How hip-hop is saving a dying Colombian language

How hip-hop is saving a dying Colombian language

Rap folklórico palenquero represents the voice of the people, says Andris Padilla Julio, leader of the Colombian hip-hop group Kombilesa Mi. The crew rapidly switches between Spanish and another language – but it is not English, the international language of hip-hop.The other language is Palenquero, one of the two creole languages native to Colombia. There are 68 indigenous languages in the country, and many of them are under threat of going extinct from “pressure to assimilate” or Colombia’s long-running internal conflict with drug cartels and paramilitary forces.Palenquero traces its linguistic roots to the Bantu language family native to sub-Saharan Africa, and includes influence from several romance languages as well. It is centuries old, and hip-hop might help it survive further into the 21st Century.“At one point, Palenquero was considered poorly spoken Spanish, and because of that, people felt bad and decided not to speak it,” says Padilla Julio, who goes by the name Afro Netto. A grassroots revival in the latter half of the 20th Century sought to fight these negative stereotypes while at the same time re-establishing the language among the town’s roughly 3,500 inhabitants. For centuries, San Basilio de Palenque has been a symbol of resistance, one that shines through in its language, culture, and identity.


The small town is known historically as the first free settlement in the Americas; escaped African slaves bound for Colombian plantations settled the town in the 17th Century and were granted their freedom in perpetuity in the 18th Century after nearly a century of fighting Spanish colonialists. It's the only settlement of its kind that survives into the present.As a result, In 2005, Unesco recognised San Basilio de Palenque by adding it to the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Kombilesa Mi have dedicated themselves to preserving this legacy, in the same way it was passed on to the group’s members. “That’s what our teachers used to tell us, that Palenque culture goes from generation to generation,” says Padilla Julio.On Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, workshops on language, hairstyling, and community identity are held. On the remaining weekdays, the groups offers music and dance classes.

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