We pay our respect to the original picó and picótero of the Caribbean coastal cities of Colombia.

In the downtown neighbourhoods of the cities Barranquilla, Cartagena and Santa Marta, colourful hand-painted speaker boxes are lit up with strips of UV lights, decorated in animals, aeroplanes, dragons, revolutionary figures and other psychedelic scenes. These soundsystems are known as picó, and each has its own distinctive brand (such as “The Monster of Sound,” “The War Tank” or “The Great Wolf”) represented by these colourful drawings. This is the picó experience: a Latin American dance-meets-Jamaican sound system party, with DJs, live musicians, and stalls selling local food bringing it all together for a collective community celebration.

The story of the picó in Colombia is however much more complex than this. Local governments want to outlaw these picó sound system parties (verbenas) with tough council by-laws as picó events are often held in poorer neighbourhoods, causing disruption. As a result, some of the regular music events are being jeopardised by overzealous police officers looking to enforce these laws, and the future events on the Colombian calendar that celebrate and value this culture, cannot be assured.

El Gran Mono, or “The Great Ape” is the first authentic picó sound system to be built outside of Colombia. Its speaker depicts a large ape, standing over the iconic Flinders Street Station of Melbourne, providing a direct link between Australia and Colombia. In the tradition of the originators, El Gran Mono will seek to promote Colombian music and traditions internationally, plugging into Melbourne’s already strong sound system culture. It is a decent undertaking – the main speaker box artwork in excess of 2m x 2m, and the full stack is over 3.3m tall; large for a picó even by Colombian standards.

The aim of this project is to promote the culture and music of the Colombian picó in Melbourne and across the world. Through the recognition of the picó as a cultural icon with this Australian project and further international involvement, we hope that Colombia’s government will change their approach and preserve the culture into the future. Australian record collectors and DJs Tom Noonan and Johnny el Pajaro connected with internationally renowned picó expert Fabian Altahona Romero (the Patron Saint of picó sound systems) in Barranquilla to ensure El Gran Mono kept true to the authentic Colombian sound system style.

The most well regarded picó artist William “El Maestro” Gutierrez of Barranquilla was brought in to design and paint the artwork of the large speaker box. Master William is celebrated in Colombia for painting the artwork of the country’s best-known picó sound systems since the 1970’s.

The body of the picó began construction in Melbourne by Paul Glover in a Northcote workshop in March 2017, and was completed by master builder Wes Old of Local Spaces late 2018. The original design developed a unique acoustic approach which has allowed El Gran Mono to maintain aesthetic integrity and meet the acoustic requirements of modern audio.

Original branding and logo design by Wayne Smith Design. Stenciling and artwork for the two top boxes completed by Karl Stehn of KDS Designs.

Please join us in celebrating the sound of the picó, and the sound of Colombia. 



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