Laméca file

Afro-Colombian music



1. Black Colombia

"La mica prieta" (gaita) by Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto - album Colores de la tierra (Enlace y comunicación Ltda, Colombia, 1998)

This recording, by the seminal group Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, exemplifies the traditional gaita flute ensemble.
One flautist plays a fixed pattern or melody on the gaita macho (“male” flute) with one hand and marks the beat with a large shaker called maracón in the other, as the second flute, the gaita hembra (“female” flute) plays a melodic and rhythmic accompaniment, at times sweeping into higher notes.
The maracón and the llamador drum play a constant upbeat (much like a reggae guitar) as another musician plays a bass accompaniment on the head of the bass drum (tambora) and makes rhythmic taps on its side of the drum. The alegre drum plays rhythmic improvisations.


The Barranquilla carnival (by UNESCO)


"Mariangola" (bullerengue) by Petrona Martínez - album Le bullerengue (Ocora, France, 1998)

This track illustrates bullerengue music. Bullerengue features the same percussion instruments - maracón, llamador, tambora and alegre - as the gaita music illustrated in the first track. However, bullerengue is commonly sung by women, usually a single lead singer and a chorus, in call-and-response style.
The musicians, singers, and dancers play in a circle, which participants periodically enter to dance. In some regions, the dancers are primarily young women, and in others, mixed couples. Bullerengue may be related to the funerary music of San Basilio de Palenque called lumbalú, although it is also danced as far west as the Urabá region !


"Los campanales" (merengue vallenato) by Alejo Durán - album Colores de la tierra (Enlace y comunicación Ltda, Colombia, 1998) 

Vallenato, the musical format illustrated here, is a narrative genre performed by singers - here the legendary Alejo Durán - and accordeonists, with the backing of a rhythmic scraper called guacharaca and a hand drum known as the caja. The narrative may range from love songs to gossip about local figures, often rendered metaphorically and only comprehensible to those in the know.
Vallenato singers might also engage in verbal dueling, as in the Hispanic oral poetry tradition of décimas.
There are a number of vallenato sub-genres, such as paseo, son and puya. The present selection is a merengue, in 6/8 meter. This genre shares its name with the well-known music of the Dominican Republic, although the two forms are musically unrelated.


"El liso" (champeta) by Luis Towers - album Champeta Criolla Vol. 1 (Palenque Records, Paris, 1998)

This classic champeta, by the veteran singer Louis Towers (Luis Torres) from the town of Palenque, shows in the bass and guitar patterns the influence of South African mbaqanga music in Cartagena, where it is known as bocachiquera because ships arriving from South Africa carrying records docked in the Bocachica section.
Despite its international origins, the songs references local characters living in Cartagena's Olaya Herrera section, a poor neighborhood built on stilts over a lagoon.


The cultural space of San Basilio de Palenque (by UNESCO)


"Providencia Mento" (mento) by Grupo Tradicional de Willie B. Archbold - album Itinerario musical por Colombia (Fundación de Música, Colombia, 1994)

Willie B. Archbold was the last of the older generation of Providence Island fiddlers. This recording captures the archaic format of Archbold's group, complete with a bass instrument fashioned from a string stretched between a stick (with which it is tightened to change the pitch) and a tin washtub as resonator.
Although younger island groups have been influenced by reggae, ragga, and rap (as well as vallenato and champeta from the Colombian mainland), many retain such traditional instruments as the washtub and donkey's jaw as well.


"La quita marido" (chirimía) by Chirimía la Contundencia - album Pacifico Colombiano: Music Adventures in Afro-Colombia (Otrabanda Records, Netherlands, 2008)

This selection captures the raucous, joyous chirimía music of the Chocó region. Although originally based on local versions of 19th century European dance music, chirimía has come to have its own repertoire. It was also not accompanied by singing, although there is a long history of guitar-accompanied song in the region.
The first group to add lyrics to chirimía was La Contundencia, the group featured in the current musical example. Most of these lyrics are somewhat picaresque illustrations of the ups and downs of love, sex, and gender. “La Quitamarido” is a woman´s complaint about the “Husband-Stealer,” complaining about another woman whose sexual charms have allowed her to steal a number of husbands away from their wives.


2. The Southern Pacific

Marimba music and traditional chants from Colombia's South Pacific region (by UNESCO)


3. Currulao, the marimba dance

"Currulao" by Grupo Los Bogas del Pacífico (Teatro Colón, Bogotá, c. 1982)

This video shows the traditional choreography of the marimba dance, or currulao, beginning with the coquettish sweeps of the handkerchief (beginning) and the rhythmic stomps or zapateo of the men (00:46, with a close-up at about 03:15) to entice their partners to dance (01:25). This takes place during the initial section, during which the marimba-players sings a repeated phrase (churreo) to which the female singers (cantadoras) respond.
As the group enters the jondeo section (02:12), the dancers begin to dance in circles facing one another or turning past one another, a choreographic pattern known as the “ocho” or figure eight.


