|Cultural origins||Caribbean region of Colombia|
Cumbia is one of the most melodic representative expressions of Colombia. It brings together three cultures - African, Indigenous and European. The African influence gives the rhythm of the drums while the Indigenous based flute blends in the melody. The European influence provides some variations in the melodies, choreography and costumes of the dancers.
The origin of cumbia music comes from the days of slavery in the late 17th century and is derived from the African word cumbe which means dance. Another word was derived later in the Antioquia region of Colombia called caracumbe and was coined by African slaves who worked in the mines. A third variation of the word called paracumbé emerged and then disappeared as well as the term cumbancha which in Cuba means party. However, one thing is for certain, cumbia was born of a cultural mix of black and indigenous backgrounds. The music got very popular in the 1950s and 1960s in Colombia as it evolved into what we recognize today. *There has been a recent movement in Medellin, Colombia by young artists and dancers to revive the original sounds of the earlier decades. These performances can be seen throughout cultural centers in Medellin including the José Gutiérrez Gómez Metropolitan Theatre.
Colombian folklorist Delia Zapata Olivella in her publication of 1962, "La Cumbia: Síntesis Musical de la Nación Colombiana, Reseña Histórica y Coreográfica" (Cumbia: Musical Synthesis of the Colombian Nation, Historical and Choreographic Review) notes that the only word similar to cumbia present in the dictionary of the Real Academia de la Lengua Española, is cumbé "a dance of African origin and the musical interpretation of this dance." And that cumbes (without acute accent) is used for black people living in Bata, in Spanish continental Guinea (now Equatorial Guinea).
The Colombian cultural researcher Jorge Villarreal Diazgranados in his article "La cumbia, el jolgorio y sobre todo el placer" (La cumbia, fun and above all pleasure), published in 1977 states:
Cumbia viene de Cumbague y Cumbague era la personificación del cacique indígena pocabuyano, se dice que Cumbague además de tener un carácter belicoso y audaz, debía ser un excelente bebedor de maco (chicha) porque todos los de su raza eran muy borrachos y amigos del baile y la juerga.
An English translation of the quote above would be:
Cumbia comes from Cumbague and Cumbague was the personification of the indigenous cacique pocabuyano, it is said that Cumbague besides having a bellicose and bold character, should have been an excellent maco (chicha) drinker because all of his race were drunks who danced and played among friends.
Musicologist and folk-researcher Guillermo Abadía Morales, in his 1977 "Compendio general de folclore colombiano" (General Compendium of Colombian folklore), says that cumbia is a shortened form of cumbancha, a word whose root is Kumba, Mandinka demonym, and adds that the Republic of the Congo was called Cumba.
Cuban ethnologist Graciano states that the words Kumba, Kumbe and Koumbi, replacing the letter "k" for "c" (when turned into Spanish) means "drums" or "dances". He adds that cumbé, cumbia and cumba were drums of African origin in the Antilles. On the other hand, he states that cumba - kumba, African word for Bantu or Congos tribes, means "roar", "shock", "shouting", "scandal", "joy". The panamanian folklorist Manuel Zarate adds to this theory in his "Tambor y Socavón" (Drum and Tunnel), as the root of the word cumbia. Also, for Ortiz, among congos, nkumbi is a drum.
Regarding the word cumbé the 22nd version of the Diccionário of the Real Academia de la Lengua, published in 2001, it is recorded as "Danza de la Guinea Ecuatorial" (Dance of Equatorial Guinea) and "Son de esta danza" (Music of this dance).
Colombian chronicles and theories
Sociologist Adolfo Gonzalez Henriquez, in his work "La música del Caribe colombiano durante la guerra de independencia y comienzos de la República" (Music of the Colombian Caribbean during the war of independence and the beginning of the Republic), includes a text of Admiral José Prudencio Padilla which records cumbiambas and indigenous gaitas during the festival of John the Baptist in the neighboring town of Arjona, a few days before the naval battle that took place in the Bahía de las Ánimas of Cartagena between the last Spanish resistance and the republican army, military confrontation that sealed the independence of Colombia:
No era noche de luna la del 18 de junio de 1821; pero la pintoresca población de Arjona ostentaba la más pura serenidad en el cielo tachonado de estrellas, y en el alegre bullicio de las gaitas y cumbiambas con que festejaban los indígenas, al abrigo de las armas republicanas, la aproximación de la celebrada fiesta de San Juan...
It was a night without the moon, that of June 18, 1821; but the picturesque town of Arjona showed the purest serenity in the starry sky, and the cheerful bustle of gaitas and cumbiambas with which the indigenous people celebrated, sheltered from the republican arms, the approach of the festival of St. John...
The musician and pedagogue Luis Antonio Escobar, in the chapter "La mezcla de indio y negro" (The mixture of Indian and black) of his book "Música en Cartagena de Indias" (Music in Cartagena de Indias) takes the description of Indian dance who witnessed the navy lieutenant Swedish Carl August Gosselman in Santa Marta, and recorded in his work "Viaje por Colombia: 1825 y 1826" (Journey through Colombia: 1825 and 1826) as proof that at least in the second decade of the nineteenth century the gaita ensemble existed already in Santa Marta, the same that appears in Cartagena and other coastal cities with black musical elements that resulted in cumbia:
Por la tarde del segundo día se preparaba gran baile indígena en el pueblo. La pista era la calle, limitada por un estrecho círculo de espectadores que rodeaba a la orquesta y los bailarines.
