Sergio Gil stated that working as a professional musician is like having a mom-and-pop store. You have to offer diversity “to get your monthly income.” Thus, he teaches guitar, double bass and electric bass in an academy in Caldas, Antioquia, known as “Viva la Música,” all the while studying piano in order to expand his teaching skills. He plays bass in “La Furruska,” a ska band, and has an acoustic tropical music project called “Mar del Ser.” He also composes. He is a session musician and in 2016, he started, along with Cristian Mejía, María Isabel Hurtado and Marcela Forero, “La Backing Rap,” a band that wants to be a meeting point between music and literature.
“It’s not for business; we do it for leisure / We gather and share foolish thoughts / There are certain silences and noises that I carry / There are several fears that I now discard,” as sung in their single, “Ocio,” from their first recording. Music, more than a way of making money, which Sergio clarifies is a human need, is a way of expressing oneself and enjoying life, which ends up positively infecting those who share it.
For “La Backing Rap,” 2020 has been quite a productive year, contrary to what might be expected as a result of the public health situation around the world. In May, they were selected as part of the call for the “Stimulus Program for Arts and Culture – Agenda Cultural 2020 Houses of Culture,” which defines the agendas of these cultural spaces in the city. Though these places were closed to the public, several agencies of Medellín Mayor’s Office joined forces in an initiative that allowed the reactivation of the cultural sector, thus bringing art to citizens who were in compulsory preventive isolation: the Ruta Medellin Me Cuida.
A break during quarantine
Riding on the back of a truck that was transformed into a professional stage, “La Backing Rap” and 20 other groups covered, during the months of May and June, 150 kilometers while crossing 80 neighborhoods around the city. “We were invited by the Secretariat of Culture to be part of the first pilot project; we didn’t know if it would work but it was wonderful,” says Harrison Palacios, Director of “Explosión Negra,” a band that combines native rhythms of the Colombian Pacific with modern elements, such as hip-hop and some electronic sounds.
“That first experience was carried out in the Comuna 16, in the Belén neighborhood, and it was great, because we were two months into the quarantine at that time. Everything had stopped and everybody was locked-up. Then, getting that opportunity was a great incentive, a relief for the soul,” says Harrison. One image he won’t forget is that of a grandmother dancing with her grandson at their front door, a memory he shared during the virtual seminar “How can cities directly support their musicians?”, organized by Music Cities Events during the awards ceremony for the Best Initiative of a City to Directly Support. Its Musicians prize that was delivered to the “Medellín Me Cuída Route” on September 23rd.
This recognition, whose application was led by ACI Medellín, is a way of reaffirming that we are in “a creative and artistic city, that we continue toast our sights on arts and culture as tools for a process of social transformation, but also, for the integration of the artistic sector with the government, to work together very closely and, above all, to maintain Medellín as a creative and innovative city which has solved its problems while experiencing the most difficult times,” says Álvaro Narváez, Deputy Secretary of Arts and Culture in the Arts, Scene and Events Division.
For Narváez, the award is an “encouragement” to continue working forward. After the “Route,” the same format was used for “Dance for Life” and “Circus of Hope,” tours that also supported professional artists from these two disciplines. “When we decided to be part of these awards which there are several projects from different cities participating, we entered the forums and stated how we are supporting artists. What we are showing is that Medellín is a great, creative city, that there is a lot of local talent and that this takes us to a new level of discourse in the world. The city starts to be viewed as a valuable place for creation,” he explains.
A constant task
This is not the only recognition that Medellín has received in 2020 for its commitment to using tools of arts and culture for social transformation. On May 28th, the city was awarded the International UCLG award – Mexico City – Culture 21 for the Artistic and Cultural Practices Network. This awards was possible thanks to the support of the Agency for Cooperation and Investment of Medellín and the Metropolitan Area – ACI Medellín. “We have been working in the “Medellín, Creative City for Music” program with ACI Medellín for a long time and when we started this term in office, we decided that we were going to register the city in international awards, because we believe in local talent,” says Narváez.
“It’s hard work because every year we can apply for about 15 initiatives for international awards. We are sure that our work helps make visible that our city is doing things right, that we are a good partner to work with, and that we strive to continue our process of transformation and development everyday,” says Eleonora Betancur Gonzalez, ACI Medellín Executive Director.
For Harrison Palacios, it is necessary that citizens have the same faith in local talent as governmental entities do and that they support it. “Sometimes people do not pay as much attention to locals, but we have so much expression, so much talent and, also now, in times of isolation, there are many artistic projects that have begun to do their work using virtual tools. The invitation is for people to support these initiatives and get connected,” he says.
The path to reinvention
Massive events, the main source of income for the cultural sector, have been suspended since March of this year, when COVID-19 began to rise in Colombia. It was the first sector to stop its activities and it was expected would be the last to return to normal. Artists and entrepreneurs have used their creativity to keep their trade alive with virtual events or self-concerts. However, it has not been an easy transition and the income is not the same. The challenge for the guild is to continue exploring options and for the public and the artists themselves, the challenge is to learn to enjoy other ways of showcasing and consuming culture.
Just like Sergio Gil, who never stops moving toward continuing living his passion for music and for culture, Medellín hosted different events that were reinvented in order to remain open and alive. Some of these are the Flower Festival, which had tours throughout the city to bring the “cultura silletera” (flower saddle tradition) to neighborhoods, and the Festival Internacional Altavoz. “Backing Rap” was also selected to be part the “Festival” on the alternative stage, by public call.
Music is not only a way of life for hundreds of artists and managers, scientists around the world have studied its power to reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormone levels and provide relief to patients who have undergone surgery, as well as victims of strokes and heart attacks. Studies have even concluded that regularly enjoying cultural events, including concerts and plays, can increase life expectancy. Although no scientific trials were made during the “Medellín Me Cuida Route,” both artists and the public can affirm that it brought life and relief; it was a demonstration of the transformative power of culture.