Video courtesy of Lydia Cheung
Spanish speakers (or, more precisely, Colombians, since I have not yet explored the extent to which this word is country-specific and so might only make sense to Colombians as there are so many regional differences in Spanish) will be shocked at the title of this piece, that’s to say the least.. Actually I was debating whether I should name the title ‘that-which-should-not-be-named‘. Readers can, I’m sure, easily find out what it means..
It all started when I went to THE champeta club in Cartagena. Bazurto, the well-respected new-comer, specialises in the pornographic dance music. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not conservative by any means. (ok now I sound like I’m defending myself while acting unavoidably like a grandma but I’m sure you will also agree that it’s unbearably cringeworthy when you see it! Obscene to a point that it becomes funny..) As the birth place, Cartagena is closely associated with the dance style that practically means two people who just met move with their crotches interlocked and grind their asses sensually together. Yea it’s the perfect hook-up dance. So imagine, me and my girlfriend, two Chinese who look like they got lost somewhere deep in the jungle of champeterian hunters, trying to enjoy themselves while trying to avoid eye contact with any ‘groin-grinder’ per se, as this is not the kind of music you just dance with anyone. (Though a Colombian would tell you the otherwise. Most girls here would say a dance is just a dance.)
In the middle of the pulsation and perspiration was when we heard a song that has cockroach in its lyrics. It was most bizarre.
‘Hey I think one of the words in the lyrics is cucaracha. It means roach.’
‘Ewwww! I don’t want to think about that! What’s the song about?’
‘I have no idea..’
Its very catchy melody just stuck with me so when I came back to Bogotá, I started digging. And I was happy to have found it. It’s El Chocho by Charles King! (As I’m writing this, I found out that he’s someone not of insignificant stature, as he was invited to perform at the annual Hay Festival earlier this year, at which the heavyweight economists Thomas Piketty and Ha Joon Chang were also present.) I had no idea what the song was about. All I knew was that it sounds cool.
So one day, I casually asked a client of mine, ‘what does chocho mean?’ You wouldn’t believe the way he looked at me! His opened wide his eyes, and starred at me as if thinking what on earth was wrong with her asking me that sort of question?!
Subsequently, I learnt how explicit the lyrics are, and I shan’t put you through it here. Feel free to use any translation tool you can get your hands on. The point I’m trying to make is, I can’t believe such a song can be so ostentatiously lewd! Imagine, such lyrical words sung on the radio at 9am!
And yes, what happened in the end at Bazurto? We didn’t quite manage to stay completely alone and were hunted down by two champeterian who claimed that they were cousins.. As they grabbed us two skinny girls with their strong arms, they also took the chance to whisper into our ears how champeta style came about, in between dancing to the chorus.. After a close encounter we found an excuse to leave the club – ‘We are going to get some fresh air..’ Fresh air is definitely what you need after some sweaty hardcore knee-bending champeta!