La orquesta es realmente nativa y consiste en un tipo que toca un clarinete de bambú de unos cuatro pies de largo, semejante a una gaita, con cinco huecos, por donde escapa el sonido; otro que toca un instrumento parecido, provisto de cuatro huecos, para los que solo usa la mano derecha, pues en la izquierda tiene una calabaza pequeña llena de piedrecillas, o sea una maraca, con la que marca el ritmo. Este último se señala aún más con un tambor grande hecho en un tronco ahuecado con fuego, encima del cual tiene un cuero estirado, donde el tercer virtuoso golpea con el lado plano de sus dedos.
A los sonidos constantes y monótonos que he descrito se unen los observadores, quienes con sus cantos y palmoteos forman uno de los coros más horribles que se puedan escuchar. En seguida todos se emparejan y comienzan el baile.
Este era una imitación del fandango español, aunque daba la impresión de asemejarse más a una parodia. Tenía todo lo sensual de él pero sin nada de los hermosos pasos y movimientos de la danza española, que la hacen tan famosa y popular.
In the afternoon of the second day they were preparing a large indigenous dance in the village. The dance floor was the street, bounded by a narrow circle of spectators surrounding the orchestra and dancers.
The orchestra is really native and consists of a guy who plays a bamboo clarinet about four feet long, like a gaita, with five holes, through which escapes the sound; another that plays a similar instrument, with four holes, for which he only uses his right hand because the left has a small pumpkin full of pebbles, a maraca, that sets the pace. The rhythm is marked even more with a large drum made in a fire-hollowed trunk, on top of which there is a stretched hide, where the third virtuoso hits the flat side of his fingers.
To the constant and monotonous sounds that I have described already join the observers, who with their singing and clapping form one of the most horrible choirs that can be heard. Then all pair up and start dancing.
This was an imitation of Spanish fandango, although it seemed to be more like a parody. It had every sensual detail from the Spanish dance but without any of its beautiful steps and movements, that make it so famous and popular.
In the description of the writer José María Samper during his trip down the Magdalena River in 1879, the constituent elements of dance and music on the Magdalena River, instruments and elements of dance cumbia are identified:
"Había un ancho espacio, perfectamente limpio, rodeado de barracas, barbacoas de secar pescado, altos cocoteros y arbustos diferentes. En el centro había una grande hoguera alimentada con palmas secas, alrededor de la cual se agitaba la rueda de danzantes, y otra de espectadores, danzantes á su turno, mucho más numerosa, cerraba á ocho metros de distancia el gran círculo. Allí se confundian hombres y mujeres, viejos y muchachos, y en un punto de esa segunda rueda se encontraba la tremenda orquesta... Ocho parejas bailaban al compás del son ruidoso, monótono, incesante, de la gaita (pequeña flauta de sonidos muy agudos y con solo siete agujeros) y del tamboril, instrumento cónico, semejante á un pan de azúcar, muy estrecho, que produce un ruido profundo como el eco de un cerro y se toca con las manos á fuerza de redobles continuos. La carraca (caña de chonta, acanalada trasversalmente, y cuyo ruido se produce frotándola á compás con un pequeño hueso delgado); el triángulo de fierro, que es conocido, y el chucho ó alfandoque (caña cilíndrica y hueca, dentro de la cual se agitan multitud de pepas que, a los sacudones del artista, producen un ruido sordo y áspero como el del hervor de una cascada), se mezclaban rarísimamente al concierto. Esos instrumentos eran más bien de lujo, porque el currulao de raza pura no reconoce sino la gaita, el tamboril y la curruspa. Las ocho parejas, formadas como escuadrón en columna, iban dando la vuelta á la hoguera, cogidos de una mano, hombre y mujer, sin sombrero, llevando cada cual dos velas encendidas en la otra mano, y siguiendo todos el compás con los piés, los brazos y todo el cuerpo, con movimientos de una voluptuosidad...
There was a wide space, perfectly clean, surrounded by barracks, barbecues used to dry fish, tall coconut trees and various bushes. In the center there was a large bonfire fed with dry palms, around it the circle of dancers hopped, and another circle of spectators, dancers at their own turns, much larger, close to eight meters away closing the greater circle. There, men and women, old and young were confused, and at one point of that second circle was the tremendous orchestra... Eight couples danced to the beat of that loud, monotonous, incessant son of the gaita (a small flute of very high pitch and with only seven holes) and the tamboril, conical instrument like a sugar loaf, very narrow, that produces a deep sound like the echo of a hill and is played with bare hands by continuous drumbeats. The carraca (a chonta reed, corrugated transversely and whose noise is produced by rubbing a small thin bone); the triangle of iron, which is known, and the chucho or alfandoque (cylindrical and hollow reed, filled with beads that are shaken by the jolts of the artist, it produces a dull and rough sound similar to the dash of a waterfall), they were oddly mixed in the concert. Those instruments were rather fancy, because the pure currulao knows nothing more than the gaita, the tamboril and the curruspa. The eight couples, formed as squadron in column, were turning around the bonfire, hand in hand, man and woman, hatless, carrying two burning candles each on the other hand, and following all the rhythm with their feet, arms and whole body, with movements of a voluptuousness...
