Thursday, 29 April 2010

Peripatetic Sound Systems

So I've gone pretty quiet over the last month or so. Deeply unacceptable, I know, but when Apple Mac's break in the Tropics, and you misguidedly decide to take them across a border to get fixed, and then customs want to charge you 30% of their original value, just to bring them back into the country, it can be difficult to sit down and write posts on a regular basis. My laptop (and all my music!) and I have still not been reunited, but should be ever so shortly, so lots more to look forward to including special interviews which I need to type up.

Although I didn't think they would, my listening patterns have changed since I arrived in Colombia. Recently however, I had the chance to play some tunes at a small party next to the beach, and given the fact they went down relatively well, I've been booked to play a party called Propaganda at the end of May so watch this space for more info on that.

Here is an article I wrote on the growing car audio scene here in Colombia. In a country where the average monthly salary is about 300-400,000 ($150-200 US) Colombian pesos a month, it's rare to see people who can plough 30 million pesos into their car, but it just goes to show how passionate these guys are. The manufacturers are not slow on the scene either, and have been quick to sponsor local firms to compete and take their cars on the road. Another point to make that is not mentioned in the article. Petrol stations (or bombas as they are known here) are the spiritual home of the scene, and where most of the meets take place. Why? Most are priavtely owned, often by car aficionados, and thus they are more than happy to loan the space out to their friends in the evenings. Colombian innner city sound restrictions, espeically on ther coast, are notoriously lenient.

The article can be read in Spanish here.

When John Chalarca turns on the sound system in his red Mazda, there is a brief moment of silence, maybe half a second, before the bass kicks in and his t-shirt ripples as it is punched against his chest. Meanwhile, several surprised pedestrians jump up in shock. Chalarca, the owner of Maxxicars, smiles. It seems he loves the public's reactions.

The car audio scene in Barranquilla is just getting going, but it is growing every day according to Roberto Ferro, the owner of City Car Audio and close friend of Chalarca.

Nonetheless, as far as noise pollution in the public space goes, it is not a practice that receives widespread support throughout the city. As Ferro says, "People don't understand that I'm working. I only try to make noise during working hours outside the workshop but people always complain."

Even so, although Ferro and Chalarca work in the industry so to speak, their passionate clients don't, and it is when they get together that problems arrive.

At his Maxxicars shop, Chalarca managed to get a permit from the Departamento Administrativo del Medio Ambiente, DAMAB, to play loud music for 10 minutes a day, but he assures me that there are always complaints and that normally, the police are an unavoidable presence.

Andrés Hincapir, a 22 year old customer of Maxxicars, is unequivocal in his support. "I started getting into cars and music when I was 18. I started working with my dad and saving, and little by little, I've been investing in my car" he says. He estimates that he has invested 8 million pesos($4000 US)to his Chevrolet Rodeo 1998 in the last four years.

According to Roberto Ferro, there are only three or four big cars, and by that he means cars with big soundsystems, in the city, but that there are more than 200 people involved in the burgeoning scene. Although there are some women, they are few and far between.

Ferro says that it is "easier to sell products to a woman becuase they are not tight like the men" but he also admits that they do not compete alongside the men "becuase they themselves feel inadequate. Also", he adds as an afterthought, "It's a pretty macho hobby."

For both Ferro and Chalarca, the competitions are an integral part of what they do. Chalarca has just got back from Bogotá where he was chosen as national champion 2009-2010.

Ferro on the other hand, used to compete, but now chooses to concentrate on his business. His workshop is full of trophies, and he says he likes to keep abrest of goings on as lots of his clients attend the competitions.

Jorge Ruz is one of those customers. He has already won competitions in Cartagena and Medellin, and he says he takes his eight-year-old hobby very seriously indeed. "Roberto and I are veterans in this" he says.

For his part, Ferro claims "not to like loud music actually", but on seeing his pick up truck, a huge Toyota replete with internal and external speakers, and according to him, eight separate basses, it's hard to believe him. Adorned with images of evil clowns, and carrying a sign that recommends the use of ear protectoers, the sound system makes so much noise you can hear it up to ten blocks away.

And the music? According to Chalarca, it's not that important. He likes to listen to salsa, the younger kids to reggaeton and techno (If you can consider Akon and Guetta techno -Ed). The question, he says, is not what you listen to but how, and in these two corners of the city, the answer is loud as hell.

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