INVITACIÓN CELEBRACIÓN POR LA PAZ / INVITATION TO CELEBRATE PEACE
Colombian Fest Chicago 2016 in words and pictures
Words and images by Charlie Billups, edited by Don Macica –
“His strong cumbia beat with his very skilled accordion play reminded me of parties in my wife’s hometown of Corozal. I could close my eyes on Sunday and imagined that I was in Corozal or at the beach with his music on in the background and people dancing in a beach side restaurant. The atmosphere at the festival was exactly like that of a festival in Colombia.”
Agúzate photographer Charlie Billups is recalling his two days spent at Colombian Fest / El Gran Festival Colombiano, which took place at the Copernicus Center July 16-17 during a sweltering mid-summer heatwave. He’s speaking about the artist who closed the weekend, the 80-year-old cumbia legend Anibal Velasquez from Barranquilla, a port city on the country’s Atlantic coast. “His music represented the joy and fun of being Colombian.”
Anibal Velasquez y Los Locos del Swing
Billups continues, “The sounds that filled the festival represented several genres of music from different parts of Colombia, all of which are very popular. Cumbia, vallenato, champeta, salsa and merengue. When one of the many, many bands weren’t performing, DJs played vintage records to keep the energy high. The capacity crowd that packed the place on both days loved every minute of it.”
Experiencing Sunday night’s headliner was not the only time Billups felt himself transported from the northwest side of Chicago to the South American nation. He recalls Sunday’s late afternoon set by Charles King, who delivered a stirring performance with his champeta criolla, and how it brought him to another time and place. “The music was sweet reggae sounding but with deep roots in the Colombian coast town of Palenque and enhanced by Mr. King’s deep facial expressions. I closed my eyes and imagined that I was in Cartagena on a taxi ride to the bus station and the driver had the radio on playing Mr. King’s El Martillo.”
Charles King, El Rey de La Champeta
Two of Saturday’s headliners especially stood out in Billup’s memory as well.
“Sonora Carrusales, the last performer that night, is a salsa band from Medellin. La Sonora has an extremely powerful sound that evokes Fruko and many bands from Medellin and Cali. The crowd exploded as the band played non-stop for 90 minutes. This band represents the strong salsa legacy that Colombia has. Cali is called the salsa capital of the world. Passion ran high thru the entire place and people did not want to leave even after the three encores by La Sonora.
“Earlier Saturday afternoon Jimmy Zambrano and former Binomio de Oro member Duban Bayona delivered to me what represents the heart of coastal Colombian music, vallenato. People in the crowd were transfixed by the soulful melodic performance of Grammy winner Zambrano’s accordion with Bayona’s strong voice. I have to say that this was like going to Colombia and walking down the street on a Saturday night and listening to this duo on picos [Colombian sound systems] in the balconies.”
Duban Bayano y Jimmy Zambrano
Charlie Billups’ great photos are a testament to his love of Latin American culture and community. Several illustrate this article, and you can find many, many more at his website. For his part, Charlie has just one more thing to say.
“It was good to go to Colombia for the weekend!”
Colombian Fest: It’s not a festival, it’s a verbena
By Parker Asmann –
In the distance a tall, white party tent extends far above the fence line and into a cloudless sky. With every step the microphones and instruments being sound checked start to sound more like a Tejano band from Texas. Nearly in perfect unison, Jorge Ortega and his team of sound technicians are running around meticulously preparing for their latest event. With only a week until Colombian Fest one would think this had something to do with the festival, but today is just a typical birthday celebration for Ortega.
Colombian Fest, the Midwest’s largest celebration of Colombian music and culture, returns to the Copernicus Center July 16-17 for their second annual festival. Coinciding with Colombian Independence Day, the festival will include legendary and contemporary musicians directly from Colombia as well as artists from Chicago’s thriving Colombian community. From cumbia, vallenato and champeta to currulao and salsa, the festival highlights the richness and diversity of Colombian music and culture.
Ortega, the festival’s director and founder, was born in the seaport town of Barranquilla, in the Atlantico of Colombia. Known for its enormous carnival celebrations equipped with costumed performers and cumbia music, Ortega had to rely on his parents and uncles to understand and experience that Colombian culture after moving to the United States at a young age.
Carnaval in Barranquilla
Every weekend Ortega’s father would have loud music from every region in Colombia singing throughout the house, blasting until the wee hours of the morning. While he wasn’t taking notes on what his father had playing in the house, Ortega would be carefully combing through his uncle’s record collection filled with Colombian artists he had brought with him to the United States.
At family parties when his uncle got tired of being in control of the music, Ortega was left to command the sound system as the adults around him danced and sang into the night.