In his work 'Lecturas locales (Local Readings) (1953), the barranquillero historian Miguel Goenaga barranquillero describes the cumbia and its cumbiamba circles in Barranquilla around 1888:
"El poeta y escritor Julio N. Galofre le cantó a la Cumbiamba; y al repasar yo esos cuartetos, que se publicarán alguna vez, me vienen a la memoria recuerdos de la niñez, cuando la popular mujer barranquillera, llamada La Cañón, ponía sus grandes ruedas de cumbiamba, allá por el año 1888, en las 4 esquinas de la calle Bolívar, callejón de California (hoy 20 de Julio), a donde concurría mucho público a ver la voluptuosidad del baile y el ritmo hondo y vigoroso de tambores, flautas y guarachas... Esto sí es cosa de la vieja Barranquilla, como resuena también en mis oídos el comienzo de un canto popular, cuando un señor Carrasquilla tenía en competencia otra cumbia por el barrio arriba, como entonces llamaban la parte sur de la ciudad:
Corre, corre, que te tumba la Cañón.— Miguel Goenaga, Lecturas locales (1953), p. 396.
"The poet and writer Julio N. Galofre sang to the Cumbiamba; and on reviewing those quartets, to be published sometime, memories of my childhood come to mind, when the popular woman from Barranquila, called La Cañón, created her huge cumbiamba circles back in 1888, at the 4 corners of Bolivar street, California alley (today 20 de Julio). A large audience attended to see the voluptuousness of the dance and deep and vigorous rhythm of drums, flutes and guarachas... This really is a thing of the old Barranquilla, like how the beginning of a popular song resounds in my ears, when a Mr. Carrasquilla had another competing cumbia in the Arriba neighborhood, as they then called that part of the city:
Run, run, get knocked down by La Cañón.
The origin of cumbia has been the subject of argument between those who attribute an indigenous ethno-musical origin, geographically located in the region of Depression Momposina and those who argue the thesis of origin black African in Cartagena or even in Africa itself. The first, represented by personalities like the composer José Barros, writers like Jocé G. Daniels, sociologists like Orlando Fals Borda and historians as Gnecco Rangel Pava, and the latter by the folklorist Delia Zapata Olivella.
In 1998, in his article "La cumbia, emperadora del Pocabuy" (La cumbia, Empress of Pocabuy) the writer Jocé G. Daniels theorizes that the cumbia was "el aliciente espiritual de los indios" (the spiritual attraction of the Indians) to associate the flutes used in the celebrations of the Chimilas, pocigueycas and pocabuyes in the territories of the current populations of Guamal, Ciénaga and El Banco, with the primitive cumbia gaita, based on the report sent by the perpetual governor Lope de Orozco to the king in 1580, about the Province of Santa Marta, which recounts that "los yndios i yndias veben y asen fiestas con una caña a manera de flauta que se meten en la boca para tañer y producen una mucica como mui trayda del infierno" (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) (sic).
The banqueño songwriter Antonio Garcia presented in 1997 the following theory about the birth of cumbia: "Las tribus dedicadas a la pesca y la agricultura, en sus rituales fúnebres, especialmente cuando moría algún miembro de la alta jerarquía de la tribu, todos los miembros se reunían al caer la noche alrededor de una fogata, en el centro del círculo se colocaba a una mujer embarazada que era símbolo de la nueva vida, quien iniciaba una danza con el ritmo suave y melancólico de la flauta de millo, esta ceremonia se prolongaba por varias horas y terminaba por sumir en el más grande éxtasis a todos los que estaban allí reunidos y así nació la cumbia" (The tribes engaged in fishing and agriculture, in their funeral rituals, especially when someone in the hierarchy of the tribe died, gathered all members at nightfall around a campfire in the center of the circle stood a pregnant woman who was a symbol of new life, who started a dance with the soft and melancholic rhythm from flute of millo, this ceremony was prolonged for several hours and ended up plunging into the greatest ecstasy to all who were gathered there and cumbia was born). At the same meeting, José Barros said, product of the oral tradition received from the Indians: "The cumbia was born in funeral ceremonies that Chimillas Indians celebrated in the country of Pocabuy when one of its leaders died" (La cumbia nació en las ceremonias fúnebres que los indios Chimillas celebraban en el país de Pocabuy cuando moría uno de sus jerarcas). Barros also holds in relation to dance: "The idea of dancing in a circular motion has to do with the custom of the Chimilas Indians who danced around the coffin of one of their leaders, what they did counter-clockwise, what meant one-way trip). Daniels adds that the musical airs related to the origin of the cumbia "had their peak between Chymilas, Pocigueycas (Ponqueycas) and Pocabuyes, i.e., in the actual populations of Guamal, Cienaga and El Banco. Cumbia reached its development with the elements provided by Bemba colorá blacks and whites, cunning and canny.".
To researchers of indigenous cultures, the ethno-musical mixture that gives rise to the cumbia occurs during the Colony in the native country of Pocabuy (current populations of El Banco, Guamal, Menchiquejo and San Sebastian in the Magdalena, Chiriguaná and Tamalameque in the Cesar and Mompox, Chilloa, Chimi and Guataca in Bolívar Department) located in the current Caribbean region of Colombia, in the upper valley of Magdalena region the Mompox Depression (including the cultures of La Sabana (Sucre),La Sabana and the Sinú River, north to Pincoya), product of the musical and cultural fusion of Indigenous, Afro-Colombian slaves and, on a lesser extent, of Spaniards, as referred by it historians Orlando Fals Borda in his book Mompox y Loba, and Gnecco Rangel Pava in his books El País de Pocabuy and Aires Guamalenses. The Pocabuy are mentioned in several recordings, although the most famous mention corresponds to the chorus of the song "Cumbia de la paz" (Cumbia of peace) recorded by "Chico" Cervantes:
Ritual sublime de los Pocabuy,
en la rueda de la cumbia
se despedían de los bravos guerreros
que allí morían,
que allí morían
en la paz de la cumbia...
