Doing SST research literally across the globe is not an easy task. To keep the project more manageable we have identified specific countries or regions that are home to particularly rich, sophisticated, long-standing or unresearched SST scenes. To scope out each one of these regions or countries, we work with local researchers and practitioners who have a longstanding experience in the local scene. One of the most important countries in the project’s brief is Colombia, home to the picó since at least the 1950s, and more recently to a raising sound system scene. To kick-off the Colombia research, a few months ago the project commissioned independent researchers Juan José Carbonell and Edgar H. Benítez Fuentes to compile an annotated bibliography of the existing Colombian SST-related resources, including books, journal articles, dissertations, also documentaries and trending social media channels. This is now available on our website at the link below, as a useful resource for researchers, students and music fans.


In this blog, Carbonell and Benitez take us through their work, analysing some of the recurring trends and approaches in the SST Colombia resources.  

by Juan José Carbonell y Edgar H. Benítez Fuentes 

In this blog we present a review of some of the existing documents having as a subject the huge sound systems originating from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, called picós, and their culture, called picotera [1]. For this work, we reviewed different resources such as books, articles, dissertations, and digital texts, as well as videos, documentaries, and open-access blogs focusing on the picó as the main representative of sonic street technologies in Colombia. It is worth pointing out that this is an exercise in constant construction. This is not just due to the fact that more documentation is likely to appear in the future, but also because some existing but particularly difficult-to-access documents might not be included in what follows. 


The Colombia SST bibliography was initially compiled by reviewing existing references related to champeta music. This initial overview included over 150 written sources. A first screening process was then carried out by applying the following criteria:  

  1. Resources mentioning the picó without any particular depth and/ or replicating information sourced from other and more reliable contributions were excluded. 
  1. Resources on champeta and the different aspects of this music culture (which is rooted in the picó scene), but not engaging with the picó subject in depth were also excluded.

In our wider research for references on the sonic street technologies of Colombia, we also found out that most existing sources focus on the picó, except for a small group of documents covering the Bogotà scene [2].

In what follows, we have attempted to briefly identify common themes, approaches and issues in the documents reviewed. This was not an easy task due to the diversity of the formats, objectives, and target audiences. Even so, this exercise allowed us to identify some recurring themes, as well as gaps in the existing research, and opportunities for future investigation. Therefore, this blog seeks to complement The Colombia SST Resources section in guiding researchers, curators and music fans through a list of relevant and easily accessible resources on Colombia’s sonic street technologies. 

Literature review: themes and approaches  

Relationship between champeta music and the picó: These cultural elements are often intertwined. Champeta music arises from the local re-creation of African and Caribbean popular music, mainly occurring in between the 1970s and the 1990s. These musics became popular on the Colombian Caribbean Coast via the picós. They were subsequently re-recorded by native musicians and singers, mainly from Cartagena, thus giving birth to a new musical genre, which again was popularized by the picós. The relationship between champeta and the picós is one of the most widely acknowledged themes in the bibliography. In this context, the diasporic relationship between champeta and African music as well as between the Colombian Caribbean region and the African continent is also very relevant. See: Chica (2013), Muñoz (2015), Bohórquez (2000), Giraldo (2016), Sanz (2012), Pacini (1993), Arroyo (2018), Giraldo and Vega (2014). 

Description of the socio-cultural context: A large number of resources are dedicated to (or include) a description of the social and cultural context in which the picós are built and operated, as well as the festive events in which these sound systems play out. Several articles highlight the ethnic, racial, and class dynamics with a special emphasis on the main cities of the Colombian Caribbean such as Cartagena and Barranquilla, where these themes are recurrent in socio-cultural studies. Subjects such as champeta music, poverty, marginality, and the the picós are recurrent themes in the anthropological and sociological analyses in most of the sources. See: Giraldo (2016), Sanz (2012), Pacini (1993), Arroyo (2018), Bórquez (2000), Mosquera (2000), Giraldo and Vega (2014), Carbonell (2022). 

Economy and business models: A number of documents deal with the different aspects of the picó economy. From the production and distribution of music to the relationship with record companies and raw estimates about the informal economy of the picó parties and champeta music, the socio-economic themes are widely featured in these documents. See: Abril and Soto (2005), Giraldo and Vega (2014), Paulhiac (2011), Arroyo (2018), De la Ossa (2016), Giraldo (2016). 

History: Some documents include to a greater or lesser extent a historical overview of the birth and evolution of the picós and champeta music in the Colombian Caribbean, from the arrival of Vitrolas and orthophonics in the 1940s, to contemporary massive line array sound systems. The historical overview might also include a description of the music genres played by the picós throughout the different decades, and how these sounds and their popularity fostered the birth and development of champeta music. See: Arroyo (2018), Bohórquez (2000), Carbonell (2022), Contreras (2008), Contreras (2015, Chica (2013), Giraldo (2016), Muñoz (2015). 

Graphics and art: A few texts highlight the visual features associated with picotera culture, such as the design characterizing the sound systems in the 1980s/ 90s, called turbos (currently trending again), the colorful painting on the speaker boxes, as well as the typical design of the posters advertising the events. The visual aspect is one of the most distinctive elements of the sound systems of the Colombian Caribbean compared to other sonic street technologies located elsewhere in the world. See: Bohórquez (2000), Carbonell (2022), Sanz (2012), De Zubiria (2015), De Zubiria (2014), Cunnin (2006), Altahona (2010), Tagar (2018). 


It is interesting to notice how the reviewed sources reveal a regionalization in the research interests. Unsurprisingly, the cities with the highest record within the revised documents are Cartagena and Barranquilla.  

