Cumbia is one of Colombia’s biggest styles of music, and can be heard everywhere from the biggest clubs in Cartagena to the smallest corner stores in Bogotá. Such is the popularity of the music, it can be surprising to find out it’s humble origins.
Cumbia originated on the Colombian Caribbean coast, where the music and dance of cumbia were used as a courtship ritual among African slaves. Later on, heavily influenced by the area’s rich and mixed cultural heritage, the music began to develop. It became a fusion of indigenous, African and Spanish influence that gave the music a unique style. This style, and the distinctive cumbia rhythm, has come to characterise many of Colombia’s most popular new artists, such as Bomba Estero.
The dance is traditionally performed by pairs of men and women. Women play with the skirts, waving them, while holding a candle in one hand. Men dance behind them, taking their hat on and off with one hand while the other is hidden behind their back. Until the 20th Century, the dance was considered indecent and was therefore restricted to the lower classes. Today, of course, almost every Colombian knows how to at least imitate the dance.
One of the most popular cumbia artists worldwide is Colombia’s own Totó la Momposina (you might just recognise her from the latest Calle 13 video, see below). While cumbia has been on the map and popular for a long time, it’s really Totó la Momposina that took recognition of the style to the next level.
Cumbia now has many variations, popular in places such as Argentina and Mexico, but if you ask us at the Colombia Travel Blog, it never gets better than the original cumbia, founded here in Colombia.
Looking for more cumbia? Might we check out this excellent introduction: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/cdreviews/8928520/Various-Artists-The-Original-Sound-of-Cumbia-CD-review.html