Film / TVRace

Afro-Colombian youth’s dance culture comes to the big screen with ‘Somos Calentura’

June 7, 2018
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By Shahida Muhammad*, AFROPUNK contributor 


Soon to be released Colombian film “Somos Calentura” (We Are the Heat) is set to show the world the beauty of the country’s youth-driven Afro-Colombian dance culture in the Pacific coastal city of Buenaventura. Headed to theaters this September and filmed in Colombia’s largest port city, it’s the country’s first major release with nearly an all Afro-Colombian cast and focuses on a group of black youth in Buenaventura who push to survive in a city riddled with drug trafficking and violence through dance and musical aspirations. In the film, the former local urban dance champions, start to give up their dreams to focus on merely surviving, but things change when they hear about a national urban dance championship. The story follows them on a journey to rediscover their talents and determination while rising above the harsh realities of city life.

Already creating a buzz for its cast, positive showcase of Buenaventura’s culture, and recent sales deal with Epic Pictures (which roll out international releases), “Somos Calentura” is sure to bring the heat to the big screen while highlighting an important yet often overlooked Afro-Latino subculture in the South American nation. We spoke to producer Steven Grisales on the significant history of Buenaventura, the city’s culture, and why this film’s release is game changing for the Colombian film industry.

Shahida Muhammad : What has been your role in the development of the film “Somos Calentura” (We Are the Heat)? Why do you think this story needs to be told?

Steven Grisales: I am the Producer and Co-Writer. [This story] needs to be told because it shows how the Afro-Colombian youth find power in music and dance to overcome being abandoned and exposed to violence. The world needs to discover this unknown culture where Salsa, Hip Hop, local folklore and Michael Jackson’s [influence] have mixed together giving birth to new urban beats like Salsa Choke, Exótico and Paso e Perra, which have the power to conquer the world.

SM: What is special about the city of Buenaventura as it relates to the history of Colombia and the Afro-Colombian community?

Steven Grisales: Buenaventura is the most important port in Colombia; 60 to 70 percent of the goods and wealth goes through this port but this wealth doesn’t stay in the city or with its Afro-descendant people. Its ridiculously high rates of unemployment and poverty reflect how the Colombian government has forsaken its Afro-Colombian population who have very limited access to education, health or utilities like water or electricity. The people are exposed to violence which originated by the corrupt, the paramilitary and the drug lords who are trying to take control and appropriate this strategic location tracing invisible borders and displacing entire communities. However, [even with] this terrible situation, Buenaventura is an exotic place full of magic, power, culture and beautiful people where music and dance are an act of resistance and survival, and young urban artist are true heroes.

SM: Why is this film of social importance? What other ways do you plan to use the film for social dialogue?

Courtesy of Mon Amour Productions

Steven Grisales: Because it changes the narrative on how we see Afro-Colombians within Colombia and how the world see us as Latin-Americans. The Afro-Colombian youth would feel empowered and very proud of being portrayed as who they really are. In “Somos Calentura” (We Are the Heat) our protagonists will change their destiny by breaking ancestral chains and becoming heroes. With this film we embrace a narrative of power instead of misery not only in the big screen but in everyday lives.  This movie is a product of collaboration not only among the team behind it but also with more than two thousand Afro-descendent people from the Pacific coast. We worked with more than 40 talented real street dancers. We were looking for real warriors who could relate to their characters’ struggle, but at the same time and most importantly, with their power. 

SM: How do you think the film will connect with a global audience?

Steven Grisales: Good storytelling with entertainment. In [the film] audiences around the globe will find a socially relevant story, powerful and beautiful characters, an incredible location, high production value and design, and amazing Latin Hip Hop music and dance.

SM: What is the music and dance culture like in Buenaventura? How is it a way of life from the youth?

Steven Grisales: Buenaventura was one of the first entry points of Hip Hop to Latin America. When Hip Hop and Salsa music were born in New York during the 60s and 70s, the stowaway kids from Buenaventura hid in containers fleeing Colombia risking their lives in search of the American Dream. They arrived to the ghettos in Los Angeles and New York and started sending home money, clothes, and Hip hop music. In Buenaventura people were fascinated with American urban and pop culture; they embraced the way of dressing and tried to use English words in their everyday life. They mixed the hip hop beats with the traditional instruments, the local sound and folklore. Nowadays, this mix that also has a lot of influence from Michael Jackson has evolved into different genres like the mix of Salsa and Hip Hop called Salsa Choke and others like Exótico and Paso e Perra.  The unique sound of the Marimba (Piano of the Jungle), Cununo and Guasa mixed with electronic and Hip Hop beats accompanied with respectful but powerful protest lyrics that rumble in the houses standing on sticks on the Pacific ocean, in the streets, in buses and taxis and their everyday and night life.

SM: Why is it significant that this film has a predominantly Afro-Colombian cast? 

Steven Grisales: Afro-Colombians are often excluded from TV shows, movies, and magazines because a lot of white and mestizo people tend to think they don’t sell, they tend to think people don’t want to watch them. Because Afro-Colombians have been abandoned and forsaken in every way possible, we used every resource we had to make it one of the biggest Colombian movie productions ever done.

SM: How did your deal with Epic Pictures happen? Why do you think they took interest in the film?

Steven Grisales: Patrick Ewald – CEO at Epic Pictures – watched a work in progress during Ventana Sur, the most important Latin-American film market, which takes place in Buenos Aires. They loved the movie so much, and found a lot of elements to distribute it from the social relevance to its unknown universe and powerful entertainment. We started negotiations and signed a deal a couple of months later. We are very happy that Epic Pictures will be in charge of international sales.

Courtesy of Mon Amour Productions

SM: How do you think Afro-Colombian youth will respond to this film?

Steven Grisales: Based on the test screenings we had and the response to the release of the trailer a couple of weeks ago, we think that Afro-Colombians will embrace the movie wanting to watch it, share it and being really proud of their culture, their people and happy to be portrayed as powerful as they are. Also we think that [the film] is going to help showing Colombians that black, mestizo and white all are Calentura.

SM: Is there anything else you would like people to know about the “Somos Calentura” (We Are the Heat)?

Steven Grisales: Calentura is a slang word that is used a lot in Latin Hip Hop lyrics. It refers to the heat of rhythm, music, dance, sex and party. It also refers to the heat of danger and uncertainty, the heat of being alive and we as Colombians are very proud of consider ourselves Calentura. [The film] is is co-written by Diego Vivanco and features work from designer Juan DiazB of Transmedia and World Building. Directed by Jorge Navas, it stars Duván Arizala, José Luis Paz, Miguel Angel Micolta, Manuel Riascos, Heidy Mina and Julio Valencia – all of them real street dancers from the pacific Colombian Coast. … The soundtrack has music by Rocca, ChocquibTown, Junior Jein, Profetas, El Freaky [and many more].

Designed by Juan DiazB (Transmedia and Worldbuilder, We Are the Heat)

*Shahida Muhammad is an educator and culture/lifestyle writer currently living abroad in Colombia. Follow her along the way @ShahidaSade.