BOGOTA – Musicians in Colombia have taken entire orchestras onto the streets in a bid to make ends meet as the pandemic has paralyzed all conventional cultural activities with no imminent end in sight to restrictions.
What started as a fleeting economic alternative is beginning to look like a new business model as artists adapt to show business’ new normal, traditionally accustomed to large audiences and indoor performances.
Among those who flood the streets of Bogota with tunes is La 4K, a salsa orchestra of 11 Venezuelan musicians who two years ago began to make a name for themselves in Colombia, but just as business was shaping up, the pandemic forced them to rethink everything.
“Because of what is happening, we had to go out on the streets as there is no work in the nightclubs, so we decided to do some street work to stay active and grow as an orchestra and not stay at home,” La 4K director Carlos Pacheco tells EFE.
Pacheco is one of 1.8 million Venezuelans who have settled in Colombia after fleeing from the crisis.
His intention was to travel to Ecuador, but when he passed through the Colombian capital, he decided to stay a month to enjoy the local music.
“It turns out that that month has turned into two years,” he smiles.
At the weekends, the orchestra travels across different neighborhoods with their instruments and technical equipment in tow to create a makeshift stage on the sidewalks of residential areas where they are allowed to plug their equipment into the electrical network.
“We are doing these types of events and it has paid off, people really like what we do and that is why we continue while the world normalizes after what has happened,” says Pacheco, a native of Guatire in the state of Miranda.
With the stage set up, La 4K unleashes the party with salsa classics.
People, the majority of whom have been locked up in their homes since mid-March, revel as the music fills the streets.
They clap, break into improvised dances from their balconies and hurl money from their apartments as a sign of support and thanks.
“People really enjoy it very much, we bring a quite varied repertoire in terms of salsa, we have many classics, such as Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz, Hector Lavoe, Grupo Niche, Joe Arroyo, Oscar D’Leon, the Great Combo,” says the director.
After performing songs like “A Summer in New York,” “Cali Pachanguero,” “You Will Remember Me,” or “La Pantera Mambo,” the orchestra performs an encore as neighbors chant “another, another, another” in unison.
Despite the fact that the stage is often a narrow sidewalk, the quality of the performance is outstanding.
But this band is no stranger to “emblematic salsa venues such as Quiebracanto, Galeria Cafe Book, El Goce Pagano, Los Salsa Salsa Dura,” the director says, adding that the group was preparing to record an album before coronavirus struck.
Like Pacheco, other members of the orchestra also emigrated from Venezuela, which is steeped in a deep economic and social crisis, traveling from Zulia, Tachira, Falcon in north-western Venezuela, and Vargas in the northern state of Caracas.
They all converged in Bogota where their project has been met with great enthusiasm.
“I can tell you that it has been incredible how people accept us, the balconies have become dance floors,” says Pacheco.
“As well as clients, we have made very good friends.”
Sometimes neighbors will come out and offer the musicians a coffee, or cookie, the spectacle has fostered a great sense of community, the director adds.
There are hundreds of artists working across genres, soloists and singers who now depend on the solidarity of the people to make ends meet.
A few streets from the Unicentro shopping mall, a group of four vallenato musicians drown the vicinity with Caribbean rhythms and sing folk classics accompanied by an accordion.
Singer Rafael Soto, born in San Diego, in the department of Cesar (northern Colombia), tells EFE they have been performing on the streets for a month and a half.
“As a sector, we have not been protected during the pandemic, so we have been forced to fend for ourselves to survive because one does not have a fixed salary nor any support,” he says.
According to the Society of Authors and Composers of Colombia (Sayco) and the Colombian Association of Interpreters and Phonographic Producers (Acinpro), over 15,000 artists and music producers have been affected by the entertainment industry’s paralysis due to coronavirus.
But just as rock stars and renowned musicians have gone online with virtual concerts, musicians who are looking to make a name or simply survive have made the street their platform in order to survive.