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Your Raves Have Nothing on Colombia's 'Picós'

Once frowned on by authorities, dance parties centered on thumping sound systems are slowly going mainstream.
The de Moyas with El Jude. Clockwise from left: Pacho (in green shirt), Mario, Mario Jr., and Eduardo (seated).
The de Moyas with El Jude. Clockwise from left: Pacho (in green shirt), Mario, Mario Jr., and Eduardo (seated).Joaquín Sarmiento

You hear El Jude before you see it. Its music fills the streets around Mario de Moya’s cantina in Malambo, an hour outside the Colombian port city of Barranquilla. Mario has just returned from a two-hour stint at a local radio station. A big bull of a man, he’s a DJ, but could easily be mistaken for a bouncer. He has been on his feet all day, and his left eye is bloodshot. But tomorrow there is a big party, and El Jude is already demanding his attention.  

El Jude is a sound system, or picó, spray-painted in shades of neon, edged in glitter, and lit with multi-colored lights. A picó (from the English “pick-up”) consists of multiple speakers of varying sizes which, when connected, can deliver Afro-Caribbean beats at the desired chest-pounding, eardrum-shattering volume. A DJ who owns and runs such a system, like Mario, is called a picotero. Currently, El Jude has 12 speakers. The biggest—around 6 feet tall—sits on the pavement outside, overlooking a crossroads. A web of smaller speakers is distributed throughout the cantina.