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Gangs Vow Peace After Juanes Concert in Colombia

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We know that Juanes’ good looks and smooth voice holds a special power over throngs of fans worldwide, but it wasn’t until last month that we learned that he can actually stop bullets. When Juanes returned to his hometown of Medellín to join local musical and civil society groups in a concert on International Peace Day in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Comuna Trece, they convinced hundreds of members of the city’s violent gangs to commit themselves to peace.

We know that Juanes’ good looks and smooth voice holds a special power over throngs of fans worldwide, but it wasn’t until last month that we learned that he can actually stop bullets. When Juanes returned to his hometown of Medellín to join local musical and civil society groups in a concert on International Peace Day in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Comuna Trece, they convinced hundreds of members of the city’s violent gangs to commit themselves to peace.

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In an effort to curb the increasing drug and gang violence in Medellín that has killed more than 1600 people this year, the local musical collective Son Batá collaborated with the city’s mayor to get big-name Colombian artists like Juanes to put on a “Great Concert for Peace” and start a dialogue of inclusion with the city’s youth. Son Batá had put this type of concert on the year before with some success. In an interview on Juanes’ website, Son Batá’s saxophonist Giovanny Rodriguez explained, “We had called on the gang leaders to tell them that we were going make an event where we all could be together, united for something that we all like, which is hip-hop, and it went really well.”

So this year they went bigger, not only bringing musicians from all over the country, but also setting up meetings between the artists and members of the city’s gangs to talk about why they choose violence and to come up with alternatives. “The idea is to be able to have some meetings with the community before the concert, to instill in the youth our vision of nonviolence and tell them why art is a tool for peace,” said musician César López, who invented the instrument the “escopetarra,” a guitar made in part from a gun. Juanes reported after his meetings that the youth “complained about the lack of opportunities available for them, they want jobs, and that is where we need to come in.” He said, “This isn’t about justifying what they are doing, but about putting ourselves in their place and together coming up with a way to get out of this mess.”

And between dialogue and music, it worked! Four days after the concert, in a big ceremony in Comuna Uno, another neighborhood deeply ridden with violence, 170 gang members gave up their arms and devoted themselves to peace.

Although this is one small success in a country that has been plagued with conflict for decades, it’s important to recognize that peace is possible in Colombia. But whether it’s through singing, rapping, or just talking, peace will only be achievable once those working at local and national levels start using dialogue, not guns.

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