The identity of the lived and imagined Caribbean is composed in great part of African elements that manifest manifoldly. Several of these are present in Picó, the musical culture developed around the Colombian Caribbean sound system. In 2017, Colombian artist Jim C. Nedd co-directed a documentary film about this subject together with Invernomuto, an Italian artist duo working primarily with sound and image to explore what remains of subcultures. The final result is currently being shown at London gallery Auto Italia, titled PICO: Un parlante de África en América. In the 60-minute film, Pico culture takes center stage as the portal that connects Afro-Colombians, especially those who come from contexts that still live the colonial legacy of oppression in the marginal areas of Cartagena and Barranquilla. We spoke to Jim C. Nedd about growing up with Caribbean music, the difference between DJ and “Picotero”, and the conflation of multiple identities in the Caribbean in relation to Africa.
C&AL: How did you conduct your research for the film?
Jim C. Nedd: I started listening to music and recording tapes from the radio when I was probably around eight years old. My siblings and I were always encouraged to engage with the arts in any possible form, especially with music as an after-school practice. The main genre in my town is Vallenato, which was echoing across the city 24/7, as well as Salsa, Merengue and Ranchera. But for the first time my identity was explained through the codes that belonged to Champeta. I was fascinated by it, I remember Champeta as the coolest and freshest sound I ever heard. I experienced it through the work of Kevin Flores, El Sayayin, Mr Black, and many others… So I’d say that my personal research on Picó started with my memories.
I vividly remember the social panorama around parrandas [musical parties] by the end of the 1990s, and how the community used to collaborate organically in order to design a space for celebration. Just picture a whole neighborhood hosting a family gathering. Simultaneously I recall clearly how all of this co-existed within a tense atmosphere, set by a armed conflict in Colombia that never officially ended, which left many deaths behind. That’s how it was on a daily basis, a sharp line between life and death; festivity and mourning.