“El Titan” and Heavy Metal in Pablo Escobar’s Medellín
Remembering "the Colombian Bruce Dickinson" who survived the drug wars and inspired a generation of South American metalheads.
Medellín, Colombia. You may know it for cocaine, Pablo Escobar, or drug cartels, but bring it up any of that with the locals, and you're likely to piss them off. Unsurprisingly, nobody in Medellín is fond of the TV series Narcos or the villain that put them in the headlines. Three decades of violent dispatches, terror documentaries, and drug tourists have plunged the city into an uphill battle to reclaim its cultural history, with the latest blow coming from Russian network RT and their documentary Escobar's Hitman. Whether Colombians want to talk about it or not, though, the legacy of Escobar is inescapable. During the terror of the late 1980s, the capital of the northern province of Antioquia was known best as world's murder capital… but it was also the capital of Colombian rock, punk and heavy metal, the scene of a cultural revolution caught in a maelstrom of violence.
This year, the city mourned the loss of Elkin Ramírez Zapata, its first rock superstar. After losing his battle with brain cancer, Ramírez passed away on January 29th, 2017. Known as El Titán , he was widely regarded as the Colombian answer to Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson. His funeral brought Medellín to a standstill, and for the first time in its history, the city's Metropolitan Cathedral was packed with metalheads and punks—fans, friends and well-wishers who shed tears and sang together as his band Kraken performed their final concert. In the early 1980s, Ramírez and Kraken were at the pinnacle of his country's rock revolution, a singer whose screaming falsettos and quiet perseverance would indirectly put Colombia on the musical map.
"He was such an amazing person and his loss has hit us very hard." said Alex Oquendo, frontman of Masacre, another Colombian titan. "He was like the father of all rock people here and the first to perform heavy metal in Spanish. Modern Colombia has lost a poet and someone who fought hard for rockers, South American people, and the rights and freedoms of man. Every day people continue to express the loss that his death means to the city and the country. There is even talk in the city of putting up a statue or a monument to him. There needs to be a big commemoration to preserve his memory."
Every man is a story," wrote Ramírez in 1986, and his is a tale of two cities. As depicted by Victor Gaviria in his 1990 film Rodrigo D: No Futuro, the death and nihilism wrought by Escobar would have an unintended byproduct—a counter-culture born of Western music. Unlike any insurgency in Colombian history, it would be a movement armed with rock, punk and heavy metal. Its soldiers would be the disaffected youths of the city's neighborhoods and hillside slums, and as they suffered through the madness, they would turn their weapons on society.
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