Colombia is a country of colors, flavors and rhythms marked by diversity. It’s easy to contrast the green of its mountains with the yellow of the sand or the blue of the sea, and when it comes to music something similar happens. Each region has a different type of music, encouraging you to move and which, at times, brings you back to colonial times. In this article we take a tour through the lands of the most popular Colombian rhythms, so that you can get your suitcases, your ears and your dance steps ready.
1. Vallenato, with accordions and legends
This genre, which uses the accordion as one of its main instruments, has its origins in the Colombian Caribbean, where people sat outside their homes to enjoy the afternoon heat, while drinking a beer, listening to vallenatos and effortlessly putting together a parranda*. Little by little this rhythm began acquiring new nuances and caught on in colder regions, like Bogotá. Nowadays it’s very common to listen to Vallenato in a taxi in any Colombian city, throughout the neighborhoods or while walking around the center.
Its fame has grown to the point that every year it’s celebrated in Valledupar at the emblematic Festival of the Vallenata Legend, one of the best festivals and cultural events in Colombia. This year it will be celebrated from April 26 to 30, 2018 and the honoree will be popular singer Carlos Vives. Find all the information for this event at the festival’s official page.
*Parranda: A party with drinking and dancing
Join the Festival of the Vallenata Legend and enjoy each parade and musical presentation
2. Cumbia, “ay mira que en Barranquilla se baila así”
This musical genre is played in many Latin American countries, however, it’s originally from Colombia. African slaves, during the times of colonization, invented percussion instruments to tell stories of romance and flirtation through music around the fire. During this dance, the woman moves her hips slowly, taking short steps while dragging her feet and shaking her wide skirt, while the man makes a circle around her, courting her.
All of Colombia dances cumbia during the month of December, and in the Colombian Caribbean it’s common to hear it throughout the year. So, if you plan to visit Barranquilla you can take the opportunity to listen to this rhythm some more in the Interactive Carnival Room, Elsa Caridi; or you can go a step further and enjoy local folklore on a Barranquilla Party Bus Tour.
In her famous song Hips don’t lie, Shakira, along with others, moves her hips to the rhythm of cumbia:
3. Champeta, Cartagena’s reggaeton
Champeta in Cartagena was originally used as a way to derogatorily refer to the Afro-descendant and marginalized population of the city. However, with the turn of the century, new music labels arrived that modified the language of the songs and relaunched Champeta with young and talented individuals. Soon, this musical rhythm was playing in the elite clubs throughout the city and has since become a large trend.
Currently, Champeta in Cartagena is part of the coastal culture. A 10 minute walk from the walled city, there’s a club called Bazurto Social Club, a place where one of the most representative groups of this genre was born: Bazurto All Star.
If you’d like to complement the cultural experience, you can visit the Bazurto Market in Cartagena where, along with the flavors and the hubbub of its people, you can learn about how Champeta became part of the city.
Explore the entire city with A Grand City Tour through Cartagena
4. Salsa caleña, from Cali with love
With airs of son, jazz, mambo and bolero, salsa is a musical genre born in the Antilles. In Colombia it gained strength during the 60’s and 70’s, to the point that many cities like Cali adopted this genre as their own.
Cali is known as the salsa capital of the world; why you ask? There are more than 90 salsa academies and about 120 establishments to go out to a pachanga*. If you go up to San Antonio to see the city from above, or if you take a walk through the center or enter any store, this rhythm will quickly reach your ears. It is, without a doubt, the sound of the city! So when you visit Cali we suggest that you to get ready to dance with a salsa lesson.
Every year at the Cali Fair, which takes place beginning December 25th, hundreds of music lovers, collectors, dancers and people passionate about salsa, gather around at a pachanga* to celebrate.
*Party or social meeting that almost always involves alcohol
Let yourself be seduced by the salsa caleña. Take some classes and dance like a professional.
5. Calypso, the islander’s music
The Island Group of San Andrés, Providence and Santa Catalina combine the best of Colombian culture and the Antilles; that’s why its musical mix is fascinating. The musical genre par excellence across this group of islands is that of Calypso. This rhythm, born in Trinidad and Tobago, uses metallic drums, violin, guitar and maracas as its main instruments. It’s usually sung in Creole – the dialect of the island group- and Spanish.
It’s not uncommon to hear Calypso in the rest of Colombia, so if you want to experience this vibrant rhythm, we advise that you visit San Andres and also visit one of the largest coral reefs in the world.
Bonus: Carranga, the countryside’s rhythm
Born in the 1970s, this musical genre from Boyacá is one of the representative rhythms of the Andean region. The way to dance it is in a waltz while enthusiastically moving your hands. Currently, this music is being combined with rock, as done by the Rolling Ruanas, in order to attract more audiences.
The towns surrounding Bogotá commonly to listen to Carranga and, unlike along the Caribbean coast where it’s music often invades the streets, Carranga is a rhythm confined to festivals, festivals and concerts.
Let yourself be carried away by the most popular Colombian rhythms and have fun dancing until dawn. Experience an unforgettable vacation in South America and discover the best travel experiences in Colombia with Colombia4u.
By: Laura García Betancur, journalist and Colombian audiovisual communicator from the University of Manizales, Colombia