As one of the most bio diverse countries on the planet, one tends to assume Colombia has a majestic variety of flora and fauna. However, many people overlook the incredible diversity of music in Colombia. As Colombia is a very regionalist country, each region has developed a distinct type of “traditional” music. Of course, many of these different musical genres are listened to all over the country thanks to modern technology.
On the Caribbean Coast your ears will be inundated by the sounds of Colombian vallenato—a very traditional type of folk music in Colombia. Vallenato is most often associated with the sounds of the accordion, but also incorporates sounds from two other instruments: the guacharaca and the caja vallenata. While it may be hard for the untrained ear to hear the difference, many vallenato enthusiasts argue that the vallenato music of today should be classified as pop vallenato as it varies greatly from the classic vallenato. If you’re interested in checking out some classic vallenato, you can listen to songs by: Enrique Díaz or Diomedes Diaz. If you want to have a test of the new wave of vallenato, check out popular artists Carlos Vives, Kaleth Morales and Silvestre Dangond.
Also, on the Caribbean Coast you will hear champeta. Champeta is a type of music that evolved on the Caribbean Coast and is closely tied to the African roots of many people in this region. This music is not at all similar to the sounds of vallenato, but is definitely worth a listen—and, if you want a taste of real champeta, head to a champeta club!
Heading towards the interior of Colombia, you’ll encounter music such as reggaeton. Although reggaeton did not originate in Colombia, it is a very popular genre. The mountainous region of Antioquia is famous for its reggaeton culture. Reggaeton is a true mix of music from all over the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Puerto Rico. While most of the best known reggaeton artists are Puerto Rican, J. Balvin is a Colombian reggaeton artist who is quickly gaining popularity.
In the plains of Colombia, los llanos, a traditional type of music called joropo is well-known. Joropo music relies heavily on the use of a harp and the style resembles that of a waltz. While this type of music is traditional in los llanos, it is listened to in other parts of Colombia and in Venezuela where it is the national dance. If you want a real taste of Colombian joropo, listen to Grupo Cimarrón or head to the annual Joropo International Tournament in Villavicencio.
While vallenato is perhaps the most recognized Colombian musical genre, the most traditional music is the cumbia. The cumbia originated along the Caribbean Coast and has become a “traditional” dance and music in many Latin American countries. Cumbia was born out of the mixing of traditional African, European and American Indian rhythms. The cumbia is a very beautiful dance to watch as it mimics a courtship ritual. The best way to experience cumbia is at a live performance—during Carnival season in Barranquilla, there are “cumbia wheels” in the popular neighborhoods as well as cumbia performances during the Carnival parades. There are also different restaurants in Bogota with live cumbia performances certain weeknights.
The abovementioned musical genres are only a portion of the musical heritage of Colombia—other genres include salsa, bachata, porro, and bambuco. Whatever you travel in Colombia, make sure you give each genre a try—you never know which one will truly capture your inner rhythm.
Paige M. Poole
About the author:
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com
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