Interview: Q&A with Bejuco – The Colombian Pacific Soul (May 2021)

It might not be the most fitting time to write and read about uplifting music from the wild Southern tip of the Colombian Pacific Coast. Too much is going on in the Latin American country which goes too far from the comforting sounds coming from the city of Tumaco and Nariño region. 

Protests have rightly been raging and sweeping across the country for weeks now, voicing and manifesting people’s discontent at the worsening social inequality, omnipresent corruption and doomed peace process between the Government and the FARC, which is also deeply affecting Nariño.

Still, we have always been strenuous supporters of the redeeming and emboldening power of music, so much so we wanted to reach (via Whatsapp) Bejuco, a band that is currently one of the best expressions of the Afro-Colombian soul, to spread the word about their music which is a quintessential representation of their land.

A few weeks ago, they released their debut album, Batea, via Discos Pacifico/Llorona Records. So we had a digital chat with Canquita, the musical director of the ensemble, to understand a bit more about their work, bond with their land and the Afro-Colombian musical connection.

Let’s start with the basics … I read that your name, Bejuco, comes from an indigenous climbing plant with healing powers. Why did you choose your band name?

We chose Bejuco because it represents the connection with the territory, with nature and ancestry. In addition, the vine is a strong branch and it is precisely that force from which this group is made, that is why we believe that the word represents very well what we are.

Batea is your first album… How do you feel about having published it? And when did the Batea project start?

We are very happy to be able to record an album and express our musical vision and our customs. This project began in mid-2020, we answered to an open call by Discos Pacifico and luckily, we were chosen. From then on, we traveled this musical path to give rise to Batea by the hand of Diego Gómez and Iván Benavides.

What was it like to record and release an album during the pandemic? How is Covid-19 affecting your project and what is happening around you in Tumaco?

Recording and launching in the middle of the pandemic was complex, but we knew how to adapt to the changes that this situation demands, and technological aids have been key. On the other hand, the effects on the project are due to the fact of not being able to show our work on the music scene. Live concerts and interaction with the public are like food that we need.

Can you briefly tell us the story of Bejuco? I read that you started playing together in 2015… So, what has happened in these six years?

Indeed, Bejuco was born in 2015 as a commitment to keep alive the tradition of the Colombian Pacific and we stayed that way for a long time. Then we decided to transition to fusion music with the idea of getting the message to more people. Finding ourselves with Discos Pacifico has been fundamental, because we managed to find that sound that connects tradition with modernity and that is our current commitment with which we hope to please the public.

Your city Tumaco and your Nariño region are clearly the main inspirations for your music. What relationship do you have with your homeland? And what are the main cultural and musical differences between your region and the rest of Colombia?

We are totally connected with our territory, we still conserve practices that are ancestral, many rites, because we love our region and what it gives us. On the other hand, Colombia is very diverse and that makes it very rich, the differences go through musical taste, customs, gastronomy but we believe that they enrich us.

It is a great moment for the music of the Pacific coast of Colombia. In recent years, more musicians have found visibility and fans outside of your country. Why do you think the music of the Pacific coast is finally gaining deserved popularity?

We believe that the music of the Pacific Coast has gained strength thanks to its richness. We are very versatile in our ways of singing and without a doubt our traditional instruments have a mystique that powerfully draws attention.

Would you like to suggest other musicians / bands from Nariño that we should discover and listen to?

In Nariño and especially in Tumaco, there are groups like Chango, also from the Pacific disc family, or the group Plu Con Pla.

Considering your cultural roots, it is evident that in your music there are many connections with African music. From afrobeat to Afro-funk and from rumba to more traditional styles… Who are your influences when it comes to African music?

For our music, obviously, African music has contributed a great component and without a doubt the great reference in this process has been Fela Kuti.

You released your album only a few months ago … so, what projects do you have for the future? When will we enjoy your music and energy live in the UK?

In the immediate future we are planning to deepen our musical proposal and we are working to have new content with the essence of what we have called bambucobeat. In live concerts, it is our desire to interact with the public, to visit Colombia and hopefully the world and of course the United Kingdom would be a great honor. For now, everything is subject to the evolution of the pandemic.

Bejuco received a substantial boost when you joined the Discos Pacifico family. How did you get in touch with them and how do you feel about being part of the family?

As we said, the process to become part of Discos Pacifico started through a call in which the label sought to publicize and promote the music of the Pacific Coast. Fortunately we were selected, and we felt wonderful to be part of this label that now we consider our family.

We always end our interviews with a “tricky” question… How would you present and describe Bejuco and your music to someone who has never listened to it?

For us that question is not tricky, we are clear that we would present ourselves as the creators of bambucobeat, a strong mix between tradition and afrobeat with all the energy to make it enjoyable.