Sublime rite of the Pocabuy people,
at the cumbia circle
they gave farewells to brave warriors
who died there,
who died there
in the peace of cumbia...
Fals Borda notes:
La cumbia nació en el país de Pocabuy conformado por El Banco, Chiriguaná, Mompox, Tamalameque, Guamal y Chimí. Pocabuy era un país indígena que se extendía a todo lo largo del río Tucurinca (actual Magdalena).
The cumbia was born in the country of Pocabuy formed by El Banco, Chiriguaná, Mompox, Tamalameque, Guamal and Chimi. Pocabuy was an indigenous country that extended throughout the Tucurinca river (current Magdalena).
For the writer Jocé G. Daniels, is "ironic" that people have "tried to foist a Kumbé Bantú origin to cumbia." Researchers question that if the cumbia came from African rhythms, in other parts of America where blacks came from all over Africa as slaves, as the United States, there should be cumbia, or at least something similar. J. Barros says, "cumbia does not have a single hint of Africa. That's easy to check: the United States, which received so many thousands of black Africans does not have anything like cumbia in its folkloric manifestations. The same happens with the Antillean countries. I wonder why if the cumbia is African and entered through La Boquilla, like Manuel and Delia Zapata Olivella Dsay, in Puerto Tejada, for example, where there are also black people, and throughout the Pacific, cumbia is not a rhythm or appears in compositions ... I, who have been in contact with Pocabuyanos Indians since I was eight, who have had the opportunity since I was a child to interact with indigenous wome of 80 to 90 years telling her ritual, the cumbia ritual, I can certify the above, that the cumbia appeared every time the cacique died and they danced around the dead."
In turn, the Africanists place the emergence of the cumbia to contact the black slaves with Indians in ports like Cartagena, Ciénaga, Santa Marta and Riohacha, mainly in the first, during the celebrations of the Virgen de la Candelaria. The Afro-Colombianists dispute the origin of cumbia, and the place it Cartagena.
Some authors assume that the black element in cumbia comes from cumbé, a bantu rhythm and dance from Bioko island Bioko, Equatorial Guinea. The Africans who arrived as slaves to those regions, to tell the story of their ethnic groups and those famous deeds worthy to be stored in memory, used certain songs that they called areítos, which means "dance singing": putting up candles, they sang the coreo which was like the historical lesson that, after being heard and repeated many times, remained in the memory of all listeners. The center of the circle was occupied by those who gave the lesson singing and those more proficient in handling guacharacas, millos, drums and maracas, to sing with delicacy the music of those songs that suffer a transformation, with time, from being elegiac to exciting, gallant, complainant and amusing.
The cultural researcher A. Stevenson Samper refers to the work of General Joaquin Posada Gutierrez, "Fiestas de la Candelaria in La Popa" (1865), where the music and dance of the festivities of the Virgen de la Candelaria described in Cartagena and relates the following description with cumbia circle. The anthropologist Nina S. de Friedemann uses the same text to explain the configuration of cumbia within the scope of slavery in Cartagena de Indias:
Para la gente pobre, libre y esclavos, pardos, negros, labradores, carboneros, carreteros, pescadores, etc., de pie descalzo, no había salón de baile... Ellos, prefiriendo la libertad natural de su clase, bailaban a cielo descubierto al son del atronador tambor africano, que se toca, esto es, que se golpea, con las manos sobre el parche, hombres y mujeres, en gran rueda, pareados, pero sueltos, sin darse las manos, dando vueltas alrededor de los tamborileros; las mujeres, enflorada la cabeza con profusión, lustroso el pelo a fuerza de sebo, y empapadas en agua de azahar, acompañaban a su galán en la rueda, balanceándose en cadencia muy erguidas, mientras el hombre, ya haciendo piruetas, o dando brincos, ya luciendo su destreza en la cabriola, todo al compás, procuraba caer en gracia a la melindrosa negrita o zambita, su pareja... Era lujo y galantería en el bailarín dar a su pareja dos tres velas de sebo, y un pañuelo de rabo de gallo o de muselina de guardilla para cogerlas,... Los indios también tomaban parte en la fiesta bailando al son de sus gaitas, especie de flauta a manera de zampoña. En la gaita de los indios, a diferencia del currulao de los negros, los hombres y mujeres de dos en dos se daban las manos en rueda, teniendo a los gaiteros en el centro, y ya se enfrentaban las parejas, ya se soltaban, ya volvían a asirse golpeando a compás el suelo con los pies, balanceándose en cadencia y en silencio sin brincos ni cabriolas y sin el bullicioso canto africano, notándose hasta en el baile la diferencia de las dos razas... Estos bailes se conservan todavía aunque con algunas variaciones. El currulao de los negros, que ahora llaman mapalé, fraterniza con la gaita de los indios; las dos castas, menos antagonistas ya, se reúnen frecuentemente para bailar confundidas, acompañando los gaiteros a los tamborileros... Antes, estos bailes no se usaban sino en las fiestas de alguna de las advocaciones de la Virgen, y en la del santo patrono de cada pueblo, sólo en su pueblo; en la del carnaval y en alguna que otra notable. Ahora no hay en las provincias de la costa, arrabal de ciudad, ni villa, ni aldea, ni caserío donde no empiece la zambra desde las siete de la noche del sábado y dure hasta el amanecer del lunes...
