We are killers but on the dancefloor, and our weapons are our talent and our courage
If one day you have the good fortune to find yourself in the historic walled city of Cartagena, Colombia, your senses will be tickled by the fresh foods perfuming the streets, accompanied by the sounds of popular Colombian music.
In this postcard like scenic atmosphere, from time to time you may be surprised to hear break beats and witness break dancing in some of the most popular tourist centers of the old town. Such scenes will remind you that hip hop is no longer just the property of kids from the Bronx, but an evolving culture that has organically spread throughout the world.
Curious to know more about the hip hop scene in Colombia, I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to interview a few members of Cartakillaz, a Cartagena based break dance group. These young men were inspiring to talk to because they live and breathe their passion for music, dance and hip hop together. Thank you Cartakillaz for taking a break from a hard night’s work to share your responses to my questions.
When did you start performing as CartaKillaz?
We started during March of this year, during Holy Week. Each of us has about 5 to 7 years of traveling and experience. But as a group we have worked together for four or five months.
Were you friends before you started dancing together as a group?
Yes, for a long time before. We have seen each other around a lot, at various trips and at meeting places around the city. We eventually formed a group and named ourselves CartaKillaz.
What does CartaKillaz mean?
Carta is for Cartagena and Killaz is for Killers.
Killaz is in honor of the Cartagena warriors that represent our city with a long history of some of the best heroes that ever existed. We are here today born of this great city, so as a group we are dedicated to Cartagena.
We are killers but on the dancefloor, and our weapons are our talent and our courage to move forward and leave our land and our people of color in a good place in the world … This is CartaKillaz!
What are your actual names?
I am Alfredo Pino Borillo and as dancer Chamaquito. Mariano Sala and as a dancer Farex
In addition to us, the founders of our group are: Yoel Carascal Blanco Bailiarin Kid Yoe y Alexander.
Where are you from?
Four of us are from Cartagena, and one is from Barranquilla.
Are there hip hop competitions, like dance and rap battles here in Colombia?
Yes, there are. We have everything, dance battles, rap battles.
How do you improve upon your way of dancing, for example, do you watch internet videos?
No, we work together. We practice dancing as a group and critique each other. We say you should do that better, or you should do that like this. We work as a team. It is easier that way.
Is the hip hop movement growing here in Cartagena?
The culture still is not very big here, but it is growing. The people are getting to know this form of dance now. In the malls and places around the city, we perform so people can see it.
Who is the most famous of the dancers here in Cartagena, or rapper?
Of the rappers: Centinela, MC Mena, Chulo, Benito. There are many, many famous rappers.
Of the groups, CartaKillaz, Reyes del Piso, Tale, Latin Dance, there are so many.
All of the groups we have here are great, and many are well known.
One by one, thanks to the work of ourselves and of the more famous ones, we all have the opportunity to perform around the city.
What does your family think about your artistry? Do they support you?
First dancer: When I realized I wanted to dance, they always supported me. When I grew up, I took care of things myself. I now buy my food, clothes, transportation to travel.
Second dancer: No, it was very difficult for me really. Because my father wanted me to have a life like everyone else, study hard, work in an office for a big company, earn money and help out my family. What they don’t understand is that I can earn money in another way but have a different life, I don’t want to work for a big office. So it’s difficult for them to accept this about me and also I’m the youngest of the boys so they think, as older folks, that the music is all about drugs and crime. So right now, I don’t have support from my home. But I hope to, little by little.
Is it possible to have two lives here, working a regular job and also keeping up the dancing at night?
Yes, it wears you out but yes. It’s possible to find a way to do both, but if you do both at the same time one or the other job may suffer. I work for example at a company from 6 am to 5 pm. I leave at 5 pm to 11 pm to dance at night. So we have seen that dancers who only dance try to do lots of other things like have sponsors, like colognes, RedBull, Nike, Adidas. One of our friends is one of the best dancers in Cartagena and he dances for a very good and famous reggaeton singer J. Balvin, yes and he does very well with him, traveling around the world on his tour. So it’s possible, it’s not easy, but it’s possible.
In general, how many hours do you practice your art each day?
We practice from 4 pm to 7pm at night, from 7 pm until we dance out here, like training. We don’t have a fixed hour, but we often dance from 4pm until 1 or 2 am. It’s a lot of training.
Since you perform in tourist areas, are you able to earn money and make some contacts?
Yes, about 1.5-2 weeks ago we made a contract with a night club here to dance on weekends, to dance Fridays through Sundays in the night club. We also work with one of our colleagues, Maestro Lovaldi,who is a contemporary group. We did a show at a restaurant called Cape del Mar. And we are also hired to dance at wedding, quinceneras etc.
Do you think it is possible to have success if you continue here in Cartagena, or is it necessary to move to another country?
Truly it is hard, for the lack of support and also our culture is not really ready here.
But if we work hard and they support us, the government, the private people, we can do it here. But lots of dancers have seen they couldn’t do it here, so they have moved to other cities and countries.
Yes, for example, we recently saw the documentary Shake the Dust and it featured a guy from Cartagena who said he had to move to Bogota to live his passion.
Yes, even our friends who are dancers with J. Balvin, the reggaeton star, they had to also move to the capital to Bogota. In general, there were so many dancers here, but only a few have stayed. For us CartaKillaz, we have a goal to go to Europe for the culture of hip hop, we can grow more there.
Which countries in Europe?
Portugal, France, Switzerland, Germany. We want to travel there, learn there. Especially France, because we have Venezuelan friends who went there and told us there is so much hip hop culture in France. And for us, it would be much easier to enter France than the U.S. Yes, because we can enter 86 countries in the world without visa, including the ones we mentioned. So, to have the opportunity to go with just a passport to France, we would like to learn everything there and challenge ourselves.
Is it easy to get a Columbian passport?
Yes, very easy. The hard thing is to get the plane ticket, it is too expensive. For example, a ticket from Colombia to Portugal costs 3 million pesos (around $965 USD).
Do you feel that Cartagena is valued in the rest of Colombia? Does the country appreciate your city, its history and contributions to the country?
Yes, Colombia knows Cartagena’s importance. Cartagena is a very good city, full of history, and a lot culture. Yes, we Cartageneros are kind of treasures of Colombia. And also cities like Cartagena, and Santa Marta are the most touristic of the country.
How do you feel about your African roots, are you proud of them?
Yes, I feel very proud to have my skin of this color. I am very happy.
That is, when I look at my skin, it remembers all that our ancestors suffered because of the Spanish but also many things we have accomplished.
We have to erase racism, black black, white white. Zero racism. We feel very proud to be Latino. We are Latinos. We are black. We are Afrodescendants. In general, we are also of good people, happy, with love for everyone. We are very nice with everyone and being good to everyone, that takes us far.
That’s something that helps us a lot in our country, to not have rage toward each other.
We can talk with anyone in the whole world.