Another one out of Alt Latino’s latest episode. This is Elsa y Elmar, aka Elsa Carvajal.
I caught this half-hour Alt Latino interview with Richard Blair, aka Sidestepper, and it just flew by (I’m both happy and sad about that) because the music contained within is beautiful. Check it out ; )
“Richard Blair is from Britain, but his heart is in Colombia. Blair went from producing albums for Peter Gabriel to immersing himself in the music and culture of Colombia — itself a country with deep African roots.
He chased a sound he’d heard in his head; one that mixed the burgeoning electronic music scene of Britain with the Afro-Colombian sounds he’d heard in the streets and clubs of Bogota, the Colombian capital.
The result, formed in 1996, was the band Sidestepper, which released four albums that left a huge impression on the Colombian music scene. Current Colombian bands like Bomba Estereo and Choc Quib Town have spoken at length about the influence of Sidestepper on their music.
Blair recently assembled a new generation of Colombian musicians to re-form Sidestepper and release an album (Supernatural Love) with a sound that looks forward and backward at the same time. It’s rich with tradition, and with the sounds of clubs around the world.
This week on Alt.Latino, Blair joins us to discuss Sidestepper’s history, his own musical influences, and what we’ve determined to be the ultimate truth. (Listen in to find out what I mean.)”
Listen to the great 33 minute podcast at NPR
Skimming a recent Economist article on how change comes slowly for the people of the Pacifico, I saw the following quote:
“…as 84% of land in the Pacific region is subject to collective-title rights granted to black and indigenous groups. The introduction of such rights in 1993.” 
Having read several Colombian history books, I didn’t recall reading about this before so I looked it up and found out more.
From “The territorial turn: Making black territories in Pacific Colombia” 
As “ethnic communities” distinct from the national culture, many rural blacks who are able to demonstrate a history of customary tenure arrangements often emulate indigenous strategies for land recognition (Thorne 2001). The Pacific region of Colombia provides a case in point. In order to address calls for democratic reforms in a country torn apart by 40 years of civil war, Colombia elected a constituent assembly and changed its constitution in 1991.
Although the constitution did not set out to address ethnic issues per se, it redefined the country as multiethnic and pluricultural. Backing up rhetoric with deeds, the new constitution’s Transitory Article 55 (AT-55) required Congress to pass a law granting “black communities” (comunidades negras) of the “Pacific watershed” collective property titles to the rural and riparian areas that they occupy “in conformity with their traditional systems of production.
As a result of AT55, Law 70 (PDF) was passed two years later. Law 70 guarantees black communities of the Pacific “territorial rights.” By 1995, procedural Decree 1745 required a multitude of governmental institutions and agencies to work together to demarcate and title black territories to representative community councils (consejos comunitarios). Required by law to receive a title, the councils were newly created ethno-territorial and political entities required to solicit and administer the new territories.
Between 1996 and May of 2003, the Colombian government demarcated and titled 122 black territories. These territories enclose over 4.5 million hectares, contain 1,250 black communities, and represent 270,000 people (Figure 1). Size and population vary dramatically; one territory contains as few as 30 people living in a single community, while the largest territory contains 30,000 people in 90 different communities and encompasses more than a half million hectares. Not yet complete, the project is already among the most ambitious and radical territorial reorderings ever attempted in Latin America (Table 1).
“Margarita Estupiñán was born in El Charco, Nariño, more than four decades ago. At 12 years old, after a family fight, she left her home and landed in Cali where, for some unknown reason – let’s say almost miraculously – a traditional local family adopted her, raised her, paid her studies and taught her several trades, among them the gratifying art of cooking.
When Margarita was 18, the family said: “We’ve done our part; now it’s your turn”. And thus she set out for Bogotá in search of work. Among other jobs, the “Negrita” (as everyone called her), was employed by the Croydon, a packaging company for roses in the Bogotá savanna.
Some of the flowers didn’t classify as exportable so Margarita bought and sold them, door to door, in the streets of northern Bogotá. One day she sold a rose bouquet to Melisa Guibert, a French women that had a boutique in the El Chicó neighborhood.
That afternoon, Melisa asked her: “Have you eaten (here) yet?” To which Margarita responded: “What do you think?” Melisa took her to her elegant apartment in Los Rosales and prepared a type of meat she had never had before. “I want to learn to make this”, Margarita told her.
And she not only learned to make a steak like that – as she also learned what it was called -, but then she picked apart a French recipe book from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, in which Mrs Guibert was an expert.
So, during 7 years, Margarita cultivated and dominated this succulent type of world cuisine.
