Picó: “A Musical Portal to Africa in the Caribbean”

The full title of this article is “In Conversation with Jim C. Nedd: A Musical Portal to Africa in the Caribbean.” Here, Will Furtado (Contemporary& América Latina, 23 November 2020) interviews Colombian artist Jim C. Nedd who worked with the Italian duo Invernomuto to examine the Afro-Caribbean musical culture called “Picó” in the documentary film PICO: Un parlante de África en América (2020).

The identity of the lived and imagined Caribbean is composed in great part of African elements that manifest manifoldly. Several of these are present in Picó, the musical culture developed around the Colombian Caribbean sound system. In 2017, Colombian artist Jim C. Nedd co-directed a documentary film about this subject together with Invernomuto, an Italian artist duo working primarily with sound and image to explore what remains of subcultures. The final result is currently being shown at London gallery Auto Italia, titled PICO: Un parlante de África en América. In the 60-minute film, Pico culture takes center stage as the portal that connects Afro-Colombians, especially those who come from contexts that still live the colonial legacy of oppression in the marginal areas of Cartagena and Barranquilla. We spoke to Jim C. Nedd about growing up with Caribbean music, the difference between DJ and “Picotero”, and the conflation of multiple identities in the Caribbean in relation to Africa.

C&AL: How did you conduct your research for the film?

Jim C. Nedd: I started listening to music and recording tapes from the radio when I was probably around eight years old. My siblings and I were always encouraged to engage with the arts in any possible form, especially with music as an after-school practice. The main genre in my town is Vallenato, which was echoing across the city 24/7, as well as Salsa, Merengue and Ranchera. But for the first time my identity was explained through the codes that belonged to Champeta. I was fascinated by it, I remember Champeta as the coolest and freshest sound I ever heard. I experienced it through the work of Kevin Flores, El Sayayin, Mr Black, and many others… So I’d say that my personal research on Picó started with my memories.

I vividly remember the social panorama around parrandas [musical parties] by the end of the 1990s, and how the community used to collaborate organically in order to design a space for celebration. Just picture a whole neighborhood hosting a family gathering. Simultaneously I recall clearly how all of this co-existed within a tense atmosphere, set by an armed conflict in Colombia that never officially ended, which left many deaths behind. That’s how it was on a daily basis, a sharp line between life and death; festivity and mourning.

C&AL: What is the difference between a DJ and a so-called “Picotero”? And why are these distinctions important in the wider international context you’re exploring in the film?

JCN: Both DJ and Picotero bring to the audience a personal discourse, signatures and perhaps also a language expressed in a mixture of imagery and identity. But the differences between the two jobs are essentially communitarian and functional. I’d say that the Picotero is an extension of the crowd and is very aware of the desires for re-tracing their own history, playing out a ritual, based primarily on songs that are part of a lost heritage. Apart from “Música Africana” and “Música Caribeña”, the contemporary market and its mechanism are not much considered in the Picó community, probably because they speak a language that does not speak about Afro-Colombians and our role as peers. [. . .]

C&AL: How do you see the acknowledgement of African origin in relation to the conflation of all identities on the Colombian Caribbean coast?

JCN: I don’t think there are any contradictions about identitarian discourses. Rarely identity has anything to do with genetic or science. People from la Costa, the Colombian Caribbean region, chose what to believe, because colonizers destroyed their heritage and traditions as a technique of displacement. The “descendencia Africana” is something that belongs to the revolutionary centers of the Caribbean, those that fought the oppressors – that’s why certain non-Black people from Cartagena and Barranquilla also identify as African descendants. [. . .]

For full interview, see https://amlatina.contemporaryand.com/editorial/a-musical-portal-to-africa-in-the-caribbean/

Also see article and access video link at https://autoitaliasoutheast.org/projects/pico-un-parlante-de-africa-en-america/

[Photo above by Lucy Parakhina. Jim C. Nedd, “Fiesta en Guacherna, Barranquilla.” Installation view at Auto Italia, London 2020.]

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