Strength in numbers
The World Mosquito Program is working in some of the most densely populated cities in the world. This is where the Aedes aegypti like most to live. It’s where they thrive. Where there is a constant supply of blood for breeding. And where the risk of the spread of disease is most frightening. Cali, Colombia is no exception.
Life can be challenging in these highly populated cities. Crime, poverty and lack of education tend to define them. But so does community spirit. Wherever humanity is faced with adversity, there tends to be an uprising of goodwill and compassion.
The work of WMP depends on it. If our method is to reach and protect the massive populations across these cities it will need to be driven by the people who live in them. Like Billy Jeyk and his Chilling Maniáticos...
We are in Comuna 13, in one of the 23 neighborhoods that make up the city of Cali. Recent socio-demographic studies place this comuna among one of the most densely populated in the city. Its residents are young, the vast majority – almost 80 percent – have at most a high school education.
Businesses operate out of established buildings. The activity in the street is intense, and gives the city an atmosphere of relentless struggle and of a will to overcome poverty.
Cali is the fourth city in Colombia to implement WMP’s Wolbachia method, after the cities of Bello, Medellín and Itagüi in Antioquia. Communes 1, 18 and 20 were the pioneers with Wolbachia mosquito releases in September 2020 and, almost a year later, operations have been extended to communes 13, 15 and 16 in the east and southeast of Cali.
Rhythm in the streets
After filming the music video for "El mosquito con Wolbachia", which was used to kick off WMP’s activities in Comunas 13, 15 and 16, we wanted to know a little more about the "Chilling Maniáticos'' and their great passion for music, only to discover that there is much more than salsa choke among their talents.
We spoke with Diego Santiago, Juan David and Gisela, members of the group and their founder, Billy Jeyk, from their recording studio. Billy Jeyk takes the floor, with a leadership style that seems innate and full of energy: "I have been an urban music artist since I was 10 years old,” he says. “In 2015 I was the victim of an assault, and I was shot... the bullet injured my spine. It was very hard because when that happened, I felt I lost everything that characterized me: the power on stage, the dance... everything."
After a very difficult year, Billy got an invitation that changed his outlook on music and community support. "I was invited to be part of a cultural program, "Cultural Schools of Peace". There, I realized that children and young people lived in situations of very serious violence, some were orphans, homeless; that helped me to put my "problem" in perspective and I realized that it was not so serious compared to the stories of those children. So, 5 years ago I founded the academy of the "Chilling Maniáticos" and since then we have been in this magical and exciting movement, using the rhythm of salsa-choke to express ourselves."
Unearthing an old art
Salsa-choke is a rhythm of the Colombian Pacific Coast, where salsa, pachanga, reggaeton and sounds of African culture converge. In Cali, it gained more strength because it was mixed with other rhythms, being the "pilón" – coming from Cuba and forgotten before resurfacing with salsa choke – the base on which the melody is built. The first songs were born from experimentation in the musicians' own homes or small studios and then jumped to the discotheques and then to the radio. Now, it is not missing in any celebration in the city, and it is in Comuna 13 where it is part of the daily life of its residents.
"We all live in this Comuna and we came to the Chilling Maniáticos through mutual friends or at Billy's invitation. We like being in the group because we can write songs, act in our series that is broadcast on YouTube and even publish my magazine "La maceta", where I talk about urban culture." All this comes from 13-year old Diego Santiago whose eyes emit the liveliness and joy that puts pause, at times, to the difficult situation experienced by minors in Comuna 13. "When I grow up, I want to be a professional actor, a singer... I want to get ahead and help my planet, that is very important because there will be no future if we do not take care of our planet."
"...since then we have been in this magical and exciting movement, using the rhythm of salsa-choke to express ourselves."
Juan David, the oldest at 16 years old, explains the creative process of their songs: "each one proposes an idea, we gather everything and at the end we select a central theme, such as peace, tolerance, equality among humans. That's how we create the rhymes and then they help us with the instrumentation. It's something we all do together, and we participate all equally."
Within the "Chilling Maniáticos" there is only one girl, Gisela. "Here there is always respect, it doesn't matter if you are a boy or a girl, we all have the same energy and attitude to make our artistic creations," she says. Gisela confesses to us that she would also like to be an actress and be famous to help her family and people who are homeless and in poverty.
"Here we learn new things all the time. For example, for the WMP song, it was very cool because before we saw mosquitoes as bad animals and that we had to kill them. In Comuna 13 we have a sewage pipe that generates a lot of sickness. Now we know that we can work with the mosquitoes with Wolbachia to eliminate the transmission of diseases without having to kill them."
Living the dream
The Municipal Public Health Secretariat of Cali and the community have actively collaborated to advance the project in the city. The start of phase II of the biological control method with Wolbachia in communes 13, 15 and 16 of the East and Southeast will reach a population of 467,000 residents, in an area of 13 square kilometers, where 11,535 cases of dengue fever were registered in the last 5 years (2016-2020).
The community needs to endorse our work. Without their understanding and support, WMP won’t release a single mosquito. So this means spreading the word in every way possible. None better than through locally grown art and music.
Billy's dream is to continue helping children and young people through culture, but also to give dormitories to homeless children, where they can learn a trade to get ahead in life.
"Culture is a human right and, by exercising it, the children avoid being on the street using drugs, becoming victims of violence, or becoming violent themselves. It is a way to break the vicious circle and that is something we are proud of, as is being part of the WMP initiative in our Commune."
Extroverted and passionate about their music, the "Chilling Maniáticos" promise to continue with their YouTube series, music, and dreams of success. Our project is just one of many they help promote – all for the sake of better health, better education and bringing prosperity to the Cali way of life.