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Photos: Picó Is the Voice, Culture and Sound of Afro-Colombian Youth

OkayAfrica presents a photo essay from Colombia's Caribbean coast where Afro-Latino youth are reinventing sound-system culture for a new era.

COLOMBIA—The Urabá subregion of Colombia has many reputations but its choice of music is not one of them. Located on the Caribbean less than sixty miles from the Panamá border, for the past twenty years, it stood as one of the most contested strategic zones of the country's internal conflict. Its history is rife with violence, and many Colombians regard the subregion as isolated and backward.


Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, paramilitary and guerrilla groups fought for control over profits from the “banana axis," Colombia's enormous banana growing zone that comprises the municipalities of Apartadó, Carepa, Chigorodó, and Turbo. This is also the center of Picó culture—the regional music scene that combines Carribean, African and inland influences to create something unique to the region.

These municipalities have long been a center of resistance—the first settlers were freed black slaves and runaway indigenous groups who ultimately gave way to racially mixed descendants that have been historically left wing. Urabaenses could care less about how people from the inland of Colombia see them. To them, "inlanders," or cachacos, are people without rhythm or style; they are stiff, socially conservative, and penny pinchers. Urabaenses identify more with the great transcultural Caribbean than with the hegemonic Colombian national identity. This is by no means an overstatement if you think in terms of the musical influences Urabaenses have embraced as their own. This aspiration to form a cultural association with the Caribbean can be easily felt through Picó.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

For a native "inlander," Picó party scenes can feel distinct. Picós take inspiration from musical genres of African origin. From the 1960s throughout the early 2000s, people in Urabá listened to Jamaican dub and reggae; African soukous, highlife, and mbaqanga; and of course Colombian cumbia, vallenato, bullerengue, and porro. This variety of genres converged into the two genres du jour, known as reggaeton and champeta. What the scene nowadays lacks in its previous variety of rhythms it makes up in the pastiche of clothing styles that connections with new and vintage Latin American fashions.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Picó is transliteration in Spanish for “pick-up." I initially thought it stood for the Chevrolet pick-up trucks in which they transport the massive sound system from one location to another, since the scene is something of an itinerant road show. But it comes from the vinyl turntable pick-up needle, introduced with the electronic phonograph that the early set-ups used.

Whoever collected exclusive and popular hit records, while being able to mix them artfully, decorate their sound system with signature designs, and pump up the volume on boot-knocking speakers, would be king of the block party in lower-income neighborhoods. One could say that a Picó is as much of a get-together or a party scene as a deeply entrenched celebration of the region's trans-continental African heritage. Regions of Colombia that are of obvious Spanish descent unfortunately, often (or perhaps systematically) overlook this.

The youths I photographed—in typical too-cool-for-that fashion— didn't seem to know or care where the term came from. Every one of them had journeyed that day some hundred miles from Carepa to Necoclí to assist this one specific Picó. When I asked a young woman to summarize what their scene was about she pointed to Estiven, a tall-and-shy type who was in all appearances their wordsmith. He said in a somewhat casual tone: “Our way, our style, actively shifting. Never sad for our past, because this is our culture, it is the future."

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Playlist:

By their standards, these are some of the songs that are considered essential in a Picó:

- El Boy C, Que Hablen

- El Menor Menor, Prisión

- Akim, Así Nace

- Bad Bunny, Soy Peor

- Anuel AA, Sola ft. Daddy Yankee

- Ozuna, Dile Que Tu Me Quieres

- Dubosky, Con El Pa Que

- Japanese, Nos Fuimos

And this is the dance collective from the neighboring state of Chocó that they follow for inspiration on new moves: Jóvenes Creadores del Chocó (Young Creatives from Chocó)

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

Photo by Alejandro Jaramillo.

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9 Must-Hear Songs From Ghana's Buzzing Drill Scene

We give you the rundown on Ghana's drill movement, Asakaa, and the most popular songs birthed by it.

Red bandanas, streetwear, security dogs, and gang signs. If you've been paying any attention to the music scene in Ghana over the past few months, then by now you would have noticed the rise of a special hip-hop movement. The movement is called Asakaa, and it's the Ghanaian take on the Chicago-born subgenre of hip-hop called drill music. It's fresh, it's hot, it's invigorating and it's nothing like anything you've seen before from this part of the world.

The pioneers of Asakaa are fondly referred to by the genre's patrons as the Kumerica boys, a set of budding young rappers based in the city of Kumasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. They came into the limelight towards the end of 2020, and have been dropping banger after banger since then, topping several charts and racking up millions of views collectively. The rap is charismatic, the visuals are captivating, and their swag is urban. Characterized by Twi lyrics, infectious hooks, and sinister beats, the allure and appeal of both their art and their culture is overflowing.

"Sore," one of the benchmark songs of the movement, is a monster hit that exploded into the limelight, earning Kumerican rapper Yaw Tog a feature on Billboard Italy and a recent remix that featured Stormzy. "Ekorso" by Kofi Jamar is the song that took over Ghana's December 2020, with the video currently sitting at 1.3 million views on YouTube. "Off White Flow" is the song that earned rapper Kwaku DMC and his peers a feature on Virgil Abloh's Apple Music show Televised Radio. These are just a few examples of the numerous accolades that the songs birthed from the Asakaa movement have earned. Ghana's drill scene is the new cool, but it isn't just a trend. It's an entire movement, and it's here to stay.

Want to get familiar? Here we highlight the most prominent songs of the Asakaa movement that you need to know. Here's our rundown of Ghana's drill songs that are making waves right now. Check them out below.

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