On Cartagena see: Muñoz (2015), Pacini (1993), Chica (2013), Cunnin (2006),  Mosquera (2000), Sáenz (2012), Giraldo (2016), Bohorquez (2000), Abril and Soto (2005), Carbonell (2022), De Zubiria (2014), Silva (1997), De Zubiria (2015), Pardo (2017), Pardo (2019), Paulhiac (2011), Altahona (2010), Gualdrón (2015).

On the city of Barranquilla see: Tagar (2018), De Zubiria (2014), De Zubiria (2015), Giraldo (2016), Giraldo and Vega (2014), Carbonell (2022), Pardo (2017), Pardo (2019), Altahona (2010), Contreras (2008), De la Ossa (2016).  

On the city of Bogotá the only specific resource is the podcast of @palenquesonoro “Rituales Picotero” by Ayala and Rio (2022). There are also a few articles about El Gran Latido Sound System (2020 and 2021) on mass media websites such as Canal 13 and Canal Capital.  

For Urabá, a region that is home to a rich but under researched picotera culture, the only document included is Arroyo (2018).  

The lack of resources on the sound systems and/ or picós in the islands of San Andrés and Providencia (insular zone of the Colombian Caribbean, strongly influenced by Great Caribbean culture) can also be noted, as well as the lack of information about areas of the Colombian Caribbean other than the main cities such as Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. In addition, no documents were found, nor mentions, for the departments of La Guajira, Córdoba and Sucre or the nearby areas of the lower Magdalena River and the Canal del Dique, among others, where picós are an essential part of the local popular culture. With regards to the departments of Bolívar, Atlántico and Magdalena it is also difficult to find documentation referring to the phenomenon outside of the main cities, despite the fact that, historically, it is in the suburban and rural areas that picós have had a stronger presence.

Technology: Although none of the documents reviewed offers an in-depth description of the technological apparatus of the sound systems or picós, many of these documents do mention the technological theme to some extent. See: Giraldo (2016), Sanz (2012), De la Ossa (2010), Pacini (1993), Arroyo (2018), Carbonell (2022), De Zubiria (2014) and (2015). But it is important to acknowledge that this theme deserves more research with regards to the Colombian context. 

We also noted how researchers concerned with the study of champeta or the picó tend to approach the theme of technology in a metaphorical or ‘abstract’ way, while it would also deserve a more concrete approach. In must be remembered that sound is a material phenomenon based on waves propagation that physically affect human bodies (via the eardrum, etc.) and that, in turn, the physical and technological features of these sonic machines determine the quality, power and resistance of their auditory emissions. 

With regards to the technological theme, we observed the lack of a detailed description of the different formats of the picós, their size and power, and their components, such as the number of speakers, their enclosure and capacity; the amplifiers, preamplifiers, equalisers and their specific features [3]. Among those who engage with the subject: Pacini (1993) describes the different formats without attempting a definition. However, her work offers a testimony of great historical value as an eyewitness of the shift from the so-called turbo equipment to the fraccionado that many picós underwent in the 1990s. Carbonell (2022) offers a very basic description. Muñoz (2015) describes the commercialization of the first equipment in the mid-twentieth century in the city of Cartagena. Other authors, like Contreras (2015) discuss some very specific technological issues without getting to define the concepts methodically. 

Grey Bibliography: Themes and Approaches 

Besides books and journal articles, there is a considerable number of online resources related to the picó. These include blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, Facebook and Instagram pages, and documentaries, presenting valuable information about the current state of picotera music, the picó sessions, and the history of the culture. See: podcast Rituales Picoteros by Ayala y Ríos (2022), blogs such as Africolombia, Fukafra, Akabolamusic, social media channels such as @conectadosconross, @VamosPaLaCalleTV, @ElEspelukeTV, @JoseDavidoOficial.

Jamaica or UK-inspired reggae and dub sound systems are mostly located in the city of Bogotá. They have a strong presence on social networks such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and to a lesser extent, Twitter, where they report on events, releases and sessions. See: @elgranlatidosoundsystem, @sistema_sonoro_fuego_negro, @elviejo_soundsystem, @theconquerorlofi.


The documentaries by Lucas Silva (1997) and De Zubiria (2014) are useful sources for those who want to have a glimpse of champeta and picó culture in an engaging way. 

The documentary El Poder de la Palabra, by filmmakers Cesar Augusto Cortez and Juan Sebastián Rodríguez, is presented as telling “the stories behind the sound system collectives of Colombia and Argentina”. Although still in post-production, the excerpts available on the Instagram account show a series of interesting reflections on the work of these non- picó sound systems from within the scene.  

So far, we have presented a review of the sources we have consulted and tried to group them according to the topics covered as well as the approaches employed by authors. The next blog will give us a chance to draw some general conclusions from the work we have conducted. 


[1] This analysis is carried out within the framework of the Sonic Street Technologies project and it is tuned to to the spirit of the SST research as carried out across the globe. 

[2] The appearance of DJ Dever’s Passa Passa sound system in 2008 in Torices (Cartagena), gave picotera music a breath of fresh air bringing to the city the sounds of mudup and dancehall, here usually called ‘dansal’. Despite not owning their own sound system, the amount of music DJ Dever has released laid the foundations for  a new scene in which others such as Victor Julio could explore a specific Jamaican sound. See for example 

[3] The theme of technology with regards to the equipment used by the picoteros is not researched in depth. To fill this gap, it would also be important forany future research on the subject to include the voices of the professionals and practitioners who are part of the production chain of the picós, such as technicians, builders, etc. 


JJ Carbonell is a musician and cultural manager from Cartagena, with a degree in Journalism from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He is the author of the  Champeta. Resistencia Cultural en el Caribe (2022).

Edgar Benítez aka Dr. Tiger is a musician and DJ, anthropologist from the National University of Colombia and currently a Bogotà resident.

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