The Rough Guide To Cumbia

Cumbia, originally from the coastal regions of Colombia, is an internationally beloved genre of tropical music (and dance) with a syncopated 4/4 rhythm characterized by call-and-response vocals, a rolling drumbeat and a simple, repetitive timekeeping percussion laid out on the maracas (gourd shakers) or the raspy guacharaca scraper.

This Rough Guide transverses a wide range of cumbia styles and sounds. The album opens with ‘La Guacharaca’ by Medardo Padilla Y Su Conjunto an example of the cumbia as played by traditional folkloric groups from the coast of Colombia. Essential to any guide to cumbia is clarinettist Lucho Bermúdez (1912–1994), one of the founding fathers of the modern coastal sound of tropical music. ‘Gaita De Los Flores’ pays tribute to the indigenous and humble gaita, but updates the instrument with the European clarinet, changing the feel from Indian flute to mambo/swing big band in the mould of Pérez Prado or Glenn Miller. Other gems included ‘Luz De Cumbia’, Aníbal Velásquez’s infectious tropical jam that describes the romantic night-time dancing in a traditional candle-lit cumbiamba (‘cumbia party’).  Another killer track ‘Noche De Cumbia’ was a big hit in 1977 for Barranquilla-born singer and composer Adolfo Ernesto Echeverría Comas. The lively track demonstrates his unique sound which combines the folkloric music of his Atlantic coastal region with muscular New York-style salsa arrangements.

Cumbia has enjoyed a revival in recent years and is filling up dance floors again. Heading up the modern contingent is the closing track from El Hijo De Cumbia. The Argentinan DJ has become famous for his own brand of modern cumbia (sometimes referred to as cumbia villera) that combines elements of hip-hop, reggae and digital dancehall.

Explore the roots and reverberations of cumbia on this comprehensive Rough Guide.