In December, 17 years ago, Margarita went on vacation in Santa Marta, a land she then fell in love with. That’s when she decided to leave everything and, with her savings, opened a small place for French food called San Basilio.
The overwhelming success of the restaurant made Margarita expand, and so she rented a place in the city’s historic downtown, where her business still operates. Since then, Basilea (a name she later chose in order to give it a European touch), is an exquisite gastronomic reference in the city.
Due to the curious curves that destiny proposed, one afternoon a Swiss man named Christian Bumann happened upon her place. And yes…it was love at first sight (it’s been going strong 8 years).
But the incredible and well-seasoned story of Margarita didn’t and doesn’t stop there. Soon after Christian would get to know, in the intimacy of her home, her other speciality: cuisine of the Colombian Pacífico, and so he got her to open another spot, showcasing her other cuisine. The place became reality and it’s called Casa Marina.
If only due to such a story, it’s worth it to sit down at any of the two places. I’ve gone to Basilea many times, and yes, it’s a classic. A little while back, I visited Casa Marina and, in an “encocado” of shrimp, I found Margarita’s other truth: Pacific cuisine. In both cases, pure seasoning and a lot of heart.” – Source (which I translated)
Calle 19 N°. 3-53.
Tel.: (5) 423 1809
Calle 16 N°. 2-58
Tel.: (5) 431 4138
“The average Colombian is better off than the average world citizen, a recently published global prosperity index claimed.
The index prepared by investment think tank Legatum Institute put together six core principles of prosperity that have been widely discussed in both the academic and policy community, and which we are documented to have a strong relationship with both GDP and individual well-being in a country.
The principles are: Opportunity; Education; Health; Freedom; Safety; and Social Values. Other two variables included in the ranking are Economy and Governance. Colombia was ranked 66th overall among all the countries, a result inside the upper middle level, though only 5 positions away from the lower middle tier.” – Source (more)
I found this post saved as a draft from 2010, not sure why I hadn’t posted it.
“Andean winds blow dense clouds of fog in waves over steep mountain crags carpeted with hundreds of species of tropical plants that trap in moisture here high above Colombia’s capital. Water is everywhere in this treasure trove, held in place by an intricate fabric woven by Mother Nature This is nature’s water factory; water springs from the rugged paramos (neo-tropical ecosystems) of Chingaza and Sumapaz national parks and travels through underground veins to the Ghuza and San Rafael reservoirs, supplying millions of people in the metropolitan area of Bogota.
As we travel deeper into the mountains, fog drapes itself over the secrets of the forest, intermittently allowing us to see an impenetrable mass of bushes mid trees, silhouettes of deer in the ravines, grassy plateaus on the riverbanks, and lagoons flanked by the perpetual green of the Chingaza National Park and Nature Reserve.
We are almost 10,000 feet above sea level. Our guide, Luis Alberto Espino, tells us that over 80 percent of the people of Bogota get their drinking water from this area. “The Chingaza paramo is like a sponge that stores rainwater and then releases it slowly over time,” he says, as we walk hunched over through low vegetation.
The magic of this hydrological system is evident all around us. Water flows permanently from moss-covered rocks, feeding wetlands and reed-filled bogs, and filtering into crystal clear streams that supply the entire watershed. The paramo ecosystem consists of wetlands and high grassland areas which, if well preserved, can create a soil structure ideal for storing water in the dry season and regulating the water cycle throughout the year by releasing it little by little to the lower areas.
Espino squeezes a handful of moss his hand and water streams out. “This, in infinite quantities, is what allows the accumulation of about 8.8 billion cubic feet of water in the Chuza Reservoir,” says the smiling ranger. From this immense artificial lake in El Chingaza, the water is taken downhill through a large underground aqueduct to the San Rafael Reservoir located in the heights of Bogota, in La Calera. The reservoir holds enough water to supply the capital city with water for three to five months in case of drought.
On the way back to Bogota, I visit the Botanic Gardens where I meet Julia Miranda, the general director of Colombian National Park Service. Under the shadow of huge palm trees, Miranda explains the value of the paramos with a certain pride. “Colombia has the advantage of having large extensions of relatively well-preserved paramo areas,” she says. “And it’s important to look at how important this is for a city like Bogota and for a region like the Savannah of Bogota. Bogota is a city with more than eight million people, and it gets its water primarily from two national parks, Chingaza National Park and Sumapaz National Park. In addition to the people in Bogota and the Savannah of Bogota, sixteen municipalities are benefitting from this water.” – Source