With their rhythmical and very latin music, Cumbia musicians have arrived to Europe and have brought with them their political discourses. Through their dances and concerts, they encourage the creation of new identities. With the sounds of the guiro (scrapped) and their distinctive percussions they create a connection between Latin America and Europe.
By Rocío Salazar
Cumbia is a hard to define music style. the sounds and rhythms involved, accompanied by spanish lyrics with powerful messages, make it something that needs to be experienced. It is recommended to listen to the following song in order to make its reading more relatable. If the song becomes too strong for you, and your feet and arms lose control, please feel free to stop reading and enjoy the Cumbia.
You can hear the suffering of my people.
You can hear the pain of the villages.
The scream before death is heard.
You can hear the cry of a mother, for a war between brothers.
The scream before death is heard.
And nothing changes, right? Nothing changes.
And nothing changes, right? Nothing changes.”
– El grito
This is Cumbia. It is music that shouts for justice and defines a whole community in Latin American countries: the poor, the lower class, those who are considered the working force. But the song presented above comes from a very different setting.
Lyon, France. Kumbia Boruka is the name of the music group that created it. They come from Mexico, Colombia, Chile, France and Ireland. Their concerts and audiences are European, who might not even know Spanish.
“Back at Mexico it is the music of the marginalized, considered of the poor people, the drug addicts and problematics,” said Hernán Cortés, percussionist, singer and founder of the band. “In here, even in the social point of view… we do not see that, in here that is not important as it would be back at Mexico.”
Cortés has being living in Lyon for the past 10 years and has worked with important musicians in the Cumbia scene in Europe such as Celso Piña, an important mexican musician that has done several tours all around the European continent and more recently around Asia.
Just like them, in the last six years Latin American musicians and DJs have immigrated because European record labels are betting on this kind of music. With this trend, Latinos become more than just a number in immigration statistics, they are now an influence to the European culture.
The sound of a political fight
This song is dedicated to all the immigrants of the world,
the ones that got out of their lands in search of a better future.
To all those who got out of their lands to search for a better system,
becoming part of the slave workforce.
The one that uses you,
the one that mistreats you.”
– La invasión de los invadidos
“‘The invasion of the invaded’ is a song that talks about the revolt of us coming here and not letting yourself be pressured to have to relegate your culture to assimilate the new one. And that is how we started to revindicate what is ours in our way,” said Kuto Quilla, singer and founder of Tunche SoundSystem.
Hamburg, Germany. This is where this group of Latin Americans eradicates, produces and plays latin rhythms like Cumbia mixed with digital sounds. They don’t consider themselves musicians, they are a family and friends dedicated to show through their music that “there is no revolution without dancing”.
They started mixing music with political issues to show their perspective of life as immigrants in Europe. Kuto said that it is necessary to be political, even if it makes some feel uncomfortable, because at the end of the day everything involves politics.
But in their own countries, Latinos are not always politically or socially involved as Tunche SoundSystem, and if they are from the middle or upper class they won’t always acknowledge the suffering and inequality at home. Nevertheless, their interest to help and defend their nation grows when they are far from home.
“They are very eurocentric and ‘super United States’. In here happens a phenomenon of acculturation, they re-culturize themselves, because in here they realized that Cumbia is something exotic, so then they start their country acculturation again,” said Quillo as he drank his hot wine in the Christmas market located in the Reeperbahn, the Hamburg red zone. It is where all types of music melt together at events and clubs, and where you can read multiple posters that promote equality.
Cumbieros as citizens of the world
“Universal Cumbia, rhythm to dance.
It travels around the world, uniting humanity.
Cumbia without borders, Cumbia without flags.
A song of my soul to ease the pains”.
– Cumbia Universal
Copenhagen, Denmark. Mambe & Danochilango are a band comprised of a Colombian woman who fights inequality in whatever form it might be presented, and a Mexican guy who believes that every ethnic sound deserves to be heard. Within the many rhythms they experiment with, Cumbia plays an important role for them because of the close connection it has with both of their home countries.
“What happens is that we are Latinos but we live in here (Denmark), and we are very well-rounded. I am a theatre artist and he is a ballet dancer,” said Claudia Rodríguez, more commonly known as “Mambe”.
She came to Europe when she was 17, she arrived in Sweden and dedicated herself to the theatre life. Meanwhile, her music partner, Fernando Mora or “Danochilango” arrived in Denmark 24 years ago, hired by the Royal Danish Ballet.
Fernando explained that the fact that they’ve had so much time apart from their country has made them redefine their identities.
“When our concerts start she says ‘we are citizens of the world’. Because, yes, I am from México and she is from Colombia, but we are citizens of the world,” said Danochilango.
With Cumbia, Mambe & Danochilango challenge their audience to go out of the misconceptions and prejudgments that they might have, encouraging everyone to cross the imaginary borders created by their nationalism and to enjoy the music as equals.
“Apart of having a rhythm based in a folklore, or an urban rhythm, our lyrics have a message,” said Danochilango. “It is not ‘just singing’, the rhythm is constructed with the folkloric music and the message behind the lyric”.
Europeans can also dance Cumbia
Medellín, Colombia. Anthropologist and sociologist Darío Blanco, professor of the University of Antioquía, has done several studies about how people can relate easily to Cumbia, like Europeans for example, because it’s a very flexible type of music.
In an interview with El País, he compares Cumbia with Salsa by saying that even if they both are considered very important Latin American types of music, the first one is a stronger creator of identity because it has the ability to be change according to where it’s played.
“It is a music that lets itself be turned around.The rhythmic complexity of salsa is greater: to play salsa and dance it requires skill and training.. is not easily to appropriate,” Blanco said. “Cumbia, on the other hand, is flexible, easy to play and to dance in. Just listen to it, you want to move, but let it do it your way, without demands”
Kumbia Boruka, Tunche SoundSystem and Mambe & Danochilango understand this ability of Cumbia by considering their European public when producing their songs.
The three bands have managed to explore the construction of an immigrant identity,and to influence and help their home countries by including political messages in their songs. At the same time, they have managed to make Europeans dance.
They all agree in saying that it doesn’t matter if dancing is not a central part of their culture, in every concert Germans, French, Danish, no matter what country they come from, they will all dance.