When I first got to Colombia I made it a point to forget about the comparisons with Cape Verde. That would have been premature and counterproductive—plus it just would have been picking a fight with one of my two host families. But here I am, about two months away from the end of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I can’t help reflecting a bit, and considering what it’s been like.
One thing about my life in Colombia that has been better—hands down—has been music. Now, before you jump out of your chair and cry disbelief, citing the ridiculous wealth of Cape Verdean music culture, just give me a chance to explain. I am NOT saying that Colombian music is better than Cape Verdean music. I love me some Cesária Évora and Mayra Andrade just as much as some Joe Arroyo and ChocQuibTown. What is drastically different is how much music I’ve been playing since getting here. In Cape Verde, it took me too many months to get off my ass and knock on the door of the local music school. Once I did, I ended up jamming a few times a week with Cachimbo, a cool teacher and great cavaquinho player.
I wasn’t messing around on my second chance—I got off the plane and started scouting out my options for where to purchase some percussion. After copping my first pair of bongos, I linked up with Mango Jazz, and have been playing with them almost every week since. Our drummer, another volunteer, recently moved back to the U.S., but the band plays on in his memory.
A while back I wrote about a special guest, Ricardo, who sat in with us playing bass for a couple weeks. It was great to play with him, and through Ricardo I got connected with a whole gang of young, talented musicians. A couple of months back I got to play with all of them at another local spot, Cafe de la Casa. One highlight was rocking the bongos with Doris Vespa, a Barranquilla-based reggae band—an irie breath of fresh air, for sure!
Last month was a whole ‘nother kind of party—sitting in with the Chev-Rays, a band recently formed by other Volunteers. Highlight of the night? Tough call, but it was neck and neck between the bilingual version of Neil Diamonds “Sweet Caroline” and the encore performance of “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones.
While playing live music has been crucial, the icing on the cake has been the chance to get in the studio to actually record some stuff. You know I’m all about a new experience, so I jumped at the chance when I was recently asked to do some voice-over work. Last weekend, Barranquilla turned 200 years old, and of course there was a massive two-day outdoor party/festival to commemorate the event. Unfortunately, I didn’t score any tickets, but I was there in spirit! That video that was blasting out across the plaza from the jumbotron—that was my voice! “Barranquilla, where the smiles shine brighter than the sun!” Did you recognize me?
Apparently, my work wasn’t that bad because I was invited back to The Chanclet Studio to do some more work for the same cause. So, if you’re in the States, or any other English-speaking country, tune into the Discovery Channel. If you happen to catch the commercial for Barranquilla’s 200th Anniversary, just close your eyes and imagine me as the guy with the sexy voice from the movie previews!
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I can’t accept cash money for this kind of work (or any kind of work). Instead, I traded my services for some studio time, which I cashed in a few days ago. Thanks Julián... that was fun and I’m looking forward to more!