“My parents would have a party and the adults would be doing their thing and the only one left playing with the music was me,” Ortega said. “I was young, my uncle would just let me go ahead and play the music. I was always right there with the sound system.”
Since the age of 18, Ortega has been surrounded by music and has worked countless music festivals. With over 30 years working as a sound engineer and production manager, Ortega and his partner Luis Garcia decided that hosting their own music festival was the next appropriate step to take.
“Colombian Fest started about four years ago,” Ortega said. “We did a picnic in a forest preserve on Irving Park and Cumberland, I think it was for my birthday since it’s a couple days after Colombian Independence on July 20.”
After receiving positive feedback from the first picnic, Ortega decided to hold another picnic the following year, only this time with about double the amount of people. Before long, what started out as a small picnic transformed itself into a full blown music festival.
Colombian culture is anything but simple. From Colombia’s Pacific coast to the interior plains and mountains, and on to the shores of the Caribbean, to its African, Spanish and indigenous roots, Colombia’s diversity is showcased both geographically and culturally. Arguably the epicenter of Latin America, Colombia’s identity is unavoidably influenced by and exported to its neighbors. All of this leaves Ortega with one big question: How could he possibly incorporate all of this diversity into two days?
For Ortega, it all started with the verbenas in Colombia that his parents would describe in stories of their time spent enjoying them. Throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s in Barranquilla, Ortega’s parents would frequent the verbenas, popular street parties along Colombia’s Atlantic coast. At the verbenas in Barranquilla, it was as if all of the musical and cultural influences that had shaped Colombia had fallen onto one town.
“The music was introduced in the barrios and the streets of Barranquilla through these sound systems called pickups, or picos for short,” Ortega said. “And that music would come through the boats. With Barranquilla being a port town, a lot of the music that came from Haiti, Jamaica, the United States, Africa and France, all that music came in through the boats.”
Soon enough, Colombian verbenas developed a certain ebb and flow to them that Ortega saw replicated at his parents’ parties.
“Those were the early verbenas, they would play cumbia, vallenato, salsa, African music, and then the African music transitioned into champeta,” Ortega said. “It’s a mix, and I grew up with that mix.”
That mix that Ortega grew up with is showcased in the Colombian artists and local Chicago bands that are slated to perform at this year’s festival. One of the most notable musicians is 80-year-old Anibal Velasquez y Los Locos del Swing. Also a native of Barranquilla, Velasquez universalized the accordion and introduced a livelier form of cumbia known as the Colombian Guaracha. His innovations influenced music in Colombia and throughout Latin America. In Mexico, it’s known as cumbia sonidero.
Also accompanying Velasquez on the list of elite musicians and performers from Colombia are the salsa orchestra Sonora Carruseles and champeta master Charles King. All three of these performers will be receiving Colombian Heritage Awards at the festival for their lifetime of cultural contributions.
Ecos del Pacífico Afrocolombiano
While some of Colombia’s native talent will be on full display, a variety of other acts from around the world and Chicago will also be exhibiting their abilities. Chicago’s own Diana Mosquera Ensemble, Ecos del Pacífico Afrocolombiano and Tierra Colombiana Folkloric Dance Company will be highlighting Chicago’s own Colombian heritage.
Ortega is particularly excited about a couple new additions to this year’s lineup, especially Explosión Negra from Colombia’s Pacific coast, representing a new evolution in Colombian music, mixing it with urban hip-hop and Jamaican dancehall, uniting three strains of African music in the Americas.
“Here in Chicago you have a Colombian community that’s pretty diverse,” Ortega said. “You have a mix of Colombians that are from the coast, from Bogota, Medellin, and so with the festival we try and have a little bit of everything.”
Representing all of Colombia’s different cultural and musical identities is important to Ortega and the festival’s organizers, but what’s more important is maintaining and providing the type of sound quality that’s needed to really appreciate the intricacies of the music being performed.
Producing the festival will be LD Audio, one of the largest concert and festival production companies in the Midwest. As head of production management, Ortega and LD Audio owner Luis Garcia have made a commitment to ensuring that the sound quality of the festival exceeds everyone’s expectations. In Ortega’s words, “it’s a ‘sound guys’ festival.”
“My background is as a sound engineer and a production manager for many years, I’ve toured with many big Latin American artists,” Ortega said. “LD Audio and myself have more than 30 years of experience with sound engineering and production.
“We have a level of professionalism and expertise, and we have to bring that because it’s our festival, we’re representing our country, our Colombia.”
Colombia is African, it’s Spanish and it’s indigenous. There are foods and traditions that are entirely unique to a particularly region that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. Colombia is a fusion, a blending of cultures, tastes, and best of all, musical styles. Ortega isn’t focused on having the biggest festival that gains the most attention; he’s committed to having the highest quality festival that displays just how diverse his Colombian culture is. He wants you to experience his verbena.
