Tropical Hip-Hop, Straight Outta Colombia
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because there’s a lot to be learned from sampling a little bit of a lot of cultures.
There’s an easy coolness to the Afro hip-hop band ChocQuibTown. They don’t demand undivided attention, but when they start to play, the crowd surrenders their cellphones — the better to groove, shake and lean back.
Frontwoman Goyo wears blue lipstick, the same shade of blue as her floor-length dress. She sings and raps. Her broad-shouldered husband, Tostao, is the group’s hype man, though he raps too. His smile is infectious and he wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Elegante.” Then there’s Goyo’s skinny little brother, Slow, the beat-maker.
The trio has come a long way from its beginnings in Chocó, Colombia. It won two Latin Grammys; released a gold record (Eso Es Lo Que Hay); put out another record, El Mismo, in May 2015; and, in July, played Central Park at OZY Fusion Fest. We spoke to the band members about their music’s themes, how they divide up responsibilities and their biggest influences. What follows has been edited.
OZY: What themes does your music explore?
Tostao: When we started, in the early 2000s, we did this group with one mission: to put our region, Chocó, on the music industry map. Fifteen years later, I can say we did this first mission. More people now know about Chocó because of our music. As musicians, we think of our music like the juice of different fruits — melon, apple, banana. We’re always mixing several rhythms — K-pop, funk and Latino elements. Our thing is to give people joy.
OZY: Tell me about the ideas in your lyrics.
Tostao: We’re Black people and Latinos and proud, and we say that in our music. The song “Somos Pacifico” describes the agenda of the people in the Pacificos— the way we live, the way we have fun. It’s a tourism poster but in a song. We talk about love in our music. We always try to be positive. As Martin Luther King Jr. used to say, it’s better to love than to hate. We don’t say bad words in our music. It’s not about gangs; it’s good vibes and good feeling. But we always keep in mind that this is music, this is art.
OZY: How do you divide responsibilities? What’s each person’s superpower?
Goyo: I sing, I rap.
Slow: I am the studio boy, I love to be making music, making sounds. The music that we make needs to explode, my mind needs to go all over when I’m in the studio.
Tostao: I rap, I write songs. I’m the hype man onstage. That’s my thing.
OZY: Who are your biggest influences?
Goyo: We’re influenced by everything from Latin American rhythms to the Fugees. Today is a big day. Wyclef is here today.
Slow: The first one is Michael Jackson. Also Pharrell Williams — we love his music.
OZY: Do you have a story from your early days that shows how far you’ve come?
Tostao: We started in the early 2000s. And in the TV shows, radio stations, everywhere, people were talking about Colombian music but nobody was talking about the Black people and the things Black people were doing in those days. We said, “OK, let’s put our agenda on the newspaper, on the television, in the media, on the spotlight.”
The first project was to get a producer. We wanted to mix hip-hop, funk and Latino elements with traditional rhythms from Chocó. But the producer told us we had to choose one of them. Slow was just 13 years old, but we told him, “Bro, you know what? You’ve got a job. You have to do this for us.” He did it so well.