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No-contact Paged Pickup scheduling begins June Outdoor book drops are open. Buildings remain closed. The following podcast explores the history of the Colombian cumbia with generous examples from the field recordings of George List, who did field research in Colombia's Caribbean coast in the s and who was the first Director of the Archives of Traditional Music.
Juan Rojas weaves together musical and historical commentary with musical examples from Colombian popular music and the field recordings of George List. The podcast runs for and you can follow along with the transcript below. Today, we will make a trip to the Caribbean coast of Colombia, in northern South America, home of an exciting and very popular music style: cumbia!
Cumbia is one of the most widespread Latin American music genres. It originated in Colombia among Black and working-class populations during the Spanish colonial period. Despite being marginalized for centuries by Colombian elites, by the s it had become a musical symbol of the nation. Cumbia emerged as a traditional music and dance style in the rural communities of the Caribbean coast. In general, cumbia is characterized by the persistent beat of a hand drum on the upbeats of a two-four time and the accompaniment of a shaker or scrapper.
This rhythm trespassed the traditional ensembles and was adopted by urban orchestras, with which it became massive by the mid twentieth century. During this period, due to growing audiences, music producers successfully introduced cumbia to international markets. As a result, important cumbia scenes emerged in other parts of the Americas, like Texas, Peru and Mexico.
That is why when speaking about cumbia, people with diverse origins picture diverse musical sounds; like this one from Peru… 4 , or this one from Argentina… 5. But back in the s, when commercial cumbia songs had just begun moving within international contexts, musical traditions in the countryside of the Colombian Caribbean region were still vibrant.
These peasant communities, most of which have strong Afrocolombian and indigenous descent, had been playing this music for generations.
Their contributions fashioned the cumbia sound, which was later taken by producers to the rest of the world. It was a vibrant music industry — established in the Colombian Caribbean region since the s, which actively encouraged the transformation of cumbia from traditional and local musical styles to the commercial sounds of the jazz-bands. Cumbia , along with other rhythms like porro or vallenato, became the trademark of Colombian music since the early s, replacing the old paradigm of Andean Colombian music as the national sound During the wars of conquest, the Spanish crown violently subjected and dominated indigenous groups of the region.
Around the same time period, Cartagena de Indias, a Spanish fortified city on the Caribbean coast, became the main slave-port in the Americas, hosting thousands of Africans and their descendents One result has been centuries of complex multi-cultural interaction, creating a diversity of regional cultures… and musical styles… Before the national cumbia craze of the s, when commercial big-band cumbia captivated the ears and bodies of middle and high-class citizens of the major Colombian inland cities, working-class people from the Caribbean coast had been dancing to cumbia and its related musical styles for generations.
For the most part, peasant Afrocolombian communities, indigenous groups, and other mixed-race populations constitute the working-class. From their cultural practices emerged a broad variety of local musics, rich in syncopations and highly developed drumming 13 … chants and laments of different styles 14 … and instrumental melodies inspired by the exuberant natural environments of the region Not all these styles are called cumbia, but many of them were used by musicians in the construction of the cumbia canon, which became enormously popular at the national level in the 50s, and internationalized in the 60s.
Many of the musical features from these grassroots traditions were adopted by jazz-bands. George List was a professor of ethnomusicology at Indiana University Bloomington. During the s he conducted research in the Colombian Caribbean coast, and with his tape recorder captured many of the diverse sounds that were part of popular celebrations in towns and villages.
Many of the musical samples that we are presenting to you in this podcast come from his field recordings, now cared for by the Archives of Traditional Music, at Indiana University Bloomington.
It has been protagonist of many cumbia parties since colonial times. In his field research, ethnomusicologist George List accounts for the diversity of local musics in the Colombian Caribbean coast. He found out that cumbia was present in many musical traditions, but also, that it was only one rhythm, among many others, interpreted by local groups.
Despite this variety, many musical styles shared aesthetic elements, like the traditional drums, certain styles of dancing, or some rhythmic and melodic features.
List also found similarities in the context in which these musics were practiced: in general, they were performed for communal celebrations in towns and villages for Catholic festivities, like Patron Saint celebrations and the Christmas season. A wake was organized and gaita music accompanied its offering.
They used to say gaita , but gaita is the instrument. The dance, is what we now call cumbia. However, these musics were also performed for secular events like Carnival, birthdays, weddings, or by contract. Many times, these performances were set as public street dances, where the community participated freely.
The fronts and backyards of the houses were also often the stage for cumbiambas , or cumbia parties for days. Gaita music is a local tradition that was still vibrant in the 60s and that lent stylistic features to the commercial cumbia sound. Gaita refers to the music, as well as to the traditional flute, which is the melodic leader of these ensembles.
In a preservationist agenda, driven by the angst of modernity and the fear of the influence of urban life-styles in rural traditions, some intellectuals around the first half of the twentieth century idealized traditional cumbia styles as isolated from commercial repertoires and urban influences. But the truth is that during the 60s, as well before and after that, local traditional musicians also borrowed from commercial styles and developed their own interpretations of cumbia in response to music that they heard from jazz-bands, radio stations, or records.
This song had great commercial success in the s, becoming a huge international hit. Local musicians and their audiences were fully aware of mass mediated cumbia and appropriated it for their local festivities.
This way, commercial cumbia , which had evolved from the rural styles in the first place, fed back into the traditional performance contexts. In this process, cumbia was excluded from the vallenato canon, despite the popularity of a big repertoire of accordion cumbias. This exclusion was legitimized in , when a selected group of cultural workers created the Festival Of The Vallenato Legend, institutionalizing this division and segregating accordion cumbia from the folkloric discourse.
However, people at the ground level had different ideas. It is the musical ensemble for the cumbiamba. They actively participated in a multidirectional dialogue with political, commercial, and preservationist projects.
In this journey, we explored from popular styles of commercially recorded cumbia to rural versions of this music. Cumbia is not a unified concept. Cumbia is part of a complex musical history, that responds to centuries of interactions all over the Colombian Caribbean. Many musics that we call cumbia today were not labeled as such in the past. And musics that were once considered cumbia evolved into what we know now as different genres.
So then, what is cumbia? Cumbia is a flavor, a flavor of celebration for the people. It is a dance of life: an expression of joy over sorrow that has developed for hundreds of years. And people feel it, embody it, and express themselves through it, without regard to geographic or cultural bindings.
Puerto Rico y su Combo. Item 03 of OT Grupo Belen de Tama. Cumbia Villera. Los Pibes Chorros. Alex Acosta y su Orquesta. Interpreted by Catalino Parra and his Cumbia Ensemble. Item 13 of OT Electronic cumbia. Interpreted by Liquid Rockz. Chusma Records. Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto. Recorded on Mar. Item 05 of OT Silva y Villalba. Item 04 of OT Item 08 of OT Conjunto de Tamboreros de Cabildo de Bocachica.
From OT Item 02 of OT Grupo de Bullerengue de Evitar. Item 06 of OT Gaita corrida. Sixto Silgado and his Gaita Group. Item 07 of OT Alberto Pacheco y su Conjunto.
Nacho Paredes y Los Vaqueros Sabaneros. Item 01 of OT Item 03 of Track 1, OT Afropop Worldwide. Consulted on January 8th Consulted January 8th Consulted on January 15th Dornfeld, Barry. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press.