I arrived at the Maiquetia airport around midnight and after a month in Colombia. The first thing that noticeably stood out in the parking lot, as I exited the terminal, was the impressive array of SUVs. Almost half the parking spots were occupied by them. My host, Piki from the group Bituaya, walks me to his sedan sized vehicle and breaks it down for me.
“Gas costs the equivalent of 50 cents”
“Per liter or per gallon?” I ask
“No, the whole tank.
A bottle of water costs more than it does to fill a hummer
Caracas Venezuela- Sept 2011
I’ve was invited by Bituaya to touch down in Caracas and the neighboring city Maracay thanks to a government grant issued to us by the Ministry of Culture. My itinerary for my trip is jam packed with youth activism, speaking engagements, radio interviews and, of course, some DJ gigs. My first morning, I’m told we’re taking out Radio Verdura- a sound system van that cruises the streets of Venezuela instead of broadcasting its sounds. This is how the youth take it to the streets in Caracas.
The action by the kids was a demonstration on their part, in an effort to take over an old movie theater by a sister organization called Catia. There appears to be some legislation that allows for squatters rights and organizations have popped up and reclaimed some amazing spaces like el Nuevo Circo- the city’s old bull fighting arena
This space now hosts, yoga classes, acrobatics, breakdancing workshops and the like. Its a total win for the arts and culture movement in Caracas. A like minded space that was taken over years ago is called Tiuna El Fuerte. Its an enormous lot right off the highway that recently won an architectural award for its design. There are no formal building structures on the lot instead a series of interconnected shipping containers re-purposed as studios, art facilities, class rooms and media centers. Many of the city’s largest hip hop events have been hosted here and it has served workshops encompassing not just the 4 cornerstones of hip hop but also classes on reason, a full recording studio, a silk screening press and several other amenities that make it a great environment to keep kids engaged
The director of Tiuna El Fuerte took me for a ride on the metro cable to show me first hand why they work so heard on youth outreach. The metrocable connects people whose homes are on very steep and often dangerous barrios overlooking the greater metropolitan area of Caracas. As I left the second station, I saw a group of kids, none of them older than 14 walking around with 45s as big as their forearms in hand. I worried for the safety of the old lady walking toward them as they turned the corner but they gave her a kiss on the cheek as they passed. The barrios aren’t really policed by the government. They are autonomous zones where the law is passed down by gang capos and street soldiers. Outsiders aren’t usually welcomed.
Tiuna has a working relationship with the gang that runs Barrio 70. A lot of the kids that live in the neighborhood have come through Tiuna and come out better for it. DJ Cristian El Lunatico, for example, is from el 70 and learned how to DJ at Tiuna El Fuerte. He now plays most of the local parties. Tiuna asked the local bosses if they would allow them to bring a soundsystem and let a brooklyn DJ come wreck shop in the hood. They gave us use of a basketball court and let us set up a stage, sound and lights for the party. You’ll see here in the video that a lot of the faces are really young but there a few things the video doesn’t put you on to… A) Cabs don’t go up to the barrio, the transport buses used to go up radio in any unfamiliar faces and get clearance first B) the kids weren’t doing a bunch of drugs like I’d expect at a street party like that and C) salsa de baul! (who knew that what hood kids in Caracas really loved to dance to was epicly slow emo salsa ballads? Where I’m from we call those tunes cortavenas -wrist slitters)
Aside from the drunk dude that needed to make it absolutely clear that he had a gun standing right behind warning me that I didn’t need to worry because he was on guard duty, the party was a totally fun. Along with a lil help from DJ Cristian El Lunatico and Systema Sonoro Tiuna we got the hands up and the crowd jumpin to some new sounds.
Our last gig was the big show that we got the grant for in Maracay. Its about a 2 hour drive so along the way I had time to contemplate the visual overload of propaganda murals and posters that paint the town red. Even in the barrios where neither government nor police have jurisdiction you’ll see the “Adelante Commandante” slogans. The campaign has had an interesting effect. The people distinguish Chavez as an agent of change but show disdain for a government run by the interests of Big Petro.
We could spend hours getting into the pros and cons of different forms of government but in the end the story looked pretty much the same to me. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer because the shopping mall parking lot is always full. Nuff politkin tho.
You can watch the video to our last show here. Special shout outs to Arianna and Nanu and Tiuna El Fuerte for the light speed documentation. To Zona Verde and La Mega for hosting me on radio. To Insajuv for the awesome event logistics in Maracay and big huuuge massive ups to Bituaya for putting it all together and putting on a hell of a show to a receptive junglist massive in the midst of a tropical monsoon.