Sight Beyond the Surface: An Interview with N. Hardem

By 24 January, 2024

In the pulsating heartbeat of Colombian rap, Nelson E. Martínez stands as a luminary, reshaping the contours of the genre with each passing year. With a career spanning over a decade, the enigmatic artist known as N. Hardem has consistently delivered a rich tapestry of sounds, each album an exploration into the intricate layers of Colombian identity.

From the haunting echoes of Gris in his school days to the collaborative masterpiece Cine Negro with Soul AM, N. Hardem has traversed the musical landscape with a fluidity that defies categorization. His albums Tambor, Lo Que Me Eleva, Rhodesia, Tambor II, and the somewhat recent Verdor all offer a unique perspective on life, tradition, and the contemporary rhythm of his hometown.

We recently had the chance of chatting with N. Hardem about the current state of his artistic journey, offering a brief yet luscious glimpse into the mind behind the music, in the midst of his upcoming release MAL DE ALTURA, which is set to be released later this year.

MP: The recent contribution with Shanteh on “CRISIS DE PAPEL” was fantastic. Tell us a bit more about that song, and your relationship with her.

N: Oh yeah, sure. I’m part of a collective called Mestizo, and we put out a record this year. Shanteh is one of the singers in the project, and thanks to it we were able to tour in May and June of ’22. The story of the song dates from a bit before my trip to London, as we started writing it here in Bogotá, on one of the recent live dates that they’ve done in the city. Later on I was able to go there in order to complete the recording.

Ultimately it all ends up being somewhat of a messenger job where we’re sending tapes back and forth in order to get things going.

MP: It would be nice if you expand a bit more on Mestizo as a whole. The project has been making massive waves in the local scene, but we’d like to hear more about it’s origins and your role in the collective.

N: The project basically started as an initiative from the arts management department at the British Council in Colombia, in connection with the UK. During the last five years there have been quite a few encounters between musicians from London’s jazz scene and local Colombian artists, and to sum it up, last year it was finally possible to put together a more compact band format. This led to us being able to tour the UK, and put out the debut album in May of this year.

This whole ride has been quite an experience, not only because of the merge between the music scenes in London and several regions in Colombia, but also because most of the musicians on the British side of things are rooted in the African and Afro-Caribbean diaspora. This has definitely led us to put quite some belief and energy behind it to be a compact and compelling experience for everyone.

MP: Tell us more about your career in the visual arts. How has this contributed to your music project?

N.: Yes, I am a visual communicator, and have always been very focused on the visual aspect of things, working as a creative and art director for this side of the project. I’ve come across incredible people like Ortiz Arenas, Nano, Marian, who I get along very well with in terms of the audiovisual narratives. We create and develop visions together, expanding in the aesthetic, practical, and technical facets. The visual component is fundamental for me in the project, shaping its forms and development.

MP: What are your thoughts on the current independent music scene in Bogotá? Specifically in terms of venues, it feels that this sphere has been addressed in a more serious way in recent years, as opposed to what happened in the past.

N.: I don’t recall there being many places specifically for independent music in Bogotá. However, the surviving places have not only endured but thrived after the pandemic, supporting local culture, independent music, and alternative projects that may not draw massive crowds but resonate with those who appreciate it. Having more venues would be great if there’s enough movement and support from the audience. It’s essential to have more stages with better conditions for both the places and the artists.

MP: So in that regard, what’s your take on the overall state of the current music scene in Colombia?

N.: There’s an exciting wave emerging, a generation with a broad vision of performance, project management, and artistic expression. It’s not just about the names but the collective energy and the fact that there’s not a massive generational gap between up-and-coming artists and those who are closer to my generation. It’s going to be vibrant, fun, and interesting to see what’s coming in the future from places like Cali, Bogotá, the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts…

Bogotá particularily has become an incredible zone of intersection for the country. It’s definitely an exciting time, and people ought to be prepared for what’s coming. Also those with capital should invest in what’s ahead, as it’s an intense wave that should be kept an eye on.

MP: Are there any emerging artists or projects you’re keeping an eye on?

N.: I have a terrible memory for names, but I’m very interested in what Lil Keren is doing. Also I recommend checking out the acts that Sebastián Narváez from Sudacas Podcast has been highlighting as of late. He’s become a good reference overall for understanding emerging talent and what’s happening in the scene.

MP: For sure! Lastly please tell us a bit more about your upcoming record MAL DE ALTURA.

N.: The album is my voice in the ongoing conversation within the Hispanic rap scene, engaging with listeners from Spain, Latin America, and beyond. It’s a dialogue with the current state of rap. I’d also say it’s my reflection of where I am at this moment with myself, and the kind of music I want to create. The two recent singles are part of the upcoming album, set to be released in early 2024.

Listen to N. Hardem’s latest single “2600 [INDUS CUT]” from his forthcoming release MAL DE ALTURA, exclusively on Bandcamp:

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