That can be translated as
For poor people, free and slave, browns, blacks, farmers, coal miners, carters, fishermen, etc., standing barefoot, there was no ballroom... They preferred the natural freedom of their kind, danced under the open sky to the sound of thunderous African drum, played hitting the patch with the hands, men and women, formed a big wheel and danced in couples, but loose, without shaking hands, circling around the drummers; women, with flowers in their head, lustrous hair dint of sebum, and soaked in orange blossom water, accompanied her beau on the circle, swaying in very erect cadence, while the man, pirouetting, or prancing, and showing his skills, all the time, tried to ingratiate his zambita, his partner... It was gallantry in the dancer to give his partner two or three tallow candles, and a scarf to grab them ... the Indians also took part in the party dancing to their gaitas, a sort of flute. In the Indian gaitas, unlike the currulao of blacks, men and women held hand together in the circle, having the gaita players in the center, and couples faced, and were released, and they returned to hold hand hitting the ground with their feet, swaying in cadence and in silence without jumps or without the African singing, being noticed he difference of the two races even in the dancing ... These dances are preserved today with some variations. Currulao of blacks, who now called mapalé, fraternize with the gaitas of the Indians; the two castes, less antagonistic now, meet frequently to dance, accompanying the drummers and gaita players ... Before, these dances were just used at parties of Hail Mary, and the patron saint of each town, just in that town; in the carnival and some other remarkable parties. Now there is in the coastal provinces, city suburb or town, or village, or township were the party has not started at seven of Saturday and last until the dawn of Monday ...
At least until the 1920s, the terms cumbia and mapalé designated the same rhythm in the area of Cartagena de Indias:
En 1921, el presidente del Concejo Municipal Simón Bossa expide el Acuerdo No 12 en el que «queda prohibido en la ciudad y en los corregimientos del Pie de la Popa, Manga, Espinal, Cabrero, Pekín, Quinta y Amador, el baile conocido con el nombre de cumbia o mapalé…»
In 1921, City Council President Simon Bossa issued the Agreement No. 12 in which "is prohibited in the city and in the districts of Pie de la Popa, Manga, Espinal, Cabrero, Pekín, Quinta and Amador, the dance known by the name of cumbia or mapalé ... "
Regarding the cantares de vaquería (cowboy songs) as one of the origins of vallenato, the cultural and musical researcher Ciro Quiroz states about cumbia:
...Era otra más de las formas musicales nacidas del trabajo colectivo, como aquella de los bogas que en la actividad de la navegación fue la raíz de la cumbia o aquella otra de los 'socoladores', llamada 'zafra' en algunos lugares, y que murió al agotarse la fuente matriz inspiradora,...
that is loosely translated as
... It was another of those musical forms born from collective work, like the one of the oarsmen that in the navigation activity was the root of cumbia or the r of the 'socoladores' (people who cleared a zone of trees), called 'zafra' in some places, and that died after exhausting the sources, ...
Referring to the site of origin of vallenato, Quiroz notes on the site of origin of cumbia:
Mompox y su zona de influencia, como parte del Magdalena Grande, debe ser incluido también dentro del territorio donde nació el vallenato, con cunas discutibles como Plato, Valledupar, Riohacha, El Paso y la Zona Bananera. Además de que, indiscutiblemente, es la zona de origen de la cumbia, nacida en la región de la ciénaga de Zapatosa bajo su antigua jurisdicción.
Mompox and its area of influence, as part of the Magdalena Grande should also be included within the territory where the vallenato was born, with disputable cradles as Plato, Valledupar, Riohacha, El Paso and the Zona Bananera. Besides, undoubtedly, it is the area of origin of the cumbia, born in the region of the ciénaga de Zapatosa' under its former jurisdiction.
On the transition of whistles and flutes to the current vallenato instruments, the author says:
...Esta primera transición instrumental es difícil de precisar en el tiempo, pero se percibe claramente todavía hacia finales del siglo XIX, cuando sones, puyas y tamboras se escuchaban a orillas de los ríos en flautas y en pitos cruzados con el nombre genérico de cumbia.
... This first instrumental transition is difficult to pinpoint in time, but still clearly perceived in the late nineteenth century, when sones, puyas and drums were heard on the banks of the rivers crossed flutes and whistles with the generic name cumbia.
Panamanian chronicles and theories
In Panama it´s generally accepted that the cumbia is of african descent. The dance is mentioned in many historical references, travel diaries, and newspapers of Panama during the 19th century.
The oldest news that exists in Panama of the Cumbia, dates from the early 19th century, from the family of Don Ramón Vallarino Obarrio, where slaves dance Cumbia in his living room.
This story was passed from generation to generation since Doña Rita Vallarino Obarrio to Doña Matilde Obarrio, who published it in his "Sketch of Panama Colonial Life" in the early 30th century the XX.
the passage reads:
In the evenings, Creole families would gather to recite poetry and perform music typical of Spain and other parts of Europe. Other nights, they would bring their slaves to play their traditional drums and dances. Among the favorite African dances was El Punto. It consisted of intrinsic and abdominal movements and an African woman dancing alone. Another dance was the Cumbia. For this one, the couples advanced to the center of the room, both men and women, and gradually formed a circle of couples. The dance step of the man was a kind of leap backwards as the woman slid forward carrying a lighted candle in her hand holding a colored handkerchief.
