Chocquibtown, the Voice of Afro-Colombian Identity

Chocquibtown BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of grammy.com

Urban music trio Chocquibtown rose to international fame in 2010 after winning a Latin Grammy Award for their song “De donde vengo yo,” an ode to the reality of the Afro-Colombian population.

In its award-winning song, Chocquibtown highlights how Afro-Colombians have mastered the art of resilience, learning to laugh in the face of pain and poverty, but how they have also been victims of discrimination, abandoned by the state, and brutally harmed by the armed conflict.

Since then, Chocquibtown has become the voice of Afro-Colombian culture, echoing the injustices suffered by the Black community in Colombia and rejecting Colombians’ refusal to accept the rampant racism in the country.

More importantly, the group has broadened the spectrum of representation in the music industry.

The group’s name, “Chocquibtown,” is a combination of Chocó, a department in western Colombia known for its large Afro-Colombian population, and Quibdo, its capital city. The members of the group, who are natives of the region, are Gloria “Goyo” Martínez, her brother Miguel “Slow Mike” Martínez, and Carlos “Tostao” Valencia, Goyo’s husband.

It has been precisely this family nexus, in addition to the concept of the Black community as a family, that has brought them together, staying true to their message of awareness.

The audience response has been spectacular. Chocquibtown has amassed thousands of fans thanks to its signature style that mixes hip hop, pop, beatbox with Latin rhythms such as currulao and salsa.

The group has become not only a musical reference but also representative of the Afro-Colombian identity, combining hairstyles, clothes, and visual elements typical of the region. A great example of this is their single “Fresa,” whose video is framed in Afro-Colombian cultural references.

From the color palette to the neighborhood structure built as a backdrop for the video, his clothing, makeup, and the very long braided extensions Goyo wore, all of these elements were designed to create a place that could be Nigeria or Colombia, Goyo explained to Billboard.

As the group’s national and international influence and voice have grown, their fight for racial and social justice has continued. On May 19, 2020, Anderson Arboleda, a 24-year-old Black man living in Puerto Tejada, Colombia, was beaten over the head with a wooden baton by a police officer for violating quarantine regulations imposed due to the pandemic. The attack was so violent that it resulted in Arboleda’s brain death and passing on May 22, three days before George Floyd’s murder. 

However, unlike Floyd’s case, Arboleda’s alleged murder did not provoke a massive public reaction — or any reaction at all — until Goyo posted the case on her Twitter account.

In response to the Arboleda and Floyd cases, Goyo founded the Conciencia Collective — still, an ongoing project — which is an alliance of more than 35 music industry executives, including activists, journalists, managers, publicists, lawyers, directors and content creators, and a hundred artists united in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, to raise awareness of racial and social injustice issues in the Latino community. 

In the past year, the Conciencia Collective has aired dozens of #ConcienciaTalks, where they have analyzed issues such as the complexities of white privilege, and four episodes of Conciencia Cocina, where artists shared Latin American recipes as a way to share their cultural heritage. 

Chocquibtown’s work on and off stage includes Afro-Colombian culture to the bone. It will undoubtedly continue to bring awareness about the richness of Afro-Colombian heritage and the structural changes that must occur so that the country’s Black population can access the benefits that are their rights.