Culture & Art

Jun 23, 2018

CARIBBEAN, FUNNY PLEASURE

Around the world there are two forms of expression which cross all layers of society: folkloric music and dancing. Curiously (or not), both are also the result of a cross over cultures. It's no wonder, therefore, if we find Cumbia to be very close to African rhythms, rather than the native South American

By JORGE MATIAS

Even though it is not possible to establish with a minimum certainty when it was born, researchers refer to Cumbia as being originally a working-class populist music and a courtship dance practiced among the native population of the Caribbean coasts of Colombia, in the beginning of the 18th century.

Its true origin, however, must have happened much earlier, probably in the 16th century – according to the report sent by the perpetual governor, Lope de Orozco, to the king in 1580, about the Province of Santa Marta, which recounts that "the Indians drink and party with a cane that is used as a flute, which they put in their mouths to be played and that produces a music that seems to come from the very hell".

By the time it was merely a native music, Cumbia was played with the melancholic "gaita flute" and "caña de millo". It is already in the beginning of the 19th century, that it mixes with African drums and other European instruments.

By the 1940's Cumbia began spreading from the Caribbean coasts into the country's interior, along with other indigenous rhythms like "porro" and "vallenato". The international recognition of Cumbia was helped largely by the number of record companies located on the coast.

In his "Compendium of Colombian Folklore", published in 1962, researcher Guillermo Abadía Morales explains Cumbia has components from three cultures: mainly indigenous mixed with Black African and, in lesser extent, white Spanish music, fruit of a long and intense interbreeding between these cultures during the Conquest and Colony era.

In instrumentation are the drums of African origin; maracas, guache and the whistles (caña de millo and gaitas) of indigenous origin; whereas the songs are a contribution of Spanish poetics. The presence of sensual movements, distinctly charming, seductive, characteristic of dances with African origins.

The vestments have clear Spanish features: long polleras, lace, sequins, hoop earrings, flower headdresses and intense makeup for women; white shirt and pants, knotted red shawl around the neck and hat for men.

The most fruitful of Colombian music industry is given time in the 1960s, it began with the founding of Discos Fuentes in 1934, the Discos Sonolux in 1949 and soon after Discos Victoria.

Since the 1940s, orchestras took the cumbia to Peru, where it became more known. Thanks to this it becomes much better known in Argentina, El Salvador, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, among other. This led local musicians to give rise to variants of cumbia as a result of its fusion with rhythms of each nation such as Argentine cumbia, Mexican cumbia, Salvadoran cumbia, etc.

Traditional cumbia is preserved and considered representative of the Colombian identity, especially on the northern Caribbean coast. The best representation of traditional Cumbia is shown every year on the Festival de la Cumbia in El Banco, Magdalena. The festival was created by one of the most important Colombian Cumbia composers, Jose Barros, in order to preserve the original rhythms of traditional Cumbia music.

In 2006, the cumbia was nominated by the Ministry of Culture as a cultural symbol of Colombia and, in 2013, the Congress of Colombia declared the National Festival of the Cumbia Jose Barros of El Banco, a cultural heritage of the Nation.

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