A large dance, similar to the modern cumbia, was described by travelers visiting Panama during the nineteenth century. Theodore Johnson described such a dance accompanied by singing, drums and a guitar when he stayed overnight at Gorgona in 1849.
the passage reads:
The last night we tarried at gorgona, a grand fandango came off, and hearing the merry beating of the drums we joined the crowd. In front of one of the houses were seated two of the men, strumming a monotonous cadence on drums made of the cocoa-tree, half of the size of a common pail, held between their knees, and another with the small Spanish Guitar, which furnishes the universal music on these occasions. The revellers form a ring, in the midst of which as many as choose enter into the dance. This consists generally of a lazy, slow shuffle, until excited by aguardiente, and emboldened as night progresses, the women dance furiously up to their favorites among the men, who are then obliged to follow suit, all joining in a kind of nasal squeal o chant. There is nothing graceful in their mode of dancing, but on the contrary heir motions are often indecent and disgusting.
Near to close of the century Ernesto Restrepo specifically mentioned the cumbia as a dance in the Darien.
the passage reads:
"The dances are generally public and accompained only by the monotonous noise of one or more rustic drums. The cumbia, the tamborito and the pasito are the most common dances."
By the 1940s cumbia began spreading from the coast to other parts of Colombia alongside other costeña form of music, like porro and vallenato. Clarinetist Lucho Bermúdez helped bring cumbia into the country's interior. The early spread of cumbia internationally was helped by the number of record companies on the coast. Originally working-class populist music, cumbia was frowned upon by the elites, but as it spread, the class association subsided and cumbia became popular in every sector of society.. The researcher Guillermo Abadía Morales in his "Compendium of Colombian folklore", Volume 3, # 7, published in 1962, states that "this explains the origin in the zambo conjugation of musical air by the fusion of the melancholy indigenous gaita flute or caña de millo, i.e., Tolo or Kuisí, of Kuna or Kogi ethnic groups, respectively, and the cheerful and impetuous resonance from the African drums. The ethnographic council has been symbolized in the different dancing roles that correspond to each sex." The presence of these cultural elements can be appreciated thus:
- In instrumentation are the drums; maracas, guache and the whistles (caña de millo and gaitas) of indigenous origin; whereas the songs and coplas are a contribution of Spanish poetics, although adapted later.
- 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 reckless
The most relevant cumbia festivals are:
- Festival Nacional de la Cumbia "José Barros": that is celebrated yearly in El Banco, Magdalena. It was declared cultural heritage of the Nation by the Congress of Colombia in 2013.
- Festival Nacional de la Cumbiamba: that is celebrated yearly in Cereté, Córdoba.
- Sirenato de la Cumbia: celebrated yearly in Puerto Colombia, Atlántico.
- Festival de Cumbia Autóctona del Caribe Colombiano: celebrated yearly in Barranquilla.
- Festival de Bailadores de Cumbia: celebrated yearly in Barranquilla.
The carnaval de Barranquilla is the scenario of multiple cumbia performances and contests ; the main stage of the parades, Vía 40 Avenue, is called the "cumbiódromo" during the days of carnival, in analogy to the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities.
Cultural Heritage of Colombia
In 2013 the Congress of Colombia declared the National Festival of the Cumbia Jose Barros of El Banco, Magdalena cultural heritage of the Nation.
Since 2013, the mayor of Guamal, Magdalena (municipality located in the territory of the former nation of Pocabuy), Alex Ricardo Rangel Arismendi, promotes the project to declare the cumbia as Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Nation Colombiana.
In Colombia today
The cumbia is present on the Caribbean coast, in the subregion around the Magdalena River delta invested, the Montes de María and riverine populations, with its epicenter in the Depresión momposina seat of ancient Pocabuy Indigenous country.
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. Modern forms of cumbia are also combined with other genres like vallenato, electronica or rock. This mixing of genres is found in the music of modern artists, such as Carlos Vives, Bomba Estéreo, Andrés Cabas, and Humberto Pernett.
Since the 1980s, in the city of Medellín, there has been growing interest among young and middle-aged people in "rescuing" the masterpieces of the '50s. It is the only city in Colombia where ballroom numbers of Cumbia, Porro and Gaita (an orchestrated variant of Porro Pelayero, or Palitiao) are still widely enjoyed and danced to by all ages of all social classes.
Simple in design but full of energy and life, the cumbia is the folk dance which best captures the spontaneous, fun-loving mood of fiesta time in Panama. The simple, repetitive melodies and accented drumbeats create a general feeling of happiness and gaiety which is reflected in the spirit of the dancers. the tempo is rapid as couples move quickly around the large circle, making individual turns and exchanges as directed by subtle changes in the music.
Music and instrumentation
Music of the cumbia is easily recognized by its binary rhythm and short phrases which never descend and finalize, but seem to repeat continuously. As a musical form the cumbia is well-known today because the melodies and rhythm have been adapted to the modern and very popular pindín. In earlier times as violin, guitar, tambor, caja, triangle and maraca or churuca accompanied the cumbia. Today the accordion replaces the stringed instruments in most musical groups.
the way of dancing the cumbia varies between the different provinces of Panama.
