The Poblenou district of Barcelona was an early 20th century industrial area which quickly became a cooperativist, working class neighborhood. Today, it is being gentrified by a massive urbanistic plan attracting Big Capital from weapons, tech, construction and financial firms. Yet the current depression has halted this process, leaving buildings unfinished, the skeletal remains left by uninterested vultures. Mt. Zion is the name of one abandoned factory in this district, which is currently occupied by a community of hundreds of immigrants, mostly West African men, but there’s people from all over the world there. While many work collecting scrap-metal all over the city, there are also a number of musicians from Barcelona’s local African music scene. Only a couple of years ago many had houses, their papers in order and precarious but nonetheless legit jobs. Now they’re being kicked out of this abandoned place, as the city is putting pressure on the owner to allow the space to be expropriated, ostensibly for a project that involves gardens and solar panels.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about this more from a journalistic and sociological perspective, but I wanted to share some of the music being made by the Mt Zion community with y’all, in an effort to start to get the word out.
Gambian-born, Barcelona-based Ghetto Solja, has done quite a bit to attract the public eye to what’s happening there through the video for his song “Warzone”, filmed at Mt. Zion. He tells me that, in interviews about the video with press back home in The Gambia they asked him if the video was really filmed in Spain, “since it looks so much like Africa”. The bi-lingual lyrics are simple and crushing: “Comen natural / mueren ilegal / Todo sigue igual, nada puede cambiar / morire ilegal” or “They eat natural and die illegal. Everything’s the same, nothing can change. I’ll die illegal.” Yet the major-chord African Reggae of that tune is not exactly representative of Ghetto Solja’s style, which tends to veer more towards some very solid dancehall:
Some militant bottom-up types are doing what we can to help organize on several levels and get the word out. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s beautiful work. Love work. And there are signs of hope. The city recognized the social character of the work the folks living there are doing, since they actually started a recycling project and are taking steps to legalize an Integrated Services Co-Op (here’s a primer on Integrated Co-Ops). The judge has been somewhat friendly, meaning more talk and more social pressure is particularly helpful. We’re making a big effort to get the word out, in English, Spanish and any other language we can to get the city to find a dignified solution to this conflict. If you’re interested in knowing more about the Mt. Zion community, stay tuned to Roarmag.org over the next few days, where I’ll be publishing an in-depth piece.