Zona Marginal – a radical Colombian hip hop band – spoke to the Hands Off Venezuela campaign

At the end of November supporters of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign in London interviewed Zona Marginal. Zona Marginal is a Colombian hip hop band that came to Britain invited by the Colombia Solidarity Campaign. At the end of November supporters of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign in London interviewed Zona Marginal. Zona Marginal is a Colombian hip hop band that came to Britain invited by the Colombia Solidarity Campaign.

Zona Marginal came to Britain to talk to young people like themselves about the current situation facing the youth of their country. John J told us that, "The plane ticket was paid by Amnesty International which wanted us to sing in a hip hop concert they had organised, but we have also been singing in various activities organised by other campaigns and giving talks in different universities and other places."

Mark Thomas, the campaigning comedian has commented that, "Zona Marginal are at the forefront of the struggle for human rights. They are one of the few hip hop crews who genuinely sing about how to improve it. This is where art meets community action. They are inspiring and original."

When did you start playing music?

"When hip hop arrived in Colombia in the mid 1980s we started to play this kind of music just because it was a trend among the youth. In 1995 we formed a group called New Power but in spite of the name we were still doing commercial music. We were called New Power but it lacked political meaning. When we started working with the ‘Youth House Foundation' they gave us facilities to write and try out our songs and we also started to observe from closer the real social problems. Our songs had some social content but we were limited to just saying, "Don't kill", "We have no Jobs", "We are discriminated." But it is due to the training we were getting that we began to realise that the lack of jobs, discrimination and violence were created by the same causes. Then we educated ourselves politically and we changed the name. We started calling ourselves Zona Marginal. Why did we choose this name? Because we represent a social layer that has been forgotten and marginalized by the state policies. We've been playing for ten years. In 1999 we launched our first album, we produced 1000 copies and we sold them all. All songs had a very strong social content. Zona Marginal is more than a band. We do not just play gigs but we work with the youngsters in the neighbourhoods organising workshops and activities for them. That's Zona Marginal.

What do you wish to express with your music?

What we want to express is consciousness. We want the people to realise that it is possible to transform things which do not work and what we want to express to the popular classes, to our people, is that we must not tolerate everything they ask us to accept simply because of our social background. We cannot carry on standing by in the face of injustice and repression. What is the point of doing commercial music when you can do political music? We can express whatever we want and we also raise awareness among people who listen to us. Zona Marginal wants to give a cry of hope to the people who listen to us. Zona Marginal wants to send out a cry of rebellion and social consciousness. We say that we generate revolution from hip hop because we call on people to get organised and to fight and above all we do not limit ourselves to preaching; we also try to lead by example.

How do you see the political, social and economic situation in your country?

The situation in Colombia is in decay in all senses of the word. Despite the huge amount of natural resources we've got and in spite of the amount of exports, the country does not offer proper living conditions to its population. In Colombia the economic power is limited to 4 or 5 families and everything goes to them (...) We believe that the neo-liberal policies implemented by the ruling class needs the workers and poor to be kept in poverty in order to maintain their privileges. On the political plane the situation is a bit different. Currently the left is getting organised in different political parties and they are winning some positions like in the Colombian Congress. People are seeing that the alternatives are there and it's not always the same song. On the left a resistance network is being created (...) The national government which is a repressive government is following orders from the Yankees [laughter]. They've helped to spread poverty and misery, they've also implemented cuts in healthcare and education and they have invested in the war instead. This is quite useless because the government has not been able to smash the guerrillas, and in fact everyday the guerrilla groups are stronger. At the same time the communities are resisting more and more and there are more politically aware people. People are fed up. People cannot stand it anymore. On TV they always broadcast soap operas to make us forget about our problems and divert our attention but people are still asking themselves what's going on.

Do you have problems in Colombia in distributing your music?

Loads. We never get our singles broadcast on radio stations, we don't get loads of commercial sponsors or promoters. Sometimes we can get an article about us published in the local newspapers, but we have to go and look for the journalist. The radio stations never broadcast tour stuff. They do not care, even if the single is very good and people phone the radio station asking for it. They just do not broadcast it. There is a lot of discrimination against national hip hop, especially against political hip hop. If those who sing commercial rubbish never get on the radio stations [laughter] we have even less chance. However, we produced 1000 copies of our album and we sold them without any promotion. We are still working even if there is no support at all.

What are your views on the Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution and how do you think it can affect to the Colombian working class and youth?

This is one of the most important developments in Latin America in the last period. It is an inspiring example of struggle for all the Latin American peoples, and particularly for the Colombian people. Colombia and Venezuela have a similar history of oppression under the oligarchies going back a long time. In a democratic manner the political hegemony of the oligarchy has been broken. Amongst the activists the thinking is: "if this can happen in Venezuela it can also happen here." This new situation has created new ties of reciprocal friendship and solidarity between both peoples. I know some Colombians that have moved to Venezuela and some of them have even naturalised as Venezuelan citizens. Due to the new situation Colombians are better treated in Venezuela than before. In Europe we have always been mistreated but there is a 500 year long history of oppression and conquest. However, between sister nations it is even more unacceptable. Chavez has changed the situation. On the other hand there are loads of people who do not know what the reality is. There is no positive news in the media about the work being done by the Cubans (sports instructors and doctors, etc.) in the popular neighbourhoods. None of the media talk about that. We only have news on the alleged violence of the Chavistas, the usual news on the alleged links of Chavez with the guerrillas and so on. However, this is normal because the mainstream media belongs to the oligarchy. This has to be counteracted because there are many people who do not know what is really going on. They do not know that behind this situation there is mass work. We have to build the alternative media and grassroots organisations and start to raise awareness. Definitely, we see the situation with hope, brother.

December 2004

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