Dancers form a double circle with the men occupying the inner circle and the women the outer circle. Couple circle counter-clockwise and change their steps according to subtle variations in the melody. During figure one, "el paseo", couples stand side by side and circle with a rapid two-step. In figure two, la seguidilla, dancers face their partners and continue circling with small side-ward steps. When the music indicates figure three, "el cambio", partners turn individually and walk around each other as in square dance do-si-do. Once more the partners turn individually and then continue circling with the "seguidilla" step of figure two, The entire sequence repeats several times.
This type of cumbia receives its name from the unusually restless quality of the accompaniment. The tempo is notably faster. While the accompanying instruments play a lively six-eight rhythm, the flexible nature of this meter enables the accent to vary between a two-four and a three-four rhythm. The choreography follows the common cumbia except of the addition of footstamps, "los zapateos", before the last "seguidilla". In this figure partners perform the "zapateos" while circling counterclockwise, then face each other and separate with a series of rapid steps backward, "el escobillado", before continuing with the seguidilla.
Throughout the entire dance couples moves in a double circle with the simple sideward step already described as "la seguidilla". the men freely express themselves with expansive gestures and vigorous dips and squats. More calmly, but with obvious enjoyment, the women circle the dance floor carrying lighted candles in their right hands. when the "tambor cumbiero" (drum) peal, partners continue circling counterclockwise while exchanging positions at the same time. The men move to the outer circle as the women return to the outer circle and the men move to the center. Partners repeat this graceful interchange one more time before returning to the "seguidilla" figure. Without pause one figure dissolves into the next, and the flames of the lighted candles create a luminous weaving pattern on the darkened stage.
Diffusion in Latin America
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 like Lucho Bermudez, Los Corraleros de Majagual, Los Hispanos or Los Graduados took the cumbia to Peru, where it became more known with groups such as Los Mirlos, Los Destellos, Juaneco y Su Combo or Cuarteto Continental who were the first to give a proper rhythm to the Peruvian cumbia using as the main instrument electric guitars. 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 fusionr with rhythms of each nation such as Argentine cumbia, Mexican cumbia, Salvadoran cumbia, etc.
Cumbia and porro rhythms were introduced by Lucho Bermudez, who in 1946 recorded for RCA Víctor in Argentina 60 of his compositions with musicians provided by Eduardo Armani and Eugene Nobile. In the early 1960s, Bovea y sus vallenatos move to Argentina and popularizes cumbia in the country; the same was done by the Cuarteto Imperial, a Colombian band nationalized Argentine. The country has contributed musical compositions and own variations Cumbia villera, which resonates particularly with the poor and marginalized dwellers of villas miseria, (shanty towns, and slums); lyrics typically glorify theft and drug abuse. Undoubtedly the most refined version of Argentine cumbia is called Santa Fe cumbia or cumbia with guitar. In this style the main instrument is the guitar and its compositions are more complex. In the Santa Fe cumbia schemes of two or three simple chords and lyrics about dancing are abandoned, and melancholy lyrics and atypical chords are explored. Its creator, Juan Carlos Denis, is considered a hero of the local music. His creation became popular in 1978 with his album "A mi gente" and the band "Los del bohío".
Pablo Lescano, ex-member of Amar Azul and founder of Flor Piedra and Damas Gratis is known to be the creator of the cumbia villera "sound". However, a lighter form of cumbia enjoyed widespread popularity in Argentina during the 1990s. Antonio Rios (ex-Grupo Sombras, ex-Malagata) is a good representative of the Argentinian cumbia from the 1990s. The emergence of cumbia as a massively popular form of music in Argentina came perhaps with the release of Tarjetita de Invitacion by Adrian y Los Dados Negros in 1988 which was certified platinum, a first back then for a cumbia act.
The cumbia sound from Bolivia usually incorporates Afro-Bolivian Saya beats and tecnocumbia.
Cumbia marimbera (Central America)
In the south and southeast of Mexico (states of Chiapas and Oaxaca) is traditional the use of the modern marimba (Percussion instrument made of native wood from Guatemala) as this instrument was developed in the region, extending its use to much of Central America, particularly in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Since the early 1940s, several Central American composers created music pieces using the rhythm of cumbia giving an original touch.
Among the main drivers of the cumbia are Nicaraguans Victor M. Leiva with "Cumbia piquetona", Jorge Isaac Carballo with "Baila mi cumbia", Jorge Paladino with "Cumbia Chinandega" and groups like Los Hermanos Cortés with "A bailar con Rosita", "Entre ritmos y palmeras" and "Suenan los tambores" and Los Alegres de Ticuantepe with "Catalina". In El Salvador, Los Hermanos Flores with "La cumbia folclórica", "Salvadoreñas" and "La bala". The Guatemalan orchestra "Marimba Orquesta Gallito" is the most famous between cumbia marimbera bands/orchestras. From Mexico, there are orchestras like "Marimba Chiapas" and "Marimba Soconusco".
In Chile, cumbia was also introduced by recordings made in Colombia. Chilean cumbia was born when Luisín Landáez, a Venezuelan singer, achieved success with songs like "Macondo" or "La Piragua" and when the Colombian Amparito Jiménez recorded in Chile "La pollera colorá", among other songs. Cumbia is one of the most popular dance forms in Chile. They have a style of their own, Chilean cumbia, and some of the most successful orchestras of this genre include Sonora Palacios, Viking 5, Giolito y su Combo, and La Sonora de Tommy Rey. However, Cumbia's popularity has been declining since the success of reggaeton in the mid-2000s, losing part of the preferences of the popular sectors of society. However, it has regained popularity in late 2000s thanks to the new rhythms like Nueva Cumbia Chilena, a particular fusion of cumbia and punk-rock styles.
