You might think living in one of the rainiest and wettest regions in the world would dampen the spirits of its residents. However, Goyo, lead singer of the Afro-Colombian band ChocQuibTown, one of Latin America’s rising musical groups, says to the contrary. The people of Chocó are gracious, hospitable and fun. Averaging between 200 and 600 annual inches of rainfall, Colombia’s Departamento de Chocó, (Chocó State) is constantly awash in water. For Goyo and the other residents of Chocó, water is a“bendición (blessing). “Cuando estamos pequeño jugamos bajo el aguacero.” (When we are little we play in the rainshower.)
Ironically, this western Colombian state bordering the Pacific, often lacks of all things – potable water for its residents due to a deficient aqueduct. Unimaginable as it may seem, when it rains in Chocó, there are many homes without water. As Goyo says, “no hay agua para tomar, cocinar, bañar.” (There is no water to drink, cook or bathe) Due to lack of governmental investment, its unpaved roads and inadequate infrastructure leave Chocó economically impoverished, isolated and disconnected from the country’s major urban centers. Geographically,Bogotá,Colombia’s capital is 200 miles east. Yet, based on appearances the two locations are worlds apart.
But this separation may be exactly what preserves Chocó’s environmental and cultural richness. “Tiene mucha riqueza,” proudly states Goyo. The region is home to a vast array of flora and fauna, gold, wood and whale watching from June to September.
Culturally, it’s a powerhouse. 90% of Chocóans are of African descent and they strongly preserve many of the traditions and legacies originating with their forefathers.
Within the very first few minutes of speaking with Goyo, it’s evident that she is proud to be Afro-Colombian, highly dedicated to her community, and actively advocates for Afro-Colombian equality. Goyo and her brother, Miguel Martínez, “Slow,” and Carlos Valencia, “Tostao,” formed ChocQuibTown when Goyo was 16 years old. “Quib” in the title refers to Chocó’s capital city, Quibdo, which receives 350 inches of rain yearly. The band whose sound has been categorized as “urbano alternativo” or Afro-Colombian hip hop mixes music with a message. ChocQuibTown’s, firstUnited States release was “Oro” (Gold). The video accompanying the title song “Oro” spotlights Goyo rapping while surrounded by Afro-Colombian miners. This tradition of mining in Chocó is centuries old, tracing its roots to the 1500s when enslaved Africans were brought toColombia. Mining has also become a deadly land rights issue as Colombian and foreign firms have threatened and killed Afro-Colombians in a quest for Chocó’s gold and control of this mineral rich region.
Despite Chocó’s complex relationship with gold, “Oro” proved to be golden for ChocQuibTown. The band won its first Latin Grammy in 2010 for the song, “De Donde Vengo Yo.” (Where I come from). Goyo, describes the win as, a “triunfo de la cultura, triunfo de nuestra música” (Triumph of the culture, triumph of our music). She hopes the Latin Grammy motivates Chocó youth to stay optimistic and never give up.
And the group continues moving forward. Early this year, they performed in concert in Bogotá with Tego Calderon. They wanted to work with the Puerto Rican rapper because of his amazing lyrics and strong African consciousness. Goyo calls him “uno de los pioneros del hip hop y todo lo que ver con el sonido de Latin America.” (one of the pioneers of hip hop and everything that has to do with Latin American sound.) When Tego performed in concert recently in Chocó, Goyo says it was a highly emotional experience for both the performer and audience. People were crying during the concert, they were so moved by his performance. Other performers she admires include Stevie Wonder for his lyrics and his role as an equal rights activist, Afro-Spanish singer Buika for her strong voice, the visual appeal of Erika Badu and Lauryn Hill’s dedication to chart her own course in the music industry.
But one aspect of the business she seems to regret, is a question the band has been asked during press interviews – Why do you have black people in your videos? Goyo says the group made a conscious decision to hire black talent. Although estimates differ regarding the total Afro-Colombian population, figures range between 10- 25% ofColombia’s 40 million inhabitants. Yet, Afro-Colombians are rarely featured in Colombian music videos, television or print media.
Gloria Martinez was nicknamed Goyo by her father after the Puerto Rican salsa band Gran Combo’s song “Goyito Sabater.” She says she adored the song as a child. Reflecting on the future, Goyo wants the band to continue growing artistically and dreams of uniting African Americans and Afro-Latinos, who are bound by a shared history. As someone involved in preserving Chocó’s culture, it’s no surprise Goyo wants to build a cultural center, recording and archiving Chocó’s cultural legacy which she believes will inspire Afro-Colombian children.
Goyo says she doesn’t want racism to be an impediment to future generations of Afro-Colombians. With all her efforts, she is well on her way to making a difference.
From our partners at Los Afro-Latinos