Cumbia and Slavery

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Cumbia and Slavery

Postby Mallard » Sat Jan 01, 2011 2:58 pm

The Cumbia and Slavery

When the drum sounds the call for a party and fantasy, boundless joy surges in the soul of all dwellers of the banks of the lower Magdalena River -- the same joy felt by every Colombian, whether at home or abroad, at hearing the exquisite music of a cumbia, the musical air that made Colombia known to the world well before any other of our country’s indigenous airs.

The cumbia is one of the most representative melodic expressions of Colombia. In it, three cultures come together – the black African, indigenous and European. The black culture contributed the rhythm of the drums, the indigenous culture, the flute, a fundamental element in the melody (corn flute and gaita) and the European (invaders) contributed only some variations in the melodies, the choreography and the costumes of the dancers.

The origin of the cumbia can be traced to the era of slavery and is derived from the black word “cumbe” which meant dance. Other derivations were the “caracumbe”, a choreographed game that achieved its zenith in Antioquia when the blacks worked the mines, the “paracumbe”, a dance that has disappeared and “ cumbancha”, that in Cuba means carousal or revelry. But, it is indisputable that the cumbia was born of the cultural fusion of the black and indigenous peoples.

The location of the cumbia’s birth is a subject for discussion for many students of folklore. According to the maestro Jose Barros, the cumbia was born in the indigenous country of the Pocabuys in the region of El Banco, Magdalena; others postulate that the cumbia had to be born in Cienaga (Magdalena) or in Soledad (Atlantico). The only thing known for sure is that it was around the settlements of blacks brought to our country as slaves.


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The Panamanian writer, Narciso Garay, who describes dances and celebrations in his work “Traditions and Songs of Panama” speaks of the ancestral tradition of the cumbia and evidence of it in Panama, to the point of making it seem like the cumbia was born in that country. They forget Panama belonged to Colombia until the beginning of the twentieth century.

In Mexico, as in several Latin American countries, the Colombian cumbia has enjoyed enormous acceptance. Many musical groups have recorded cumbias. But those compositions and interpretations are far removed from the original musical melody. Besides, the instruments used are not the right ones, so instead of paying tribute to the cumbia, they diminish it.

The typical instruments in the interpretion of the cumbia are from two basic groups: percussion and wind.

The percussion group consists of a Tambora (double-strung drum) that produces the bass sound, Tambor alegre (middle-sized drum) that carries the rhythmic beat, Llamador (small drum) that is beat in counter-time, Maracas (hollow gourds filled with capacho seeds), and Guache (a metal cylinder filled with capacho seeds or pebbles from the river).


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Of the wind instruments used in the original interpretation, it is the flutes that predominate. The female gaita (long, vertical flute with a head made of beeswax, vegetable carbon and a turkey feather) has five orifices and carries the melody. The male gaita is fashioned the same way, but has only one orifice and is used for the bass. The corn flute is small, made of a maize or sorghum stalk, has six orifices with a reed and is played transversally.

In the beginning, the cumbia was instrumental only; the addition of lyrics and vocals came later. For a long time it was the dominant music of the Atlantic coast where not only the cumbia is composed and sung, but where typical airs such as the bullerengue, mapale and porro are found. The cumbia is an air interpreted in a minor tone, and only the blacks participated in it initially. Later the mestizos took the tradition for their own.

There are many ways of interpreting the cumbia, obviously depending on the instruments used. Many orchestras have produced majestic interpretations of it, with spectacular arrangements, using high quality instruments and voices beyond reproach, but a particularly important role is played by the use of the clarinet and drums, which also proves to be interesting for this beautiful melody’s diffusion abroad.


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Some groups that play vallenatos, another Colombian song, have also interpreted the cumbia and used other instruments to do it, but without losing the original sound. The interpretation of the cumbia cienaguera by the late master, Luis Enrique Martinez, stands out, as do those of many other artists, especially those of the vallenatos sabaneros, that is, those from Cordoba and Bolivar, who are masters of the masters of this type of music.

But no interpretation is comparable to one heard in its raw and original form performed by empirical experts using unsophisticated instruments, like the flute players of the departments of Bolivar, Cordoba, Sucre, Atlantico and Magdalena in the northern coast of the country where great composers have been born, among them, without taking anything away from the rest, we must acknowledge the prominence of the master Jose Barros.

Also worth mentioning are the contributions of Jaime Bernardo, a musician who has accompanied the guerrilla songwriters Julian Conrado and Christian Perez in their recorded works of the FARC-People’s Army, in beautiful versions of guerrilla cumbias with social content, that recognize our combatants’ valor and capacity for struggle and call on the people to organize to achieve peace with social justice, as well as express the joy of the fariana (pertaining to revolutionary armed forces –ed.) struggle.


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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby American Dream » Sat Jan 01, 2011 3:16 pm

The accordion was added when a European ship crashed on the shore and escaped slaves gathered up the musical instruments from on board.

Or so the story goes...
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby Mallard » Sat Jan 01, 2011 3:44 pm

And thank god cause the accordian is what makes Cumbia good today... imo
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby Mallard » Sat Jan 01, 2011 3:51 pm

Nice, thank You.

Cumbia has its origins in Africa.

During the 17th and 18th century African slave populations of Colombia’s Caribbean coastal towns lived, worked and died alongside the indigenous Amerindian’s, a population similarity exploited by the colonial powers of Europe.

Out of this society cumbia emerged as social and courtship dance, taking its name from the Guinean dance “cumbè”. On certain holidays and special occasions these people would gather to dance cumbia, accompanied by African drumming and singing. The basis of all cumbia is this percussion, to which native Amerindian flutes and shakers were added as the music developed.

