2016 has been another cracking year for Colombian music, both mainstream and underground. Artists such as Shakira, Maluma, J. Balvin, Bomba Estereo and ChocQuibTown continued to dominate music charts at home and abroad, whilst exciting lesser-known Colombian talent like La Tromba Bacalao, Meridian Brothers, Los Piranas, Romperayo and Ghetto Kumbe also released some wonderful music. More established artists such as Carmelo Torres, Edson Velandia, Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto and Ondatropica also produced some top tunes in 2016. Traditionally this list has been a mixture of the songs that defined the year in Colombia and some personal favorites. So, without further ado, here are the Top 10 Colombian songs of 2016 (in no particular order…and I may have left out some reggaeton…sorry, it’s just not my bag!)…And if there are any songs you think we’ve missed here, that just have to be in the Top 10, please let us know in the comments.
1. ChocQuibTown – Nuqui (Te Quiero Para Mi)
Since the hip-hop trio from the Choco dropped this ode to their homeland in May, Nuqui has been ubiquitous in Colombia – it’s hard to go out to any club or turn on the radio without hearing the song soon enough. And you can see why: although it continues ChocQuibTown’s subtle shift towards a poppier sound, it’s a beautiful ballad with a rousing and catchy chorus. We could easily have included their other smash from this year, Desde el Día en Que Te Fuiste, but this is arguably a better song, so it gets the nod.
2. Shakira & Carlos Vives – La Bicicleta
Another song that there’s been no escaping this year. La Bicicleta has been the sound of the second half of the year since the two Colombian music heavyweights released it in July. An uptempo love-song to the joys of the Colombian Caribbean coast, the combination of the universally loved Vives and global megastar Shakira meant that this song was about as guaranteed a hit as they come. Luckily it’s a tune anyway!
3. Ondatropica – Hummingbird
A lesser-known act, Ondatropica are probably more well-known in Brooklyn or East London than Colombia, in spite of the fact that they consist of some of the most legendary musicians in Colombia’s history getting together to create rousing traditional Colombian music with a modern edge. The project, which is curated by Will ‘Quantic’ Holland and Mario ‘Frente Cumbiero’ Galeano, returned this year with their Providencia-inspired new single Hummingbird, and if this lilting tropical tune is anything to go by, their new album in 2017 is going to be a cracker!
4. Bomba Estereo – Soy Yo
A bombastic anthem to self-respect and not caring what other people think, Bomba Estereo’s Soy Yo (and its equally amazing video) has been another song that it’s been hard to avoid in 2016. But why would you want to avoid it?! An intoxicating mash-up of cumbia, gaitas, tambores, hip-hop and electronic beats, Soy Yo has fast become one of the popular Colombian band’s biggest hits.
5. Systema Solar – Rumbera
Colombia’s biggest party starters returned this year with a brand new album, Rumbo a Tierra, and just as much attitude as ever! The lead single from the album was Rumbera, and its heady mix of intense electro-cumbia and hip-hop, combined with the insanely charismatic chemistry between the band, turned it into one of our songs of the year even with several months of 2016 left to go.
6. Carmelo Torres y Los Toscos – La antropología feat. Edson Velandia
Carmelo Torres is an undisputed cumbia legend and one of the best accordion players in the country, and his reinvention and resurgence in popularity through his work with Los Toscos has been wonderful to behold over the past couple of years. Some of their best tracks were released at the end of 2015, making them ineligible for this list, however, this absolute belter of a tune came in the last 2 days of last year, after we released our 2015 list, so we’re having it this year, sue us! A dream mix of Colombia’s greatest modern songwriter Velandia, and the garage-cumbia fuzz of Los Toscos, La antropologia has hardly left my playlists all year.
7. Edson Velandia – El canibal
Speaking of Colombia’s greatest modern songwriter, the eccentric genius behind Velandia y La Tigra was back this year with a brand new solo record, La Karateka, and his best collection of songs in years. The best of these was El canibal, which perfectly showcased Velandia’s unique mixture of folk music, spoken-word poetry and rock. A truly avant-garde artist, Velandia continues to surprise with his unique ability to fuse seemingly disparate styles together and create something beautiful and profound. The Colombian album of the year for me, no doubt!
8. Ghetto Kumbe – ChiláKilé
A new project, Ghetto Kumbe was a collaboration between three unique Colombian talents: Edgardo Garcés (aka El Guajiro), Juan Carlos Puello (aka Chongo de Colombia) and Andrés Mercado. A dancefloor-ready fusion between traditional Afro-Colombian percussion styles and electronic beats, Ghetto Kumbe are a particularly thrilling proposition live in concert. However, the song that introduced them to the world, along with its awesome video, filmed in Palomino, ChiláKilé was really something special, and definitely deserved more recognition than it got. Ah well, here’s some!
9. J. Balvin – Safari feat. Pharrell Williams, BIA, Sky
The acceptable face of reggaeton, that most maligned of Latin American genres, J. Balvin released some absolutely massive songs this year. However, this track, featuring global megastar Pharrell, marked him out as the true breakout star of global reggaeton, and the artist most likely to make this style of music popular outside of it’s traditional fanbase. Forget Pitbull, J. Balvin’s where it’s at!
10. Sidestepper – Supernatural Soul
Another return from a legendary Colombian band, the venerable collective that is Sidestepper were back this year with one of the best albums of their excellent career, Supernatural Love. Perhaps the best track on the record was the driving percussive track Supernatural Soul, which gave me my live music highlight of the year, as the band played in at sunset outside in Bogota and the entire crowd was moved to its feet by the impossible-to-resist rhythms.