Next to the the foot of La Popa hill and close to the Cienaga Las Quintas, there is Bazurto, the central market of Cartagena de Indias. Known by its giant size, Bazurto is a complex urban zone, mix of make-shift stands, mobile stores, and commerce buildings. The area serves as a hub for multiple markets, and for both formal and informal vendors. Fish, vegetables, meats, clothing, fruits, herbs, crafts, appliances, music, and all kinds of goods are exchanged in Bazurto. It was inside this Caribbean market-bazar where the Champeta music culture found a place for distributing music, information, and organizing the scene.
Last month, while attending the IAMCR conference, I invited my friend and colleague DJ Ripley, who was visiting from Philly, to go to Bazurto so we could check the environment and buy some local Champeta music. For my surprise, the density of informal music vendors had considerably decreased since my last visit to the market in 2014. We entered the labyrinth of stands and halls, crossed different buildings, and struggle to find the informal music vendors that sell CDs, DVDs, and USB sticks with the latest productions from the Champeta artists.
After walking for about 15 minutes, we found Alex Dics, a mobile mini visual-soundsystem. We listened to some of the music he had and watched some of the videos from Champeta legends such as Rey de Rocha and Charles King.
Surprised by the low density of music vendors, I asked Alex where they have gone. He said the market was changing and the informal music vendors have been moving to other places given the changes in the local market and it imminent relocation. I inquired him about the infamous Champeta wall where all the posters of concerts used to be displayed and he explained that the wall was demolished. However he said we should go to “El Runner,” if we wanted to find more information about Champeta in Bazurto.
We walked for another 20 minutes, following the directions that Alex gave us, got lost in the galleries, and passages, and even run into Cesar Dics (another music vendor, that had a more formal music stand, with turntables, and even a barber shop), before finding “El Runner” space.
At one of the edges of the labyrynth, where the commerce gets quite, and many stands and bodegas are empty and abandoned, we found “El Runner,” a local artist and entrepreneur that has been designing and producing the Champeta posters since the 1980s.
Nowadays he runs a whole informal factory with young artists (including 4 of his sons) that help him hand-paint the posters, or “carteles picoteros” (from picós or pick-ups), using his unique aesthetic of italic cursive fonts and bright colors. Yellow background and red and green letters.
According to “El Runner,” his enterprise can produce up to 500 posters a day. Runner´s informal factory is set up at an abandoned area of the Bazurto market, and leverages all the empty infrastructure available. From walls of empty bodegas to improvised closets, to make-shift wooden tables, “El Runner” and his team have grown on the edges of the market place.