This fusion of African and Indian elements created “gaitero” music, which is the traditional folkloric form of cumbia whose sounds can still be heard today in places like the town of San Basilico de Palenque, a walled city founded by escaped slaves as a refugee from the colonial forces. The name comes from the large native Amerindian flute, the gaita. More information & pictures (left) about this form of cumbia including sound samples can be found here, and a 30 second sample can be found in the second track on the Sounds page.

While the cumbia dance developed and stayed very much true to its roots, reflecting the deep cultural basis from which it came, the music, born of a hybrid of two cultures, continued (and continues) to be influenced by outside forces. According to legend, a German shipwreck that washed up onshore is the origins of the accordion sounds which are emblematic of folkloric cumbia and vallenato (another form of popular Colombian folk music).

Spanish and European influences permeated cumbia, blending guitar, lute and orchestral arrangements. In the 1920’s Colombian dance bands began playing cumbia and adding horns, brass and other orchestra instruments. From the small roots of one drum, a shaker and a flute, cumbia bands became veritable ensembles and in the 1930’s when Colombian bandleaders toured New York, the bands had become so large that they could not afford to send all their musicians and were forced to use Puerto Rican groups to perform. (picture source)

This song is a very famous and well known cumbia in the big band style called "La Pollera Colora". You can hear the drums and shakers laying down the rhythm, then the European brass and reed instruments come over the top. The pictures show traditional folkloric dress and dancers. This song is a virtual cultural institution in Colombia.




While cumbia spread across the boarders to Latin America and beyond, at the same time it continued to incorporate more modern instruments including synthesizers and programmed beats. In its travels across time and space cumbia has also spawned numerous genes like cumbia villera. This genre and Pervucian Chicha music are discussed in the Case Studies section of this site.

Interestingly, outside of Colombia, cumbia music has been traditionally associated with the lower/working classes of society, especially in Argentina, where it has merged with the countries class and political issues such as race, poverty, and immigration



In the 21st century with communications technologies increasing the speed of human cultural interaction, the mutations and permeations of cumbia, already adept at spreading its infectious beat, have only increased and its cultural presence has been felt in mainstream publications, especially in the USA with its large Hispanic population. Cumbia’s presence on the internet and blogosphere has exploded since 2005 and it has been one of the main genre’s sampled with boarder crossing DJ’s in the global club music scene.
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby American Dream » Sat Jan 01, 2011 5:28 pm

DJ/ rupture has got it going on as far as nueva cumbia, cumbias rebajadas and traditional cumbias go.

Not to mention thoughtful commentary and a general high vibe....
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby Mallard » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:23 pm

Ahhh.. Monterrey is hotbed it seems. I will give DJ Rupture a listen. I am sure I will like it, and maybe reconise some of it. After years of working with Latinos its amazing the music you hear.

I am really digging 'traditional' Columbian Cumbia.

Here is best Cumbia Cd I ever heard..It really blew me away. I am guessing you know of it.

Cumbia Cumbia
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby American Dream » Sun Jan 02, 2011 8:32 pm

That is one of my favorites- an awesome, awesome album.

Totó la Momposina is extremely high up in my cumbiambera pantheon:





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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby Mallard » Mon Jan 03, 2011 2:32 pm

American Dream wrote:That is one of my favorites- an awesome, awesome album.

Totó la Momposina is extremely high up in my cumbiambera pantheon:







Oh man thats good stuff.
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby Mallard » Mon Jan 03, 2011 2:47 pm

Ok...you got me thinking about influential female singers now. So here is a departure from Cumbia to one of my favorite female singers.

(I wish I knew how to embed a video.....)

Umm Kulthum

This woman broke some amazing barriers and she could sing too.
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby American Dream » Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:02 pm

Thanks for the Umm Kulthum. She is an incredible musician.

Regarding how you post videos, I'll quote from Jeff on Youtube, and then from Arcadia, who was explaining in this case about Google Video, though the same general principle applies in general:

To embed youtube videos, click "post a reply" (not "quick reply"), click the youtube button, and paste within the code only the letters following "v=" found in the youtube link. (Leaving out the "v=".)

all you grab is the video ID number, so if you have this url:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid ... 728&hl=en#

You wanna dump everything before the '=-', and after the second '='.



For more variations of cumbia and other tropical styles- traditional, high tech and other- see also:

Africolombia

and:

dutty artz
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby Mallard » Tue Jan 04, 2011 2:29 pm

I like all that you posted American Dream...Especially Kumbia Queers, Punk Cumbia awsome!
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby American Dream » Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:31 pm

Here is more from Totó:





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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby Mallard » Wed Jan 05, 2011 4:16 pm

Again.... Good stuff A.D.

Cumbia might be my fav as music with percussian goes, then again Rai ain't so bad either.

**HISTORY OF RAI MUSIC**
this word (RAI)literally means(opinion)..RAI dates back to the twenties.women created it.there is no doubt that it come from western algeria,from wahran.these women made traditional RAI influenced by french songs and spanish music was slowly modernized over the years with everything from the violin,te accordion,the guitar,and the trumpet to synthesizer in the 70's . in 1979 cheba fadela sang(ana ma yehlali elnoum)(i don't care about sleep anymore)that was when RAI realy took off ..the first generation of electric RAI was(khaled-mami-fadela-sahrawebenchebat)after them (hasni-zahwania-nesro)and now there is a new generation of RAI singers like (faudel-fars)but mami and khaled still the best....AND RAI MUSIC WILL STILL FOREVER...
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby American Dream » Wed Jan 05, 2011 5:26 pm

Yes- I like all different kinds of Maghrebi music and Cheb Khaled and Cheb Mami in particular.
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Re: Cumbia and Slavery

Postby American Dream » Fri Jan 07, 2011 12:08 am

Not cumbia, but here is more:



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