Nowadays, Cumbia is gaining new attention as a result of emergence of acts formed by younger musicians usually labelled as "La Nueva Cumbia Chilena" (The new Chilean Cumbia), including bands such as Chico Trujillo, Banda Conmoción, Juana Fe, Sonora Barón, Sonora de Llegar, Chorizo Salvaje, Sonora Tomo como Rey, and Villa Cariño, among others. These new bands offer some of the classic tones and sounds of Chilean cumbia blended with rock or other folk Latin American styles. La Noche and Américo are also very popular acts, although they perform a more traditional style of Chilean cumbia, in some extend related to the style that dominated during the 1990s. The other substyle of the Chilean cumbia is called "sound", and it is the most popular cumbia style in the northern part of the country.
Orchestras such as Orchestra San Vicente, Los Hermanos Flores and Grupo Bravo perform cumbia with basic instrumentation, replacing accordion with brass instruments and woodwinds, and using traditional percussion and bass guitar.
In the 1940s, the Colombian singer Luis Carlos Meyer Castandet emigrated to Mexico, where he worked with the Mexican orchestra director Rafael de Paz. Their album La Cumbia Cienaguera is considered the first cumbia recorded outside Colombia. Meyer Castandet also recorded other hits, including Mi gallo tuerto, Caprichito, and Nochebuena. Colombian cumbia and porro began to become popular in Mexico combined with local sounds, with Tony Camargo creating the beginnings of Mexican cumbia. Later styles include the Technocumbia, tropical Cumbia, Cumbia grupera, Mexican Andean Cumbia, and Cumbia sonidera, which uses synthesizers and electric batteries.
In the 1960s, Mike Laure incorporated rock and roll into cumbia, to create a new style.
In the 1970s, Aniceto Molina emigrated to Mexico, where he joined the Guerrero group La Luz Roja de San Marcos and recorded many popular tropical cumbias, such as La Cumbia Sampuesana, El Campanero, El Gallo Mojado, El Peluquero, and La Mariscada. Also in the 1970s the Mexican singer Rigo Tovar popularized a fusion of cumbia with ballad.
Other popular Mexican cumbia composers and performers include Efrén David, Super Grupo Colombia, Grupo Kual, La Tropa Vallenata, Celso Piña Y su Ronda Bogotá, Fito Olivares, Grupo Cañaveral, Los Angeles Azules, Alberto Pedraza, Los Angeles de Charly, Los Caminantes, and Grupo Bronco.
Nicaragua became a stronghold of Cumbia music during the 1950s and 1960s. The country has its own variation of cumbia music and dance. Mostly known for its cumbia chinandegana in the Northwestern section of the country, it has also seen a rise in cumbia music artists on the Caribbean coast like Gustavo Layton.
Peru, like other American countries, was invaded by the first cumbia recordings made in Colombia from the north and from the capital. During the mid-1960s began to appear on national discography from various music labels like Virrey, MAG, and Iempsa, orchestras like Lucho Macedo and Pedro Miguel y sus Maracaibos. Since the early 60s', the Cumbia Peruana has had great exponents. While initially had strong influences from Colombian cumbia, over time it has achieved a unique and distinctive style with shades or rhythms influenced by rock, Huayno, native dances of the jungle, waltz, bolero, merengue, salsa, etc., we can say that it is continually changing or evolving. The rhythm was understood soon in all regions of the country, prompting some groups to introduce some Peruvian musical elements, making electric guitars protagonists. Contributions from Peru to the cumbia are interpretation, compositions and variations like Tropical andean cumbia; thanks to the contribution of Peruvian cumbia, this genre is known throughout South America.
Peruvian cumbia, particularly from the 1960s to mid-1990s, is generally known as "Chicha", although this definition is quite problematic as both Peruvian cumbia and Chicha currently co-exist and influence each other (good examples include Agua Marina's popular cover of Los Eco's "Paloma Ajena" and Grupo Nectar's cover of Guinda's "Cerveza, Ron y Guinda"). Peruvian cumbia started in the 1960s with groups such as Los Destellos, and later with Juaneco y Su Combo, Los Mirlos, Los Shapis, Cuarteto Continental, Los Diablos Rojos, Pintura Roja, Chacalon y la Nueva Crema and Grupo Néctar. Some musical groups that play Peruvian cumbia today are: Agua Marina, Armonia 10, Agua Bella, and Grupo 5. These groups would be classified as Cumbia but often take songs and techniques from Chicha and Huayno in their stylings or as songs. Grupo Fantasma was a Peruvian-Mexican cumbia group. Andean Cumbia, is a style that combines Andean music and cumbia. This style has even become popular in Mexico, as some groups like Grupo Saya claim to be Cumbia andina mexicana, Mexican Andean Cumbia.
Since the 1950s the cumbia has great success and impact in Venezuela due to its proximity to Colombia and to the emigration of Colombians. Two of the oldest Venezuelan tropical orchestras that begin to perform and record cumbia in the country were Los Melódicos and Billo's Caracas Boys. The most significant contributions have been creating Venezuelan cumbia styles using melodic organs and harps.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cumbia.|
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