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Libardo Queragama lives in Bogotá National Park in a camp full of fellow displaced indigenous peoples, pursuing his music career whenever he can | Photo by Mariana Delgado Barón

Displaced in Bogotá, singer-songwriter pursues musical dreams

I finance my music through any extra made through selling handicrafts, and hard work in the fields when I have to. I have taken up a machete and a hoe, and I have also been a coffee picker. I do whatever it takes to pursue my dream.

Libardo Queragama
Interview Subject
Libardo Queragama, 27, is a member of the Embera-Chamí indigenous community. A singer-songwriter in the reggaeton genre, he has lived in the indigenous camp of the National Park in Bogotá since September 2021.

Libardo dreams of a full-time music career and has so far released four songs, available on his YouTube channel. He also has aspirations to study music production at the college level and learn English to sing his songs in that language in addition to Spanish and Embera.
Background Information
Colombia’s long-term, internal armed conflict have highly affected the country’s indigenous peoples. Constantly facing assassination of indigenous leaders, forced displacement, and widespread violence and threats, many indigenous people leave their territories and retreat to the cities in precarious conditions, as is the case of the indigenous camp in the National Park.

According to Colombia’s 2018 population census, the country’s indigenous population is 1.9 million people, 4.4% of the total population. There are 115 indigenous populations in the country, of which 68 are at risk of physical and cultural extermination.

BOGOTÁ, Colombia—I dream of making music and expressing myself for a living. However, as a displaced person, I must instead make money however I can to support my family first.

Where I am from, Pueblo Rico in the department of Risaralda, violence and poverty make it extremely difficult to get a job. Many of us fled to Bogotá and other cities as a result.  

I work to support my family

I am an Embera Chamí indigenous person. Though I was born in Pueblo Rico, I and my entire family—six brothers, five sisters and our parents—all currently live in the National Park in Bogotá. I also have two young daughters; they used to live here with me, but they left in December to live with their mother back in Risaralda. I work to support them.

The distance from my daughters is nine hours by car; I have to be apart for them for months at a time to save something up and return home.

If I could dedicate myself to singing all my life, I would. However, living as I do, resources to support my career are hard to come by.  

I spend a big chunk of my time creating handicrafts, which I sell to passersby on the street. I work to provide for my family and cover their needs, to put food in their mouths. On a good day, I can sell between $100,000 and $300,000 Colombian pesos (between $25 and $75 USD) worth of handicrafts. On a bad day, it can be as little as $8,000 pesos ($2 USD) or nothing at all.

Initially, I only learned how to make bracelets, but then my wife taught me how to weave necklaces and earrings as well. I like the work because it allows me to go at my own pace, pay for food, support my family and, occasionally, produce my music.

Doing whatever is necessary to create music

I have loved singing since I was very young. I used to mess around making music with friends, and I started listening to reggaeton. However, I also really like ballads and romantic music; I even liked to dedicate those songs to my girlfriends.

The first song I composed, I dedicated it to my wife. When we were newlyweds on our honeymoon, I wrote “Sin ti,” a combination of a ballad with reggaeton.

My songs come from my own hard work; I sing a romantic reggaeton, sometimes mixed with hip hop or rap. I compose and produce them myself in my indigenous tongue. I also love to perform live, but it takes contacts and support to do that regularly.

It costs a minimum of $800,000 pesos ($195 USD) to produce a basic video, but a video with more production value costs $1,500,000 ($367 USD). I finance my music through any extra made through selling handicrafts, and hard work in the fields when I have to. I have taken up a machete and a hoe, and I have also been a coffee picker. I do whatever it takes to pursue my dream.

Libardo Queragama at the camp in Bogotá National Park where he currently lives. He supports his family with money made from selling handicrafts, using whatever extra there is to record his music | Photo by Mariana Delgado Barón

Bogota, the flawed promised land

Though my life as a displaced person is difficult in many ways, I really like Bogotá. My prospects are better in the city. Here, I can easily go to the studio and record if I have the funds. In my hometown, the local radio stations are supportive and sometimes air my songs and invite me to events, which is wonderful. However, recording a song can take up to a year there.  it can take up to a year to record a song.

Before arriving at the National Park, I already lived in Bogotá, and I spent my time between the city and Risaralda. Going back there is scary and unsettling, so much so that some decide never to return. For some, their homes and farms have been completely destroyed and they can never return; that is why they ask for relocation to Bogotá, with decent conditions.

As for me, I will continue living my life the city and hope for better conditions. I dream of continuing recording songs and setting my life journey—of working in the fields, my effort to support my family, the story of my siblings who passed away—to music for all to hear.

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Freelance journalist interested in investigative journalism, migration, armed conflict, political violence, peacebuilding, transitional justice, human rights and development. I have experience working in the field with communities affected by the armed conflict in Colombia, in the reconstruction of the memories of victims and survivors. Political scientist and doctor in Social Sciences. I live in Bogota.

marianadelgadobaron.com