The Colombian cumbia began as many popular Latin styles began: as folklore. Dating back to the colonial period on Colombia's Atlantic (Caribbean) coast, cumbia emerged as a courtship dance and music that celebrated the union of African and indigenous people (called zambos). It went on to become one of the most popular dance styles in both South and Central America and beyond.
Traditional cumbia was (and still is) played on drums, flutes, and percussion instruments of African and indigenous origins, and featured lyrics primarily in Spanish (although Creole cultures tended to mix in African and native words).
The specific drums are the tambor mayor (a carved log drum with calf or goat skin stretched across the top, held between the legs and played with the hands), the tambor llamador (a smaller version of the mayor), and the tambora (a large two-headed drum played with sticks). The smaller percussion include the maracas (larger than most varieties) and the guache (a bamboo or tin tube filled with seeds). There are two specific types of ensembles that play the traditional styles: conjunto de cumbia, which contains the drums and percussion, and the conjunto de gaita, which adds the indigenous cactus wood flutes known as gaitas to those same percussion instruments. (The gaitas were named by the Spanish, who thought they sounded remarkably similar to the Galician bagpipes.) One of the most important artists to actively record, perform, and document this and other forms of Cumbia from the region is Totó la Momposina, regarded as an authority of Zambo (African-Indian) culture and quite an energetic performer, too.
One of the most important artists to actively record, perform, and document this and other forms of Cumbia from the region is Totó la Momposina, regarded as an authority of Zambo (African-Indian) culture and quite an energetic performer, too.
During the festivity of the popular cumbiamba, in which a variety of tunes are played, the women dance with the thundering sound of the coastal drum; men and women are paired loosely without touching hands. You’ll notice that the women make more passive movements than the men.
The women are defending themselves from the insistent flirtatious males who do not stop their obstinate gallantry. In this dance, each couple moves according to its inspiration. The women have slow, sensual yet arrogant movements while the men dance with free movements of the body, dancing in front of, to the side of, behind, and around their partners. They turn their heels, flirt, and make arrogant or insolent acts, withdrawing and moving their hats and flattering the women.
You’ll notice that the women wear skirts or “polleras” and blouses and are barefoot; they generally wear a handkerchief on their heads, large hoop earrings or “candongas”, and heavy makeup. The men are dressed in white with their pants rolled up and long-sleeved buttoned shirts. They are also barefoot and wear a special hat called a “sombrero vueltiao” or “corrosca”, a handkerchief around their neck, a machete, and a colorful knapsack.
There are many Colombian dances to be discovered in the country: Cumbia, Bullerengue, Guabina, Garabato, Joropo, Chirimia, Paseo, Son, Danza, Pasillo (like a European waltz), etc. Colombia is a culturally rich and diverse country, and its dance and music perfectly reflects that. Learn with us joyful and wonderful Colombian music.
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