ChocQuibTown on Telling a Different Story: “We’re Three Afro-Colombians Talking About Our Experience”

Armando Perez

Colombian superstar Shakira made her move into the U.S. market during the so-called “Latin Invasion” at the beginning of the century, followed not long after that by singer-songwriter Juanes. Then, urbano compatriots J Balvin and Maluma made the leap in the last few years. And now, it’s hip-hop trio ChocQuibTown’s turn. The trio consists of Gloria “Goyo” Martínez, her brother Miguel “Slow” Martínez, and her husband Carlos “Tostao” Valencia.

The band behind hits such as “De Donde Vengo Yo” and “Pa’ Olvidarte” is attempting to follow in the footsteps of its fellow countrymen to become the latest Colombian act to cross over into the American market. ChocQuibTown will soon head out on its first official US tour, kicking off the six-city trip in Miami August 2 at Flamingo Theater Bar.

Separating ChocQuibTown from the majority of mainstream Colombian acts is the fact that its members are Afro-Colombian — a demographic that has long been underrepresented in Colombia’s entertainment industry despite making up over ten percent of the population. The band hails from the department of Choco and reps the predominantly Afro-Colombian area with pride, as evidenced by its folk sound and the name ChocQuibTown (a combination of Choco and its capital, Quibdo).

ChocQuibTown has already managed to break down barriers, picking up Latin Grammy and Grammy Award nominations along the way. The group has also collaborated with Latin music heavy-hitters such as Nicky Jam, Farruko, Carlos Vives, Wisin, and Becky G. The latter is featured on the band’s latest single, “Que Me Baile,” a banger with an African-centric music video female empowerment message. And as Goyo told New Times over the phone while in New York to perform at LAMC’s SummerStage at Central Park, the members are ready for even more collabos of a different variety.

The following interview was translated from Spanish to English and edited for clarity.

New Times: You guys have been releasing albums since 2006. Why did you decide now is the time for an official U..S tour?

Goyo: It was our dream. We’ve toured Europe and are interested in crossing more borders. We’re going to be able to spread our music in the US. We also want to collaborate with North American artists. That means we have to put in the work here. Touring the U.S. isn’t easy. But after all these years we wanted to give it a shot.

Which American artists would you most like to collaborate with?

I’d love to record with Pharrell Williams. Timbaland. I like Lizzo a lot. Lots of artists. We’re fans of the music in the US. But sometimes it’s not about who you want to work with, but who you connect with. We’ve started having a few of these conversations with producers.

Did any American artists have an influence on you growing up?

I really liked what Lauryn Hill did as a singer, production-wise, and conceptually. I could identify with her. Nina Simone is another artist who influenced me. Her style. Her voice.

Speaking of Hill, how do you feel about people frequently comparing ChocQuibTown to The Fugees?

They’re an emblematic group in hip-hop. There are few artists like them. But the comparisons have more to do with the fact that we also have two men and one woman in the group.

ChocQuibTown knows why it's getting Fugees comparisons.EXPAND

ChocQuibTown knows why it’s getting Fugees comparisons.

Courtesy of Luz Castro / M&M the Agency

You said in an interview with Colombia’s Canal 13 that you were a huge fan of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” when you were younger. What was it about the song that appealed to you?

I listened to it a lot. I liked seeing someone from the hood speaking his mind and talking about issues specific to where he’s from, but also that the whole world could connect with. I’m passionate about that — stories that are different and tell a story of the world. That’s what ChocQuibTown does with where we’re from in the Choco in Colombia. We’re proud of where we’re from. When you talk about ChocQuibTown, you’re talking about the sound of the jungle and urban music. We’re three Afro-Colombians talking about our experience and inviting you to dance. We try to carry that energy. Here’s ChocQuibTown: We’re urban and we’re doing our own thing.

Did you have trouble understanding the lyrics to “Gangsta’s Paradise”?

I would try to imitate what he said, but I didn’t know what he was saying. Lots of people where I’m from spoke English, so they would tell me what the lyrics meant — friends, cousins.

Are you doing press only in Spanish to promote the tour or are you also doing English interviews as well?

I did my first interview in English with Genius, which was a challenge. I wanted to make that effort and practice. But the truth is I was nervous. I get scared that I’m going to make a mistake. It can be embarrassing to speak in another language.

You won’t have to worry about speaking English in Miami.

We’ve played a couple shows there — mostly for award shows. It’s a special place in the U.S. I love Wynwood; the way the city celebrates Art Basel.

There are several artists from Latin America who now call Miami home. Have you given any thought to moving here one day?

I feel really comfortable there. I get why Latin artists move there. When you’re in your own country it can be hard to go to a mall. Sometimes you want to be somewhere where you’re unknown. I could see myself moving to Miami or Europe — but probably Miami first. It’s something I’ve thought about.

Have you been getting recognized in New York?

It’s happened a lot on this trip. I’ve been recognized in restaurants. I think people in the U.S. are getting to know Colombian culture and artists better. It’s not just Colombians recognizing us. African-Americans as well. I love that. It feels great to cross over and expand our audience.

ChocQuibTown. 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 at Flamingo Theater Bar, 801 Brickell Bay Dr., Miami; 786-803-8194; flamingotheaterbar.com; Tickets cost $55 to $90 via cqtustour.com.

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