"Adios Guapi" by Grupo Naidy - album Cosechando una semilla

See the accompanying chart (bottom of section 3. Currulao, the marimba dance).
This currulao, by Grupo Naidy replaces the wordless lament of the churreo section with lyrics alluding the sadness of leaving one´s home town on the Pacific coast.


4. Arrullo, a lullaby for the Saints

Epifanía (San José de Timbiquí)

This video, from a regional television documentary, shows the events held around Epiphany day in the town of San José de Timbiquí. Aside from interviews (in Spanish), the clip shows a street procession, to the accompaniment of a bunde, bringing the Christ child to the chapel (01:30). The arrullo itself begins at 03:37 with a juga, during which two women dance toward the alter to offer their prayers. There is a line dance, to a bunde, at 04:09. At 05:30, right before ending, the clip shows the secular dances that are held in honor of the saint, in this case the juga “Bámbara Negra.”


5. Alabados and Chigualo, music for the dead

“Jesús Nazareno” by Dora Bonilla, July Magaly Castro Bonilla, Oliva Bonilla Carabalí, Inés Granja, Yoly Bonilla et Luz Beatríz Bonilla (recorded by Michael Birenbaum Quintero, Santa Bárbara de Timbiquí, january 2006)

This alabado, recorded in a private home by various women of the Bonilla family, is a song which could be sung either in the context of an adult´s funeral or during Holy Week, to mourn the crucifixion.
The selection clearly shows the call-and-response form and the vocal harmonies of the alabados, as lead singer Inés Granja is accompanied by singers taking lower and higher parts to harmony with the main melody.


6. Black Pacific modernities

"Mi varita" (guitar currulao) by Grupo Tamafrí (independant production, Colombia, c. 2006)

This selection gives a taste of what currulao music for guitar sounds like, although, aside from guitar and the traditional percussion instruments, this particular example also includes a drum kit and electric piano and bass. Two typical interlocking guitar patterns can be heard at the very beginning of the recording (one rendered by a keyboard).
Guitar music is typically enjoyed by men gathered in saloons and the lyrics for the guitar repertoire can be rather raunchy: the current track, “La Varita” (The Little Bar) is a reflection on the male anatomy.


"Caso del vencedor" (currulao for mambo big band) by  Conjunto Folclorico La Marucha - album Tumbando casas (indépendant production, Colombia, c. 1964)

This orchestration of a traditional guitar currulao begins, appropriately enough, with a guitar introduction, before the brass section, bass, guasás and bombo drum come in. In keeping with the innovative nature of this recording, however, the guitar is an electric guitar home-built by guitarist “Che” Benítez of Guapi. The bombo, however, is played in a traditional style.
Most of the musicians featured on this record, a vanity LP made by a local Buenaventura doctor, would go on to form the seminal fusion group Peregoyo y su Combo Vacaná.


"Amanece" (marimba salsa) by Herencia de Timbiqui (2013)


"La guayabita" by Grupo Orilla - album Lo que me tocó

In keeping with the importance of Cuban and Cuban-derived popular music such as salsa in the Pacific, this updated version of a traditional juga begins with guasás accompanying a traditional Cuban clave used in 6/8 religious music.
The lyrics translate “Give me, give me, give me, because I am going to give you, a guava from my guava patch.”
The group, Grupo Orilla, is part of a new generation of fusion musicians with Pacific roots who are renovating the sound of Pacific music.


"Somos Pacifico" (marimba rap) by ChocQuibTown


"Ras Tas Tas" (salsa choke) by Cali Flow Latino


"Puro soye" (salsa choke) by Jr. Jein y DJ Piru de Buenaventura

This video, shot in a housing development in the port city of Buenaventura, illustrates the importance of hip hop in popular culture in the Pacific today. In this song and video, as in much hip hop in the region, music, clothing, and dance moves derived from global black popular culture, are combined with such particularly local elements as local slang terms and geographic and cultural references.



1. Black Colombia
2. The Southern Pacific
3. Currulao, the marimba dance
4. Arrullo, a lullaby for the Saints
5. Alabados and Chigualo, music for the dead
6. Black Pacific modernities
Musical illustrations


by Dr Michael Birenbaum Quintero

© Médiathèque Caraïbe / Conseil Général de la Guadeloupe, 2009-2016