Music and dance in Colombia
No South American country has a greater variety of music than Colombia, strategically placed where the Andes meet the Caribbean. The four major musical areas are: the mountain heartland; the Pacific coast; the Caribbean coast; and the Llanos or eastern plains.Mountain heartland
The heartland covers the Andean highlands and intervening valleys of the Cauca and Magdalena and includes the country's three largest cities, Bogotá, Cali and Medellín. It is relatively gentle and sentimental music, accompanied largely by string instruments, with an occasional flute and aPacific coast
caránganoshaker to lay down the rhythm. The preferred instrument of the highlands and by extension Colombia's national instrument, is the
tiple, a small 12-stringed guitar, most of which are manufactured at Chiquinquirá in Boyacá. The national dance is the
bambuco, whose lilting sounds are said to have inspired Colombian troops at the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824. It is to be found throughout the country's heartland for dancing, singing and instrumentalizing and has long transcended its folk origins. The choreography is complex, including many figures, such as Los Ochos, La Invitación, Los Codos, Los Coqueteos, La Perseguida and La Arrodilla. Other related dances are the
torbellino, where the woman whirls like a top, the more stately Guabina, the Pasillo, Bunde, Sanjuanero and the picaresque
rajaleña. Particularly celebrated melodies are the
Guabina Chiquinquireñaand the
Bunde Tolimense. The following fiestas, among others, provide a good opportunity of seeing the music and dance:
La Fiesta del Campesino, ubiquitous on the first Sunday in June, the
Fiesta del Bambucoin Neiva and
Festival Folklórico Colombianoin Ibagué later in the month, the
Fiesta Nacional de la Guabina y el Tiple, held in Velez in early August, the
Desfile de Silleterosin Medellín in the same month and
Las Fiestas de Pubenzain Popayán just after the New Year, where the Conjuntos de Chirimía process through the streets.
On Colombia's tropical Pacific coast (and extending down into Esmeraldas in Ecuador) is to be found some of the most African sounding black music in all South America. TheCaribbean coast
currulaoand its variants, the
patacoré, are extremely energetic recreational dances and the vocals are typically African-style call-and-response. This is the home of the
marimbaand the music is very percussion driven, including the upright
redoblantes. Wakes are important in this region and at these the
alabaosare sung. Best known is the 'Bunde de San Antonio'. The
jota chocoanais a fine example of a Spanish dance taken by black people and turned into a satirical weapon against their masters. The regional fiestas are the
Festival Folklórico del Litoralat Buenaventura in July and
San Francisco de Asísat Quibdó on 4 August. Quibdó also features a
Fiesta de los Indiosat Easter.
The music of Colombia's Caribbean lowlands became popular for dancing throughout Latin America more than 30 years ago under the name of
Música Tropicaland has much more recently become an integral part of the Salsa repertory. It can be very roughly divided into cumbia and vallenato. The
cumbiais a heavily black influenced dance form for several couples, the men forming an outer circle and the women an inner one. The men hold aloft a bottle of rum and the women a bundle of slim candles called
espermas. The dance probably originated in what is now Panama, moved east into Cartagena, where it is now centred and quite recently further east to Barranquilla and Santa Marta. The most celebrated cumbias are those of Ciénaga, Mompós, Sampués, San Jacinto and Sincelejo. The instrumental accompaniment consists of
flautas de caña de millo, backed by drums. The
gaitas('male' and 'female') are vertical cactus flutes with beeswax heads, while the
cañas de milloare smaller transverse flutes. The most famous conjuntos are the Gaiteros de San Jacinto, the Cumbia Soledeña and the Indios Selectos. Variants of the cumbia are the
mapalé, these last two being much faster and more energetic. Lately cumbia has also become very much part of the vallenato repertoire and is therefore often played on the accordion. Cumbia has been superseded by vallenato in Colombia and today is probably heard more outside the country than in it, with Colombian migrants taking it with them to cities like Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Los Angeles - even London. While it has travelled, it has picked up influences to create new sub-genres such as
cumbia villera, both popular in Peru and Argentina.
Vallenatomusic comes from Valledupar in the department of César and is of relatively recent origin. It is built around one instrument, the accordion, albeit backed by
cajadrums. The most popular rhythms are the paseo and the merengue, the latter having arrived from the Dominican Republic, where it is the national dance. Perhaps the first virtuoso accordionist was the legendary 'Francisco El Hombre', playing around the turn of the century. Today's best known names are those of Rafael Escalona, Alejandro Durán and Calixto Ochoa. In April the
Festival de la Leyenda Vallenatais held in Valledupar and attended by thousands.
Barranquilla is the scene of South America's second most celebratedLlanos
carnival, after that of Rio de Janeiro, with innumerable traditional masked groups, such as the
garabatois a dance in which death is defeated. Barranquilla's carnival is less commercialized and more traditional than that of Rio and should be a 'must' for anyone with the opportunity to attend. Other important festivals in the region are the
Corralejas de Sincelejowith its bullfights in January,
La Candelariain Cartagena on 2 February, the
Festival de la Cumbiain El Banco in June,
Fiesta del Caimánin Ciénaga in January and
Festival del Porroin San Pelayo (Córdoba). To complete the music of the Caribbean region, the Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia, off the coast of Nicaragua, have a fascinating mix of mainland Colombian and Jamaican island music, with the calypso naturally a prominent feature. More recently two other genres have gained increasing popularity.
Champetaoriginates in Cartagena and has roots in soukous, compas and reggae. It is characterized by very provocative dancing.
Reggaetonhas become a phenomenon throughout Latin America. Believed to have originated in Panama, it blends a merengue beat with rapping and influences from reggae and ragga.
The fourth musical region is that of the great eastern plains, the so-called Llanos Orientales between the Ríos Arauca and Guaviare, a region where there is really no musical frontier between the two republics of Colombia and Venezuela. Here the
Joroporeigns supreme as a dance, with its close relatives the
galerón, the slower and more romantic
pasajeand the breathlessly fast
zumba que zumba. These are dances for couples, with a lot of heel tapping, the arms hanging down loosely to the sides. Arnulfo Briceño and Pentagrama Llanera are the big names and the harp is the only instrument that matters, although normally backed by
maracas. Where to see and hear it all is at the
Festival Nacional del Joropoat Villavicencio in December.
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