DJ Cal Jader, a.k.a. Callum Simpson of Movimientos Records, returns to Bogotá after 10 years delving into Colombian rhythms and collaborating with Colombian acts. A decade prior, he was here on a delegation of student activists with Justice For Colombia, after getting involved in the Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign (NSC) in London. It was a political trip taken when some of the paramilitaries were beginning to demobilise; “it was a symbolic time, despite our doubts about the effectiveness of the disarmament”, he told me. Cal returned at another historic moment: the disarmament of the FARC leading up to the plebiscite as part of the peace process here in Colombia. He felt he was returning “in a kind of full circle.”
Cal studied Latin American politics as part of his degree in the early 2000s, “it was the only thing I was really interested in during my Politics degree.” He got involved in the NSC’s politically fuelled ‘Club Sandino’ night. “In the 80s and 90s Club Sandino was influential in the Latin scene, there would be Cuban and other Latin bands at big fiestas around the UK playing to the solidarity crowds”, he informed me. “It was a big thing. But the salsa scene kind of killed that…it whitewashed the link with politics and the deeper cultural meaning.” And though there had been some events prior to the trip you could say it was whilst travelling in Colombia that Movimientos came to life.
It began as a political event, an ‘upstairs-downstairs’ set-up with film screenings earlier in the evening and DJs later at night. “You’d have a big crowd coming out from different activist groups and we’d screen all types of documentaries and host post film discussions, then you’d have people coming down from the film screening and there’d be a vibe already downstairs,” as people would equally just come for the music. “In the early days, I was personally just learning the difference between Cumbia and Salsa when Arias [Colombian Geoff Arias, a.k.a. DJ Arias, from whom Cal gained a lot of inspiration] played Cumbia for the first time. I was like, what the hell is this?” Movimientos were doing something new, something inclusive and socially-aware. “It was the sort of antidote to the salsa night, we still played salsa, but it was more of a mix up. It was a Latin night that people came to to drink. People came and had a few beers and didn’t necessarily need to know how to dance. It was a lovely inclusive vibe.”
The group continued throwing nights, some bigger and more defining, which gave way to larger gigs at a range of venues, building up two or three years’ worth of contacts with bands. One particular Day of the Dead party was a huge success and fed back to Global Local, who – funded by the Arts Council – plug money into supporting new bands from the global music scene. Live music nights were the next step, closely followed by festival stages. “It was the natural evolution, exactly what the Arts Council funding was intended for. They developed us as an organisation to curate new music.”
The first gig at Notting Hill Arts Club was the Venezuelan ska band Palmeras Kanibales, who went on to play at the Movimientos-hosted stage at Glastonbury, The Leftfield, returning to the political roots of the project and celebrating its musical triumphs. Wara was another big success for Movimientos. They played numerous “incendiary” gigs and festivals and were released on the newly-created Movimientos label. Cal describes them as a conscious multicultural band, thrilling and very raw. Eliane Correa, their lead singer, had just graduated from SOAS, where she collaborated with a wide range of musicians. She’s currently involved in a project that has a Jazz-Soul sound, a London-Havana project with a big scope entitled En El Aire Project. Cal described Wara as “a sort of protest band. At the time they came out there was a healthier alternative Latin scene in the UK. We also released Los Chinches on the label. They were doing this awesome psychedelic cumbia thing with a UK twist and we were in the right position to represent that.”
I asked Cal what it really meant to run a record label. “Well, I’d never worked in or studied the music industry so the label side of things was always a big learning process for us and we were kind of making it up as we went along! But essentially I always saw it (and still do) as providing another platform for the artists and the scene that we worked with.”
During Cal’s visit, BOmm (Bogotá Music Market) organised a range of showcases with the idea of uniting national/international managers and agents with Colombian talent and – in alliance with Hermoso Ruido – put on a set of performances in a more fusional festival style. “It was a day of one-to-one meetings with all these bands. Hermoso Ruido was just an add-on really, it was more networking. Some people got concrete bookings. At BOmm, there was a lot more fusion.” However, while Cal is able to book artists to play back in the UK, there’s a huge hurdle to jump organising transport and visas; “unless you have a big festival interested, acts ideally need funding from the Colombian side,” he explained.
Artists he saw included Afrotumbao, who play Pacific Coast rhythms with funk and salsa thrown in; Burning Caravan, the gypsy band who are rocking Bogotá; Masilva, the political, colourful ‘electrovador’; Da Pawn, the hazy, alternative Ecuadorian band; and Sango Groove, who make afrobeat using Pacific styles… “the kind of band that could definitely work in the UK,” Cal reckons.
Cal’s own set in Latora 4 Brazos was a mix of jungle and Andean sounds, building up to a heavier celebration of new-wave African tracks, urban beats and salsa and electro cumbia from a handful of Latin American tierras. Sadly, the venue (which hosted part of the Hermoso Ruido festival) closed down the following day due to murky disagreements with local police. “A lot of the venues here seem quite DIY, rough around the edges. It reminded me of a less-regulated city, perhaps what London was like 10/15 years ago (…) these kinds of venues are fast disappearing in London.”
