Article by Alex 7 Jun 2012

From its roots on the Caribbean coast of Colombia cumbia has become one of the most popular genres in Latin America from Mexico in the north to Argentina in the south.

It began when African slaves mixed with the local indigenous population of northern Colombia, in turn learning to play their instruments like the guacharaca and gaita flute. Later the Spanish colonists’ influence led to the introduction of the guitar and German settlers at the end of the 19th century brought accordions. Thus the basic structure of cumbia was solidified.

In Colombia the cumbia has two forms; one is as a traditional dance at events like Barranquilla’s world famous carnival (above) and the other as one of its many traditional music styles which received an update in the 60′s and 70′s by the likes of Lucho Bermudez and Pacho Galan.

The success of the likes of Lucho Bermudez meant that in the 1960′s it quickly spread around Latin America. One of its most notable mutations came from the Peruvian Amazon in the 1970′s as the sound of chicha added influences from Western music including psychedelic rock.

Meanwhile the Argentinians have developed two distinct forms. From the shanty towns of Buenos Aires came cumbia villera which told gritty tales about drug use and violence. Damas Gratis are its most famous act whilst none other than Carlos Tevez is a huge fan and regularly sings onstage with bands.

Meanwhile in the richer barrios of central Buenos Aires record labels like ZZK mix the sound of cumbia with contemporary western sounds such as dubstep and other electronic styles.

In Mexico cumbia took on a form called ‘sonidera’ which has since spread northwards into America and can be found in all American cities with large Mexican populations. It was also the most popular style of cumbia as it became popular on blogs such as Ghettobassquake and Mad Decent a few years ago.

Cumbia continues to influence new styles, in the last few years the sound of tribal guarachero from Monterrey, Mexico has become very popular. It seems due a ‘Gasolina’-esque crossover hit much like reggaeton had several years ago and it of course gave us the infamous pointy boots fashion.

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