Democratizing Debate in Colombia through Hip-Hop
By Hernan Bonomo
Wherever there is a situation of poverty, injustice, or misfortune, you will always find hip-hop. In places where there is no water, electricity, or any public services, there is hip-hop. Because youth need hope. The hope that it is possible to change reality. Youth need to dream. And hip-hop gives us the chance to dream.
—Don Popo, Familia Ayara.
Don Popo is a well-known Afro-Colombian hip-hop artist and a founder of Familia Ayara, a nonprofit group that uses debate and rap to empower at-risk youth in Colombia. Growing up, Don Popo’s own life was marked by difficult circumstances. He says that his life was transformed by his discovery of hip-hop, which he describes as “a god that gave us back all what other gods took away from us.”
Don Popo and a group of young street artists initially started Familia Ayara as a commercial venture in 1996 and created and sold hip-hop clothing. Familia Ayara used the early profits to organize cultural and educational activities for marginalized youth, and to promote young artists from Bogota, Cali, and other cities receiving large numbers of internally displaced people from areas in conflict. This work took Popo and Familia Ayara to some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities, as well as to juvenile detention centers, shelters for abused youth, and the streets.
This documentary, produced by Spanish filmmakers Gonzalo Escuder and Nacho Gómez, offers an insightful portrayal of Familia Ayara’s work and the extraordinary life of Don Popo. It provides a window into the hopes and realities of some of the young men and women whose lives have been touched by Familia Ayara’s programs.
Familia Ayara has partnered with donors, international agencies, and local governments to organize arts-based projects for young people and to develop public campaigns against violence.
In 2011, Familia Ayara launched Battle de Barrio, an innovative project fusing freestyle rap and debate training in the cities of Bogota and Cali. This project was the beginning of a partnership with the Open Society Youth Initiative that is generating new and effective methods to empower young people impacted by violence with leadership skills.
To learn more about Battle de Barrio and watch some of its young participants in action, follow this link to a short film produced by Familia Ayara.
Until June 2014, Hernán Bonomo was a program officer for Open Society Foundations Youth Initiative.