Festival Estéreo Picnic 2024: El Kalvo and the importance of place

By Oli Pritchard March 1, 2024
El Kalvo promo image courtesy of Parámo for Festival Estéreo Picnic 2024

El Kalvo plays Saturday at Festival Estéreo Picnic 2024

Santiago Rojas, better known as El Kalvo, is a leading light in the rolo rapero scene of Bogotá. He’s set to light things up on Saturday at Festival Estéreo Picnic 2024. The self-proclaimed Rey de Fritanga tells us about his Bogotá and why place is so important to him. With new album Los Tres Golpes out now, he’s a star on the rise.

El Kalvo at the Festival Estéreo Picnic 2024 press event for local bands
El Kalvo at the Festival Estéreo Picnic 2024 press event for local bands

Confident and charismatic, he’s a big man with a big personality to match. He jokes around before the start of the interview, telling me to not be lazy and do it in Spanish. Unsurprisingly, El Kalvo is well named. His shaved head and goatee combine with an unbuttoned shirt to give him the perfect urban latino look.

His music is deeply intertwined with the city, both its good points and bad points. He says the local flavour is “bittersweet, greasy and crunchy, because it’s lo-fi.” He can see a “hostility and coldness,” but adds, “this city makes us special too.” It’s a blazing Bogotá afternoon, so he quickly clarifies he means the people can be cold: “Right now [the weather]’s hotter than Melgar!”

Rolo rap in 2024

Rap and hip-hop in Bogotá have long been top class but are only recently getting the respect they deserve. Last year saw a show at the Museo Nacional in central Bogotá, and El Kalvo is positive about the future: “Very happy. We’re taking over new spaces, new places, new audiences. The people at last understand us and we’ve arrived at a place in a forma contundente and original. Definitely, we’re making our own identity.”

That’s a sentiment that recurs again and again. He speaks passionately about how he believes “It’s necessary to have a testimony to our times, to speak clearly of our local identity.” He works with local producer and hip-hop renaissance man Hi-Kymon, meaning everything is truly bogotano – like Ha$lopablito who played last year and also speaks straight from the heart about issues close to home.

That doesn’t mean just banal piropos, either, as he returns the idea of coldness in people. ““In reality it’s a necessary coldness,” he says. “There’s so much hostility, so many risks that you simply can’t be open to people or sure what’s in play. You become less friendly when you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

It’s not just stories of urban life, though. A song like ‘Polombia’ shows how he sees the city reflecting the country. “Like many capitals, Bogotá is a mix of all the regions of the country. Here we have influences from everywhere and from all times too. We represent our own corriente, but also all the influences that come from the regions of the country”

El Kalvo’s song Polombia is a savage critique of inept ex president Iván Duque

Polombia with a capital P, just as he himself is a poet of the capital. That razor-sharp wit finds expression in savage political commentary as well as down-to-earth observations of real life. “We’re a combination of the place we are and the time we are in. It’s important to record this time because it’s our mission, to tell tales of our time and our reality.”

Touring Bogotá with El Kalvo

As an artist who takes place so seriously, I ask him for his favourite places in Bogotá and the answer drops from his lips almost before the question is finished “Ufff, all the Avenida Séptima, I love walking along it from the centre right up to the north. That recorrido is my favourite.”

The highly rated graffiti tour of Bogotá also gets a shout out: “It’s cool because Colombian graffiti has a very strong sociopolitical grounding and it also puts you in contact with the reality of the city.” I’m surprised at the mainstream suggestions from a man who recorded the video for Ordinaria Elegancía in the city’s main food market (not you, Paloquemao, much as we love you). 

“Look, this depends on your interests, definitely,” he continues, before launching into his love for quotidian life. “If you want something really different, it could be Corobastos. There are so many products that are centralised in Bogotá after coming from all over the country. This place is so beautiful.”

Filmed at Corobastos, El Kalvo shows the city in Ordinaria Elegancia, produced by Hi-Kymon

I can’t help but think what a great time you would have to walk the Séptima with a man so clearly in love with our city and who has such an insightful lens upon the way Bogotá works, warts and all. Place matters, and he sums that up when he says: “To take the path to be a universal music but also personal, intimate, more synchronised with here.”

El Kalvo plays at Festival Estéreo Picnic 2024 on Saturday afternoon. Tickets are still available here at time of publishing.