as they faced the brutal bureaucracy involved in getting permits for outdoor events. I had only seen such levels of bureaucracy in Venezuela, but I’m starting to learn it is commonplace in probably every Latin American country.

None of us were prepared for what finally happened. The day before the show, at 5pm, the people in charge of analyzing the potential on-site risks decided to take away their permits, because they didn’t put the park trees on their diagrams and some other garbage. A little (not so little) amount of money under the table would have been enough to keep things moving, but the Radio Pachone fellows believe in keeping it legal, and chose to make it work, regardless. And they certainly did. The whole thing was moved to Matik-Matik, a DIY space in Chapinero, and its surroundings. I was blown away by the talent and quality of the things I could see in the fair. Comics, prints, jewelry, CDs…it was all a delight. The discussion panels took place as well, and of course they addressed this last minute situation. Interestingly enough, a group of hip hop promoters from Buenaventura (a violent and neglected town in the Pacific coast of Colombia) shared an anecdote about putting on a show and going through an eerily similar experience. But they had better luck, in the end.

Now, let’s talk about the music. The first band to take the stage was Planes, led by Pablo Escallón hands down, my favorite band of the festival. They put on a very cohesive, high-energy show, serving indie pop tunes with some folk and twee elements, and vocals which bring Neil Tennant to mind. Of course, I bought the CD. The only guest from a different part of Colombia was Malhechor. Joined on stage by a teddybear as his DJ, and a cuatro instead of a guitar, this guy gave us a weird approach to ’80s Spanish punk mixed with metal and electronica, in a singer-songwriter, Daniel Johnston-y kind of way.

Next up was Mula, an experimental rock quintet formed by, from what I was told, academics. But no one had to tell me that in order to know it; they exuded it. Heavily influenced by jazz, noise, and math rock, they gave an exciting concert, and the whole crowd responded very well. Right before the next act, those same guys from Buenaventura briefly showcased their rapping talents. And it was, unintentionally, a nice transition to Lianna. The Colombian hip hop scene’s darling promised some good soul and R&B en español, and she delivered just that. That was until she surprised with a rap in English, in which she channeled Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez so perfectly I was a little scared. She apologized for losing her voice, and continued to give a pitch-perfect performance, full of vocal acrobatics. I was excited to see La B.O.A. and their afrobeat sounds, joined by old school bullerengue singer Nelda Piña, but I had to leave to do soundcheck.

I ended up playing in the after party at Latino Power, which was, ironically, a lot bigger than the place where the festival took place. Las Hermanas did a warm-up DJ set, packed with dub and funk, with some original tracks thrown in. After my show, the popular DJ Pho brought it up with some effective cumbia remixes, and even some Buraka Som Sistema and DJ Sliink.

The Festival Radio Pachone organizers gave us a lesson on how to pull through adversities to make it work. It wasn’t for them, or the bands, or the participating collectives. It wasn’t even for “sticking it to the Man” and hitting them in the face with success. It was for the community, and they achieved it.