Radio Bemba opened just 10 weeks ago and is a new fresh breeze at Santa Martas cultural scene. This bar/restaurant/cine/live-music stage manages very well where many others fail – they have created an environment and a meeting point that attracts both locals and tourists. It’s a place where people come to enjoy themselves, drink beer, eat good food and at the same time have the chance to obtain a piece of culture.
I decided to have a chat with Pieter-Jan that runs the place to find out how this Belgian guy ended up in Colombia and how Radio Bemba came into being.
Radio Bemba shows 3 different movies 6 nights a week, all of them chosen by Pieter-Jan out of his personal preference. “I only choose the movies that i like. In the beginning i tried to choose according to themes, like the Coen Brothers on tuesdays for example.”
If you go to Bemba you’ll probably see some kind of a classic, either in spanish or english. Earlier they’ve showed movies like The Godfather, Fargo, Amores Perros and El Abrazo de la Serpiente. In a week they usually show one international movie (european or non-american), one latin movie and one gringo movie. All in original language with subtitles.
Pieter-Jan was a traveler, just like me, and when he came to Colombia for the first time in 2015 he already had the idea to open up a bar similar to the one he used to run back home in Belgium. After falling in love with Santa Marta he’s now a resident since a year back and has been working at bars, hostels and as a english teacher while extensively searching for a good spot for his business. As with many things in life, the answer you’re looking for will sometimes appear just in front of you when you least expect it. One day he was walking down the Boardwak on Carrera 1 that runs along Santa Martas beach and saw the ‘For Rent’ sign in the window of a empty place that now is Radio Bemba.
“Radio Bemba is a caribbean expression that means ‘someone that gossips’ which I think suits well to the bar environment. The locals can relate to the expression and others might connect it to Manu Chao.”
The famous french musician Manu Chao released an album called Radio Bemba Sound System in 2002 and it’s also the name of his backing band. On top of that Radio Bemba was the word of mouth communication system favoured by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara during the Cuban Revolution (and is probably where the expession comes from. It’s a colloquialism akin to rumor mill, bemba meaning lip.)
It seems like Pieter-Jan has a thought behind everything he does, not just the name. The logo portraits the Sierra Nevada mountains and a speaker in black and white. But the speaker is not there just because it looks good, it’s actually a reference to La Cultura de Pico, a soundsystem that people in the atlantic/caribbean region started building themselves in the 50’s to be able to listen to loud music in good quality. Something that was exclusive for the wealthy elite before that.
As at any bar the music plays a big role in the atmosphere and image of the place. At Radio Bemba the music goes from Salsa passing through Cumbia, Funk, Reggea, Soul and Jazz all the way to Champeta and Ragga Muffin . The bar just started hosting small concerts with local bands but plan on expanding the live scene in the future. The room that now is reserved for movies will probably turn in to a tiny concert hall and a place for parties with dj’s on some evenings.
Radio Bemba is amazing and well worth a visit because it’s a place that makes culture accessible for so many different kind of people. The main audience is in fact local and just a smaller part of the guests are tourists. It’s not only a place where you can go to watch a great movie for a cheap price or listen to local music while cooling down in the afternoon with a beer – it’s a meeting point, a mishmash of people from all over the world.
As Pieter-Jan expressed it – “It doesn’t matter if you’re a costeño, from Bogota or a tourist just passing through – everyone is welcome here”