A Party Blooms in Bogotá
By LIZZY GOODMAN
Published: April 22, 2011
EARLY one evening in Bogotá, Colombia, late last year, a tall brunette in her mid-20s, with a Joan Jett shag and in heels, walked with her girlfriends along the desolate streets of La Candelaria, the city’s historic neighborhood. A decade ago, when this country was the kidnapping capital of the world, strolling anywhere after dark would have been reckless.
But these young women walked with ease, pausing to share text messages and giggle as they made their way to La Dayliciosa, part dance party, part rock show and part art opening. The event, which began in 2007 as a convergence of disparate D.J. nights, has lately emerged as the pre-eminent social event of this once-prohibitively perilous city’s burgeoning hipster culture.
In some ways, it was borne of necessity. In 2008, the right to revelry was threatened when city officials reinstated the “ley zanahoria” (which translates literally as “carrot law,” as in carrots are good for you and so is this edict) mandating that bars close by 3 a.m. In a city where a proper night ends when the sun rises, this restriction presented a real problem. Several friends involved in the electronic music scene as D.J.’s or enthusiasts — including the current organizers of Dayliciosa, Juan Sudarsky, Eduardo Tobal, Allan Kassin, Daniel Simhon and Richard Leigh — responded with a solution.
“We had the idea to start the party early, offering a barbecue-type atmosphere and having a live act earlier on,” Mr. Sudarsky said of Dayliciosa, which recurs every few months at a club called Casa Siam. “This was very profitable, since people arrived earlier and stayed longer.”
Dayliciosa’s early start allows for a marathon blur of day-into-night hedonism. But the debauchery doesn’t feel frenzied or uptight; there’s a serene elegance to it. You enter Dayliciosa through a courtyard. Young men in blazers with artfully unwashed hair lean casually against large pillars. Their prospective dates, in heeled, slouchy boots and complex eye makeup, pose for Catalina Hernandez, a local artist using the global reach of social media to compile 100 million individual portraits.
As Colombia’s situation has stabilized, the party scene has flourished, and Dayliciosa is not without competition. The early start time sets them apart, but there’s another distinction.
“The emphasis on cultural heritage, as well as throwing a great party, has become the differential factor that separates us from other events,” Mr. Sudarsky said. Dayliciosa’s organizers act as curators, selecting mostly native bands and artists they feel should be celebrated locally and publicized internationally.
Headlining a party in November was Petrona Martínez, a 71-year-old Grammy-nominated singer from the Caribbean coast who delivers percussion-driven chants while swaying, trance-like, in a tiered floral dress and head wrap. Her opener, a reggae- and ska-influenced hip-hop group called Voodoo Souljahs, is fronted by a young woman in tribal makeup and is as progressive as Ms. Martínez is traditional. And yet they complement each other: ingénue and veteran, antique and modern, old Colombia and new Colombia.
The party founders’ boundless enthusiasm for their culture is fueled in part by the fact that as children, the danger posed by kidnappers prevented them from exploring it. “I went straight home from school for 10 years,” said Mr. Sudarsky, who was born in 1980. “Kidnapping was fairly common and particularly aimed toward affluent Jews, or anyone with money. This meant we had very limited options when it came to going out, or doing much of anything in the city.”
Part of what’s striking about the patriotism of Dayliciosa is that it’s delivered by a group of upper-class intellectuals who could live elsewhere. Most of them attended an upscale private school called Colegio Nueva Granada, where they learned to speak perfect English and put those skills to use soaking up as much American pop culture as possible. There’s not a “South Park” episode the party organizers can’t quote from, and they talk about underground bands with a level of intensity that rivals that of your average Green Point music blogger. The Dayliciosa team could easily be living in Brooklyn, working versions of the same day jobs they have in Bogotá — Web designer (Mr. Tobal), Internet ad salesman (Mr. Leigh), event producer (Mr. Kassin). But they want to be here because now there’s reason to stay.
While rebel groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, still operate in parts of Colombia, the country’s long conflict has ebbed over the last decade, with kidnappings and homicides down sharply from the 1990s. Still, armed security guards (many of them ex-paramilitaries) patrol La Candelaria, and it’s wise to take cabs, even if you’re traveling only a few blocks. The difference between Colombia in 2001 and Colombia in 2011 is that it’s now possible, employing appropriate caution, to travel around this geographically arresting, culturally enthralling country without fear.
BY the time that Dayliciosa’s founders graduated from college, Bogotá had been revamped. “Now I can go outside,” Mr. Sudarsky said wryly. “No, there’s been a radical shift in recent years, and as a result, the going-out culture has evolved. Security has become a second-tier problem in almost all cases, and people are no longer afraid to explore their city, which has led to more options and variety in the party/bar scene. There are also many more tourists. Eight years ago they were a rarity; now we cater specifically to them.”
It’s easy to be a tourist at Dayliciosa. Almost everybody speaks a little English — though that doesn’t matter much because no one is here to talk. Out back, near the stage, a broad, ivy-covered staircase leads to one of the only rooms with an actual door, marked V.I.P. Inside is an end-table-size block of ice shaped like a woman’s torso, with tracks carved into it like a dirty luge course. (Your friend pours a shot down the top, and when it reaches your open mouth at the bottom, the alcohol is perfectly chilled.) In New York, the members-only room with the pornographic ice sculpture would be crammed with scenesters, sizing each other up. Not here. Everyone is downstairs dancing, their shapes like shadow puppets playing against the iridescent green of backlit trees.
There is talk of expanding Dayliciosa in various ways, perhaps by opening the lineup to international acts, or trying out a festival format. But for now, the organizers are sticking with what works. “Keeping it small, bringing 1,000 people together and having something to say to them, having Petrona Martínez perform for them,” Mr. Kassin muses, “that’s what we love, that’s what makes this the best party in the world.”