Resistencia: Hip-Hop in Colombia is a thought-provoking exploration of how young Colombians feel about the crisis afflicting their country. The film follows a summer in the lives of some of Colombia's finest rappers, DJs and breakdancers.
The film serves as an introduction to Colombia's 40 year-old civil war, as seen through the eyes of those directly affected by it. It also gives an intimate insight into life in the barrios of a very volatile country, and how traditional latino music is losing out to rap music. Entertaining, committed and enlightening, Resistencia offers a street level interpretation of current affairs in Colombia.
'Resistencia: Hip-Hop in Colombia may be too gritty to ever make it to MTV, but it shows with jolting immediacy how hip-hop is as vital and relevant to Colombia's street culture as it was to urban African-Americans before it was co-opted by the mass media and mainstream artists' .- Lael Loewenstein, Variety magazine
'Resistencia: Hip-Hop in Colombia' is an eye-opening experience. It portrays strong realities and powerful images of poverty and includes footage of children, teenagers, and adults faced with struggles that many people do not know exist.' - Mosaico.com
' If there's one film you see this week make it 'Resistencia: Hip Hop in Colombia'.
-New Zealand Herald
'Out of these oppressive slums a gritty untapped hip-hop culture is burgeoning, in a scene that makes America's prefabbed pussies look about as un-"real" as it gets.' - Montreal Mirror
“You can't trust anybody. The government is corrupt and spineless, the left-wing guerrillas are power-hungry and the right-wing paramilitaries are murderous. The people have had enough. That's why we rap.” -El Almirante Perfect Killer
When hip-hop started out in black neighbourhoods in the States, it was raw, underground music. It became a vehicle for black radicalism, and bogeyman to white America. Today American hip-hop is lost, having abandoned the street for money, MTV and the mainstream.
But hip-hop culture has travelled far from the land of its founders. The urbanisation of the Third World, IMF-imposed austerity, and the creeping hegemony of US culture are radicalising youth around the world. Popular criticism of this process is being articulated through another gringo export: hip-hop music. In the process it is re-invigorating popular music from Johannesburg to Dakar and, now, Bogotá.
Hip-hop is big in Latin America. When New York latinos pioneered the salsa sound in the 50s, it took the dance-floors of South America by storm. This was hard, urban music that articulated the poverty and discrimination the migrant had to face in the North. It rang a chord with the new city dwellers south of the Panama Canal. Now young Latinos are deserting the trumpet and congas for the mike and the turntable.
Colombia's rappers are the children of peasants, forced into the cities by the civil war that has been devastating rural communities since the 50s. Suddenly urbanised, often jobless, surrounded by drug traffickers and corrupt policemen, this is an angry generation. Rap gives voice to this anger, and the hip-hop movement offers a barrio of unity and self-respect, in cities blighted by violence and hopelessness.
Some raperos tell urban horror stories. Others attack the mindless savagery of the war: the paramilitary massacres and the hypocrisy of the guerrillas, the arrogance of the yanquis, or the racism hidden behind the façade of Latino multiculturalism.
Rap groups like Asilo 38, RH Clandestino and Ghettos Clan are strictly underground. There are no record deals, no cash for equipment or studio time. Money is made on the streets. For many of them, their stories are their only possession.
RESISTENCIA: THE FILM
Resistencia starts in the Pacific port of Buenaventura, where returning stowaways first played US rap records in the early 80s. From there, we travel upriver to Cali, the home of salsa, the sugar plantations, and the descendants of African slaves who work them.
The south of the city is dominated by the ghetto of Aguablanca. This huge barrio inspired the rise of the group Asilo 38, whose first album enjoys cult status throughout Colombia. We meet the members of the group on home territory. “We say what other people are too scared to say/That's why we're living day by day.”
Al Roc talks of raising consciousness and building resistance. Rocky raps a tour of the neighbourhood. Smoka shows us how to train pitbulls. The band's family stories recall the violence rocking the Colombian countryside. The war has forced a generation of cane cutters into cities where the main employers are cocaine smugglers and mafia killers. This is Asilo 38 reality, and provides the inspiration for their rhymes.
Part two takes us to Medellín, home town of the late Pablo Escobar and his teenage sicario hitmen. The Atomic Rockers Crew are Medellín's finest breakdancers. El Amarillo and Kiño are producers of the city's best rap bands, mixing cumbia , Cuban son , and drum and bass rhythms. They tell us how lack of money hinders the movement: “ We don't have the choices that you're having / but we have the noises” . The man from Sony says that it's not worth his while to sign rap acts because rap fans can't afford to buy CDs anyway.
In part three, we travel into the mountains to the capital, Bogotà . Once upon a time Profe Pacho was the Colombian national goalkeeper, and played in the 1986 World Cup. He quit to become a high school teacher and a rapper. At PTA meetings parents balance their respect for El Profe with their contempt for 'low class' music. Rap fans steal your dinner money after class, says one student, Fidel. Profe sees the rapper as an educator and takes his lyrical cues from Marquez, Poe and Nietzsche. “ Like a court jester, the rapper must unmask the hypocrites and deceivers!” Profe is passionate about his country, but the war is making life intolerable. He considers the ultimate betrayal: to emigrate to the USA.
Resistencia culminates with the annual Rap al Parque hip-hop festival, the largest of its kind in South America. Over forty rap groups from all over the country, DJs, MCs, graffiti artists and breakdancers call for unity and for an end to the violence. In the background, a war that ignores the voice of Colombian youth rages undiminished.
VIOLENCE IN COLOMBIA
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been waging a guerrilla war against the state since 1965. The FARC is the biggest guerrilla army in the world. They pose a real threat to the long-term survival of the state, controlling vast swathes of the jungle plains that stretch east to the Venezuelan frontier.
But the FARC have few supporters, at least in the cities. They stand accused of betraying their ideals for the power they have gained through their violent campaign. They have done little, it is claimed, to improve everyday life in the areas under their control.
Cocaine is Colombia's most profitable export. The country also produces huge amounts of marijuana and heroin. Once controlled by mafiosi like Pablo Escobar, the trade is increasingly managed by the FARC and the right-wing paramilitaries (AUC). The paramilitaries were created in 1981 in response to FARC kidnapping of wealthy cattle farmers. The AUC is getting richer and more popular as president Andres Pastrana's peace process stumbles along ineffectually. Illegally supported by elements of the armed forces, these paramilitary death squads are responsible for the massacres of entire villages that have driven millions of rural Colombians into the big cities.
Bogotà, Cali and Medellín are cities struggling to house and employ these displaced populations. As the slums grow so does the violence. The countryside is bloodier still, as multinationals buy up land for mineral and oil exploration, often paying the paramilitaries to clear country farmed by campesinos since colonial days.
The army is hampered by corruption, under-funding and the impenetrable mountains and jungles all around. Faced with the possible collapse of Latin America's oldest democracy, the US created ‘Plan Colombia', effectively a $1.5 billion grant to the Colombian army. Much of this money is being siphoned off to the death squads, only increasing the resolve of the guerrillas, and stoking up nationalist sentiment. Similar plans in Peru and Bolivia have failed to reduce cocaine production. Colombia's civil war is likely to get much worse before it gets any better.
© Tom Feiling/Faction Films 2002
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