Colombia’s diversity is a direct impact on the diverse influences of its music. Each region has it’s own styles and variations even among the styles that are popular throughout the entire country and other areas in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Overall, Colombian music tends to be a mix of African, American, indigenous traditions, Caribbean (mostly Cuban and Jamaican), and European (mostly Spanish).
Cumbia is one of the most popular forms from Colombia (even though for years, I thought it came from Mexico). With its roots from the Atlantic side of Colombia, it originally just consisted of percussion and vocals, but later added saxes, brass (trumpets, trombones), and keyboards. Some musicologists have their theories that it may be related to a dance called the cumbe from Guinea in West Africa. This dance is characterized by wearing shackles on the dancer’s ankles which represent slavery. Cumbia actually hit a peak of popularity in the 1940s and 1950s.
Vallenato is another musical form that shares its origins on the Atlantic coast side of Colombia. According to tradition, its roots are stemmed from a music contest where Francisco el Hombre defeated Satan. (Um, sounds a lot like Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia” to me.) Vallenato bands consist of accordions, guacharacas (like a stick with notches carved in it and scraped with a metal fork-like device), and the caja vallenata (a larger version of the bongo drum). I found this video that gives an excellent explanation as to what vallenato is, what it stands for, and the inspirations behind it.
Dancing is very important to Colombian society, with several different types of dance that have become popular. Besides the cumbia and vallenato dances that accompany the styles mentioned above, salsa dancing, merengue, and bambuco were also common dances in Colombia.
I guess I had been a fan of Colombian music for a while and didn’t know it. Years ago, my sister gave me a CD of Carlos Vives, and I absolutely loved it (except that I thought he was from Chile for some reason). I recently borrowed a copy of the El Rock de Mi Pueblo album, and I absolutely love it. I REALLY like it. In fact, I made a copy for my sister who’s been really sick lately. I’ve become a huge fan of accordion music as I got into my 30s, and Colombian music makes good use of it.
My kids love Fanny Lu, who does more pop music. I copied the CD Dos from the library, but I also liked the album Felicidad y Perpetua. I think she looks like the chick from that British group The Ting Tings. We’ve known about Shakira for over a decade here in the US – she’s known all over the world. I’ve liked some of her songs, but her voice quality always threw me off. Occasionally, it sounds like she closes her throat while singing, and as a former music major and voice principle when I was in college, closing your throat is a no-no. But my kids like her. I’ll spare them lectures in correct vocal techniques.
I also came across the Afro-Colombian hip-hop group called ChocQuibTown. I found the album Oro at the library and have listened to it for the past three days straight. It’s a little bit Latin, a little bit funk, a little bit hip-hop – and it’s put together really well. Everything I love. I may end up buying their album Eso Es Lo Que Hay because my husband liked a few songs off of that album too.
Several years ago, a friend of mine had somehow received a copy of the 2001 Latin Grammy nominees CD, something I wouldn’t think he would normally listen to. On the winner list was Juanes for the album Fijate Bien for winning best rock solo vocal album of the year. So, I knew of him, but didn’t realize he was Colombian (I see a running theme here…).
I was also fairly impressed with a couple of other groups that I found along the way. I liked Palenke Soundtribe and Sidesteppers whose styles were closer to a mix of house music and Colombian traditional styles. I found a couple of rock/punk bands that I added in my playlist: Doctor Krápula and La Pestilencia. For some reason, I’m always fascinated by two music styles in other countries: hip-hop and punk/ska, and I was really happy that Colombia had something to offer here for my collection.
Up next: the food