Ten facts about cumbia, Colombia’s main musical style

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To celebrate tonight’s Latin Grammy Awards, I dove into Grove Music Online to learn more about the distinct musical styles and traditions of Latin American countries. The main musical style of Colombia is the cumbia, with its related genera porro and vallenato. In the traditional cumbia Strictly speaking, couples dance in a circle around seated musicians, the woman shuffling around while the man zigzags around her. The cumbia Usually takes place at night with the women holding bundles of candles in colorful handkerchiefs in their right hands. Although traditional cumbia is now mainly performed by folk troupes during carnivals and other festivals, cumbia has contributed significantly to the development of related musical styles. Below are ten interesting facts about the cumbia.

  1. The cumbia is accompanied by one of two sets: the conjunto de cumbia (also known as combiamba) and the conjunto de gaitas. The first consists of five instruments, while the second consists of two flutes, one lamador and a maraca.
  2. The conjunto de cumbia includes a melodic instrument called the cana de mille (“Millet cane”), locally known as pito, which is a clarinet made of a tube open at both ends with four finger holes near one end and a reed cut from the tube itself at the other end.
  3. Other instruments include the gaita hembra (“Female flute”) and the gaita macho (“Male flute”). While the gaita hembra is used for the melody, the gaita macho provides heterophony in conjunction with a maraca.
  4. The bullerengue and the negro danza are two other musical genres from the region, which have African characteristics. The bullerengue is an exhibition dance, filled with hip movements, performed by a single couple. Meanwhile, the negro danza is a special carnival dance performed by men who paint themselves blue, undress to the waist, dance in a squatting position with wooden swords and ask passers-by for money or rum.
  5. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city bands began to adapt the cumbia to a more cosmopolitan style. Between 1905 and 1910, musicians from many cities began these adaptations, which were strongly developed in the city of San Pelayo. Thus, the terms will peel Where papayaare commonly used in reference to this type of assembly.
  6. Vallenato, a genre linked to tradition cumbia, also originally from the Colombian Atlantic region. Performed by an ensemble composed of accordion, voice, caja (a small double-headed drum) and guacharaca (a notched gourd scraper), vallenato is similar to cumbia emphasizing beats 2 and 4, but places more emphasis on the eighth note rhythm cell.
  7. Another style of music related to cumbia is Music tropical, which developed from arrangements of Afro-Colombian-style dance orchestras from the 1930s and 1940s. Music tropical is similar to the salon rumba popular in the Americas and Europe, although it retains a simpler rhythmic basis and a more flowery melodic style.
  8. Tropical music also offered a response to the international vogue for Cuban music, both Caribbean and uniquely Colombian. In the late 1950s, tropical music had found its place in major social clubs and ballrooms across the country.
  9. Throughout the 1960s, tropical music has remained the Colombian national style. Recordings by groups like La Sonora Dinamita, Los Corraleros de Majagual and Los Graduados enjoyed brief national popularity, but had a greater impact outside the country, broadcasting a simplified form of cumbia in Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, where style has become very important.
  10. During the 1940s and 1950s, music pioneers Lucho Bermúdez and Pacho Galán composed and arranged big band adaptations of cumbia, among other genres, popularizing the sound that has become the new national music of Colombia.

Finally, watch a famous cumbiaLa pollera colera:

Title image credit: Monumento a la cumbia, 2006. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


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