A lot has been written about our most recent Mompox Jazz Festival held annually now over the first weekend in October. There have been pieces of journalism that are no more than barefaced and brazen adulations for the outgoing governor of Bolivar’s hand in this cultural spectacle. Additionally, I have read some quite routine criticisms focusing on the amount of money spent on something of this size and questioning the exclusivity of an event of this nature. There have been murmurs of discontent from various sources which in turn are counterbalanced by those of us who can see the forest for the trees.
But in the end, the Mompox Jazz Festival is a success and long may it run.
How often can we claim to have 36 planes a day arriving into our San Bernardo airport? How often can every single hotel, home and rental house be full to capacity? How often can the mototaxi drivers claim to make in excess of 100,000 pesos of their normal daily haul? How many customers did every single filigree workshop receive over the 2nd and 3rd of October? How many meals were served in Mompox’s restaurants? How many of those visitors to Mompox were indeed repeat clientele and are now planning on returning to our town outside of the congested dates of the jazz festival? How many people went out on the boat trip through the pre-Columbian channels and into the Cienega de Pijino? And the list goes on, but only if we focus on the economic benefits of the Mompox Jazz Festival on the town herself, her businesses and the surrounding areas.
The Mompox Jazz Festival is far more important than just simple economics.
Did you know that the University of Tennessee now has a fixed itinerary in their school calendar which includes a visit to Mompox for the festival, not only to perform but to also host a variety of musical workshops for the semillero music students in the town. A Momposino also travels each year to Tennessee on a scholarship to receive musical training.
It’s about education and evolution. If you had told me back in 2007 when I bought the first part of the house which now makes up the Casa Amarilla hotel, that the Plaza Santa Barbara would, in eight years, be hosting concerts by internationally acclaimed jazz musicians from Los Angeles, Poland and Cuba and indeed the salsa legends of Tito Nieves and Andy Montanez, I would have asked you to have shared some of the happy pills you may well have been popping.
I couldn’t see it.
Even for all the lofty hopes and dreams I have harbored for Mompox, this is beyond their most extreme limits and surpassing every possible expectation. The Plaza Santa Barbara was little more than a dusty, litter strewn car park where nary a jazz note was previously considered. We spent our days hunkered down at the back of the Casa Amarilla trying to block out the hardly dulcet tones of Silvestre Dangond and another awful song by some vallenato musician or another entitled: Mentirosa.
Now the Plaza Santa Barbara has evolved from its neglect, became an archeological dig for over a couple of years yielding secrets about Mompox’s past and has since been renovated to host spectacular and unrivalled events.
Yes, the concerts were restricted. There was a VIP section and then a general mass, but the last time Mompox hosted a concert with unrestricted “seating” to entertain the masses with a champeta outfit from Cartagena, the vandalism and damage extended across the town and within the colonial center.
Mompox was previously a seat of culture in Colombia when the town still retained some importance along the Magdalena River. What is now the Colegio Pinillos was formerly known as the Real Colegio Universidad de San Pedro Apóstol and was founded in 1804. A university in Mompox! Mompox was known for writers, politicians and composers.
Despite the perceived exclusivity of something like the Mompox Jazz Festival, after years of forget and abandon, culture is being returned to Mompox. This should be celebrated. Perhaps things take their time to catch on, perhaps the family to my left on the first day that would have: “preferred to have seen los diablitos” (a vallenato troupe) will not be impressed. But, change is coming about and it’s from here that we can make a difference.
Walking along these ornate streets to take in the Jazz en la Calle where musicians from Cartagena would strike up tunes in the shade was a pleasure and a delight to behold. To see the semilleros reacting so positively to the instructions offered from the head of music from the University of Tennessee brought joy to the musty halls of the Casa de la Cultura. And to watch the academics deep in thought during tertulias with high-ranking national musicians such as the latin jazz pianist Oscar Acevedo made me feel transported away.
So, there’s but one thing to say whether you like him or loathe him, but, thank you Governor Gossain for believing in Mompox and for bringing us this Jazz Festival. It’s not all about the enjoyment of the concerts and the shot in the arm to our economy but also for its lasting effect on Mompox’s society and community.