Colombian Fest (2015)
“This is not a festival, it’s a verbena, a carnival. You want to experience our verbena, come to Colombian Fest.”
Colombian Fest / El Gran Festival Colombiano, July 16-17, Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Avenue, Chicago colombianfestchicago.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HIGH RESOLUTION DIGITAL IMAGES AVAILABLE
COLOMBIAN FEST / EL GRAN FESTIVAL COLOMBIANO RETURNS FOR ITS
SECOND YEAR OF CELEBRATING THE MUSIC AND CULTURE OF COLOMBIA
JULY 16-17 AT THE COPERNICUS CENTER IN CHICAGO
The festival will present legendary and contemporary artists direct from Colombia performing diverse genres of Colombian music, including cumbia, vallenato, champeta, currulao, salsa and more plus artists drawn from Chicago’s Colombian community.
CHICAGO—The Midwest’s largest celebration of Colombian music and culture, Colombian Fest / El Gran Festival Colombiano returns to the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago, July 16 and 17 Gates open at 11:00AM until 10:00PM. The event takes place under the sky in the center’s large parking lot. In addition to presenting a large variety of Colombian music from international and local artists, the family-friendly festival will feature food, artisans, games, dancing and a kid zone designed especially for younger attendees.
The Festival, produced by LD Audio, coincides with Colombian Independence Day. General admission tickets are just $17 per person for the entire weekend. Single day passes are available for $10. Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by a ticketed adult.
Festival director and founder Jorge L. Ortega, a Chicagoan who was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, says “This is a very family-oriented event that offers an opportunity to enjoy or perhaps even discover the rich musical and cultural heritage of a great Latin American nation.” Ortega continues, “From the Pacific coast to the interior plains and mountains to the shores of the Caribbean, Colombia has a huge diversity of cultures made up of mixtures of Spanish, African and indigenous peoples. With two coasts and bordering on five countries, we are at the center of Latin America, and our culture is both influenced by and exported to our neighbors.”
One example of this exportation is headliner Anibal Valasquez y Los Locos del Swing, a 80 year old innovator from Barranquilla who popularized the accordion and invented a new, livelier form of cumbia called Colombian Guaracha that spread to Mexico, leading musicians there to adopt it and create their own style which became known as cumbia sonidero. Velazquez, along with salsa orchestra Sonora Carruseles and champeta master Charles King, will receive Colombian Heritage Awards at the festival for their lifetime of cultural contributions. Awards will also be presented to a pair of Colombian musicians who make their home in Chicago, pianist/bandleader Samuel del Real and singer/bassist/bandleader Carpacho (Roberto Marin) y Su Super Combo for keeping Colombian music alive here.
In addition to the artists named above, the festival will also present Dubán Bayona & Jimmy Zambrano, Lucho Morales y Su Fiesta Vallenata, Juan Carlos Perez, Explosión Negra, Mala Fe “La Vaca”, Pibo Marquez and DJ Geko Jones from ¡Que Bajo NYC! Chicago based artists include the Diana Mosquera Ensemble and Ecos del Pacifico Afrocolombiano and Tierra Colombiana Folkloric Dance Company. For a complete list of artists, visit www.colombianfestchicago.com. To stay current with updates and schedule changes, visit the fest’s Facebook page.
An important aspect of the festival is the attention paid to quality sound and lighting. Producer LD Audio, of which festival founder Jorge Ortega is head of production management, is one of the largest concert and festival production companies in the Midwest. “My Colombian heritage and culture are very important to me.” says Ortega. “I have an obligation in producing this festival to maintain the absolute highest level of quality to make sure the experience of every attendee is as good as can be. My country deserves no less.”
The presenting sponsor of Colombian Fest is Bud Light. Broadcast media partners include Telemundo Chicago, Barranquillaestereo.com and Univision Radio; Latino Mix 93.5 & 103.1, ZuBarrio.com, Planeta XLive, Latino Scoop, Print partners include La Raza, Colombia Hoy, Entretenimiento Latino Magazine.
Tickets to Colombian Fest / El Gran Festival Colombiano are available at Ticketfly.com or at the Copernicus Center box office.
For more information visit the event website or contact Tel. 312.491.0391
About LD Audio
LD Audio Inc. is one of the largest sound reinforcement and production companies in the Midwest. Based in Chicago, LD Audio, together with Jorge Ortega, have a combined 31 years of experience in producing, promoting and operating large scale events from concerts and festivals to marketing campaigns. They are Chicagoland’s exclusive carrier of d&b audiotechnik’s premier line array systems. Featuring the most accomplished engineers and system technicians, LD Audio has experience working in most of Chicago’s indoor and outdoor venues as well as many other locations. They also provide tour support as well as full backline services.