Picos on blast: Systema Solar and Colombia’s bad-ass sound system culture

The speakers of El Dragon
As familiar as we are with the Jamaican sound system tradition, it shouldn’t surprise us wherever we find the grass-roots praxis of bumping bass through massive speakers in a non-club setting. Witness for example the pico sound systems of the Colombian port city of Barranquilla off the Caribbean Sea, which like their Jamaican counterparts have been in effect since at least the ‘50s.

People debate the origin of the term pico—is it derived from pick-up trucks that transport the speakers, or from the common practice of picking up the needle on a popular record to start again? But there’s no debate that these systems are a crucial way for underground DJs to break tunes from tons of genres, including cumbia, salsa, calypso, dancehall reggae, soukous, champeta (a Carribean-tinged northern Colombian boogie style), Afrobeat and more.

Plus, any pico worth its salt seems to be obsessive enough about its name and theme that it gets its speakers hand-painted accordingly, with imagery ranging from Camacho Indian hunters to burly combat tanks.

The seven-piece Systema Solar seems to be the savviest group to have emerged from the pico scene—they’ve leveraged their versatility into a touring outfit, and have played throughout Europe and parts of the US. As you’ll see here, they know how to harken back to their roots…

After the jump: El Gran Fidel, plus the New York-based Dutty Artz crew documents how bananas it gets at a pico dance, complete with speaker-diving and hose-downs from the local fire brigade…

Posted by Ron Nachmann
02:06 am