Colombian rapper Black Esteban, a former FARC guerrilla, hopes to use music to help his country build peace, as shown in forthcoming crowdfunded documentary Listen to My Song.
Eighteen months ago, I read an article about Esteban Pérez, a rap artist in the what had been the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement.
Esteban was thirteen and from a poor family when he ran away from home to join the FARC. His uncle had been murdered by paramilitaries and when Esteban disappeared from his neighbourhood nobody knew where he had gone. As a child, he had always enjoyed singing so when he joined the FARC he began to write folk songs dedicated to guerrilla companions killed in the conflict.
His music developed into rapping and when the peace process between the FARC and the Colombian government began in 2012, Esteban decided to rap for peace and dreamed of becoming a successful musician. His life changed at a peace concert in his guerrilla camp when he was invited to perform with Alerta Kamarada, a famous Colombian reggae band who wanted a guerrilla fighter from the camp to perform with them. This was when he met Pablo Araoz, a member of the band and record producer.
This story intrigued me so, having contacted Pablo Araoz in Bogota, I called in sick at work and within a few days I was in a jeep traveling deep into FARC territory. I wanted to film Esteban’s life in the camp and I was there when Pablo created a simple recording studio to lay down Black Esteban’s first hip hop track called ‘Reconciliación’.
A few months later, Pablo invited Esteban to Bogota to begin rehearsals for a big rap concert. I was with Esteban when he left the FARC camp and travelled to the city hoping his life was about to take a new direction. He was excited about the future but, before starting concert rehearsals, he wanted to reconnect with the family he hadn’t seen for several years. He returned to his home city of Cali and found them. I had the opportunity of filming this very emotional journey.
I feel Esteban’s personal journey mirrors his country’s unfolding peace process. The film raises awareness about the importance of the Colombian peace process, which is now in difficult territory with the recent election of a rightwing president who could threaten the agreement. Filming is now finished and I am currently in post-production, with the film being produced by Grasp the Nettle Films and Vixen Films. Kim Longinotto and Flora Gregory are the Executive Producers.
To complete Listen to my Song, I have set up a crowdfunding campaign. If you can make a contribution, please do so or, if not, feel free to share around your networks. We aim to release the film in September/October.
If you’d like to support the film, visit its crowdfunding campaign page.
UPDATE: Watch the documentary here.