Beyond the uber-famous, internationally-known Shakira and Juanes, Colombian music is a thick stew of flavors and spices ladled in from the three founding cultures of the country: Euro, indigenous, and, most potently, Afro. And, as in most post-colonial societies, it is the music of Colombian artists that speaks most loudly against injustice and in homage to marginalized groups, all the while urging feet to tap and booties to shake. Check these:
CHOC QUIB TOWN, a powerful triumvirate of lyricists from Quibdó, the impoverished capital of the mostly-black, oft-maligned, and federally-neglected department of Chocó, on the Pacific coast. In what is virtually the Mississippi of Colombia, the scant resources sent to the region are stolen by corrupt officials and starvation, illiteracy, and narco-trafficking are rampant. Out of this struggle, of course, comes amazing creativity, manifested in Colombia’s world-class entry into the realm of hip-hop.
Cabas, a son of the Colombian Caribbean, infuses his pop-rock melodies with the syncopated rhythms of his native region. Raised by a musician around musicians, Cabas’ youthful voice and style add a playful air to his aural flirtations. The video below caught my eye when it rotated heavily on MTV, but his most recent hit also makes me smile (the refrain is “spend the night with me, gorgeous, and stay all day tomorrow”).
Living world music icon, Totó La Momposina (NOT pronounced like Dorothy’s dog), represents the epitome of traditional Afro-Colombian and indigenous folk music. Born in Mompox, a colonial river port deep in the swamps of the Caribbean interior, Totó chants and sings over the drumbeats of cumbia and mapalé with the soulful mix of Southern church lady and Yoruba griot.
The “niche” (pronounced NEE-chay) in Grupo Niche refers to a hip, stylish, fly black male—I’ve been called it a few times by people who thought I was from the Colombian capital of salsa, Cali, where this salacious musical combo is based. In fact, no where else in Colombia is salsa danced or played with as much boompangfwap as in the country’s third largest city, very much like Atlanta with its black middle class, its history as the seat of a slave-based agricultural economy, and its present as the seat of a black music movement. Also check out their cousins, Orquesta Guayacán.
Lastly, Bogotá-based La Mojarra Eléctrica mixes traditional Afro-Colombian beats with reggae, funk, jazz, and electronica. The group is named for a traditional and plentiful fish eaten on the Caribbean coast, only electrified like their music. The video below, Calle 19, was filmed on the major commercial strip near my old crib in Downtown Bogotá, so when I watch it, I get a li’l nostalgic for the street vendors, juice bars, cheap lunch counters, car exhaust, noise, and gritty Ande-urban flavor.