Rich Mix is another crucial venue for Movimientos and for the diverse arts and music scene in London in general. It functions as a kind of arts centre. “Their music program is amazing, but it’s a much more formal place, less of a club setting. Having said that we’ve been doing a New Year’s Eve there for 7 years, which is a proper big party.”
I ask him about the kind of crowd they attract, whether Movimientos has a clear following of Latinos and latin-lovers, or whether there’s a random flow of Londoners. “Yes, it’s always been a huge cross-section of Latinos, Londoners and an international crowd – because the Latin rhythms are very universal. It often changes according to the venue though. We’ve always tried to mix things up a bit, to have a Latin band next to an African act or a funk band, I think it’s important to cross-pollinate audiences. The Hootananny’s a very unique venue, people come along and see bands that they’ve never heard of, in some ways the venue becomes the bigger concept”. I remark that it’s great to be able to trust a venue, to go for the whole experience, not simply head out with the expectation of hearing your favourite band sing your favourite songs. “Absolutely! There will always be an open-minded crowd out there driven by a thirst for something fresh – but this is much harder to do without the venues like Passing Clouds that have musical integrity. You need places people can trust in where they are happy to be educated.”
I explain the difficulty in building up a Latin music following in Bristol, even in getting enough interest in a BristoLatino night, which would enable us to throw a vibrant event with live music and DJ sets. “Well the student crowd is barraged with so much reggae, drum & bass and hip hop, so Latin’s just not cool.” But they would love it, I tell him. “Of course, they love it when they get exposed to it, and when it’s presented in the right way. There’s the salsa scene in Bristol, but it’s quite cheesy, which can be a bit off-putting for students.”
He continues to tell me about the current state of the Latin music scene in the UK. “There’s a dearth right now. When we started there were tons of alternative Latin acts coming through. There seemed to be loads of bands to program every month, typical Venezuelan rock with funky salsa edge, a very cool Ecuadorian band, Cumbia, anything with a Latin angle. Many were rock bands with a Latin swing to them. Now there’s not much.” I ask him if he thinks there is a clear link with politics; when a certain country is on our political radar, it’s in the air and in our ears; do we become more open and interested in its music? Arabic and Middle-Eastern music is becoming increasingly popular in the UK… with people (hopefully) talking about the Colombian peace deal, will they be more aware and interested in Colombian music?
“A lot of this is down to who’s organising it, I don’t know how much it’s a real reflection of people’s interest in the region. There’s plenty of Colombian music in London, but nothing’s really ‘out there’. Eliane Correa took Cuban music outside of its normal place. 47 Soul making Arabic music outside of Palestine has made them big in the UK and back home. These Colombian bands aren’t thinking in terms of breaking the scene, or breaking the mould, they’re just playing the music that they love… which is great.”
So what about the scene here? In Bogotá, Cal sees a community-led underground movement of contemporary alternative music, which he finds fascinating. “Seeing this burgeoning scene of cultural protagonists creating their own platforms is great, whether it’s Mixticius Radio or the label Galletas Callientes … However, I’ve met a lot of bands with slick presentation, good promo, but ultimately there’s limited opportunities for a lot of them in Europe. I think rather than thinking about conquering other markets the most important thing artists can do is be true to themselves and their own identity and that will always come across in the music.”
Cal’s musical knowledge is quite obviously ample, but we want to know who is exciting him currently in Colombia. We discussed Los Animales Blancos, who coincidently were the first band I saw in Bogotá. They have a dark, jazzy feel, with hints of cumbia and drumming that keeps you on your toes. It’s harsh and rough, intentionally. “I like that they shake things up a bit.”
Bazurto All Stars, the poppy champeta and African rumba group from Cartagena, are one of Cal’s current favourites. They mix ska and dancehall and describe their musical style as “Champeta Muffin”. Puerto Candelaria, the Paisa absurdist “sound explosion that crosses borders”, incorporate theatre, humour and dance into their exciting act. Bulldozer have also caught his eye, “resembling Bomba Estéreo circa 2009, with more champeta.” For Cal, the Pacific coast sound is also really exciting, he comments on Quantic’s efforts to shine a light on this area.
Movimientos are about to release a disc by La Mambanegra, which Cal seems beamingly proud of and very excited about. “For me, they’re the best Colombian tropical band, they offer a real refresh on the whole salsa sound and a simply incredible live experience”. He adds that their dynamic management team used to work with Sidestepper. He brought me the upcoming Voodoo Love Orchestra disc; a mix of brassy, 1960s-style swing cumbia, as well as the intelligent, carefully assembled album from Eliane & En El Aire Libre Project. Featuring a huge range of instruments played in a mature, Cuban jazz style, it mixes English and Spanish into its compositions.