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Playing For Your Life


Now, we're going to kick off today's SNAP episode way, way south of the border. Christian Dunn (ph) played in a 16-piece party band in Colombia. He played for fun and to make some extra money, but one night after rocking out the countryside, he and his band mates piled onto a bus for the long ride home through the mountains. But instead of making it straight home, they were going to have a much longer night than they thought.

CHRISTIAN DUNN: So I was in a bus late at night - about 2 a.m., I guess. We were tired from performing. I thought the night was over when the bus stopped. I looked up to see three guys in camouflage uniforms and big guns. So they said, (Spanish spoken) - get off the bus, we're going to have to search you. We know that that area is a red zone. It's dangerous in there because we know it's dominated from groups like guerrillas, and we were used to getting stopped by different forces - sometimes the police, sometimes paramilitaries, sometimes guerrillas. But they all let us go as soon as they find out we are just musicians. And they would ask us to get out of the bus. So we get off the bus.

We were leaning against the bus, hands up, and I was trying to figure out, what did we do wrong? They couldn't take us for ransom because we were just struggling musicians. No one could tell we have any money that was obvious. After they search us and find out that we were right - we were just musicians - I thought, what's next? What's going on? Why is it taking too long to let us go, when they said, you're going to have to come with us. We are taking you. Oh, man. That was a time when I started to get sick. I said, this is bad. This is serious. I was dizzy. My heart was beating very fast. We knew people who have been taking or even killed by the guerrillas. So they told us, you have to come with us, and we were blindfolded. And we drive maybe, like, about three minutes, I guess, with the bus inside the jungle. We got out of the bus. We already took off the blindfold.

And they said, OK, we're going to have to work. So we were hiking in this place. It's dark. It's cold. We have no light, just guiding from a guy with a flashlight. And we were walking probably like 20 minutes, and suddenly we start hearing the music far away. The closer we get, we could hear the music louder and we could see, like, more light. We finally found the camp. It was like a farm that we called pinka (ph). They had a few bulb lights - light bulbs hanging in the wires. In the clearing, they have, like, some speakers with a few microphones, and they have a mixer. And they said, their commander was having a birthday party, and he wanted a band to play at the party. We were just, like, nervous and also trying to follow the director. He said, OK this is the place. We're going to play. Let's set up our stuff. From the beginning, I was trying so hard to avoid to seeing people directly in their eyes because, you know, you watch all of those movies and, like, oh, that guy saw me, we cannot let him go. So I was trying to look down, and that's why I guess I remember a lot of details about their clothes because I wasn't looking at them in their face. I was looking down at their bodies and their boots. Most of the people were actually carrying guns. Most of the people were wearing guerrilla's uniforms. A lot of times, we were using body language, especially, like, looking at each other. And, like, we tried to not talk too much because we didn't want to bring any attention. Suddenly, we start seeing the people, like, really enjoying the music and having fun.

And everybody was just happy and dancing. And I guess it was the first time for a minute we all kind of forgot where we were and with who we were with and started kind of, like, smiling and laughing a little bit for real without me pretending to be nice to them. We were enjoying the music. We were just playing good. And as a musician, that always makes you feel good, makes you feel happy. And then - gunshots. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. One of those guys very close to us start firing his gun up in the air. All the fun we were having, all the rock and roll mood changed. My first reaction in the moment was, like, I really wanted to run, but I couldn't.

It's like when you're having a dream, those kind of dreams that you see somebody is going to kill you, and you try to run and you cannot. Your body feels, like, very slow. And we remember how messed up and how fragile that situation was. Anytime, even they can kill you 'cause they just can. They have the power. They can do it. The later it got, the drunker they got, the got the more worried we were, the more we felt like we needed to get out of there. Our band leader was trying his best to get us out, but it was hard because they really didn't want us to go. One of the guerrilla guys came and said, hey, do you guys want to eat some food? We have a lot of food. Come down and eat. When we were eating, we talked about, hey, so what's going on? When are we going back home? They didn't tell you anything. We were asking the director. We were doing this quietly, definitely. We were like, hey, so what's going on? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Don't worry. They already told me that they just want us to play a little bit more for the second set, and then we can go.

And it was a, hey, we should play some kind of like a slow song that they can make them, like, feel, like, sleepy or tired - they want to finish the party. It worked. We were playing, like, the slow song. And for some reason, they were, like, just, like, coming down. One of those drunk guys, like, were trying to, like, walk around with the bar. And they'd show up and, like, I think I need to sit down or something. We'd see, like, people, like spreading out more, like, going to chairs and tables. At some point, the guerrilla guy came and did a sign to the band leader, and the band leader told us, OK, cut. We can stop. Let's take off. I was happy but not as much happy as when we were walking out in the forest again, like, breathing. I'm alive. By this time, the sky was turning that orange-pink color of the early morning before sunrise. We could see enough to find our way. I remember it was very quiet. We were silent, just making our way down the mountain listening to the hundreds of birds that were waking up the forest. We promised each other that we wouldn't talk about that with anybody else - never - not even our parents, not even our girlfriends, not because our fear of the guerrillas but because the paramilitaries who were the enemies of the guerrillas who were controlling our hometown. And we knew that if they could get any information about we been playing for the guerrillas, it could be the end. They could kill us. I was feeling like I needed to talk about this a little bit at least with my father.

I was in the middle of this decision. I was thinking, yes, and I was thinking also the danger it could bring. But when I was thinking about it after two weeks, a neighbor that I knew from a long time ago, he got killed and thrown to the Magdalena River with a message in his T-shirt, in his belly saying, (Spanish spoken) - this happened to you because you were a snitch. This changed all my thoughts about sharing this with my father because I knew if I could open my mouth, that could happen to me. And I couldn't be here telling the story.

WASHINGTON: We are so thankful that after recent changes in Colombia, Christian Dunn was finally able to share that story. Stay safe, and please keep playing the guitar. That peace was produced by Jennifer Dunn and Nancy Lopez with sound design by Renzo Gorrio. Now when SNAP JUDGMENT continues, a guy makes a promise of epic proportions to himself, and a mother's child tries to fulfill her final wish when SNAP JUDGMENT "The Pact" continues. Stay tuned.

(MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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