Between Rifles and Accordions – Music from the FARC

Originally posted on Sounds and Colours, you can read the full article here.

Whilst homemade music videos produced by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have been circulating around forums and YouTube for some years, there has been very little effort to systematically collect and analyze the wealth of music produced by the group.

Rafael Quishpe is a political scientist and researcher at Rosario University in Bogotá, Colombia. I caught up with him about a project he recently conducted to fill this gap, collating and analyzing music produced by the FARC between 1988-2018. His project, Entre fusiles y acordeones: base de datos de la música de las FARC-EP (1988-2018), identified some 700 songs, but with many CDs in limited pressings and some works still not digitalized, he believes the true number to be well over a thousand.

His findings suggest music played a complex role in the organization, from fortifying ideological cohesion to motivating combatants. Through the ‘Culture Hour’, a compulsory hour of music, reading and dance, it also created important shared social experiences. With the state absent from providing even basic services in large parts of the country, FARC musicians were able to flourish as one of the principal cultural offerings.

Their music, therefore, displays a spectrum of styles, as FARC productions would mirror in rhythms and instrumentation popular regional styles as to ingratiate themselves within communities: vallenato in the north, llanera in Los Llanos. Lyrically, they describe episodes of the conflict, the organization’s core beliefs and their thoughts on the 2016 peace process.

Strikingly, Rafael grouped together students, professors and ex-FARC members to transcribe the songs and use their content as discussion starters for their respective experiences of the conflict. The lyrics, and accompanying artwork, can be found on their website.

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Music in the times of COVID-19

The sprawling ecosystem of artists, record stores and professionals whose livelihoods depend on a thriving music industry have proved far from immune to the financial impacts of COVID-19.

Many musicians and venues have shifted performances online (often with the possibility of viewers making a donation), and many platforms are offering relief funds or waiving platform fees to directly support artists.

So what can I do to help?

As always, buying music and merchandise is a great way of supporting artists. So too is booking re-scheduled gigs, and meanwhile even streaming can bring in (some) revenue.

If you’re cursed with a strain of vinyl-addiction, now’s a great time to feed your habit. Support independent record stores – many are still operating online. If you’re in a position to donate, Spotify are matching donations up to $10 million. Musicians looking for assistance can check Help Musicians UK and Patreon, both of whom have launched hardship funds where artists can apply for a one-off payments.

Whilst we’re bombarded with limited-time offers of removed paywalls, it can be overwhelming to know where to direct your attention. I’ll avoid adding to your lists. One recommendation I’ll steal from literary types is to use this time to focus on the classics: both the Metropolitan in New York and the National Opera of Paris have some excellent performances online. If you’ve gawped at prohibitive prices or put off classical music for retirement, now might be as good a time to start as any.