In September 2016, a group of music lovers and avid travellers alike were invited on a wonderful trip of a lifetime, exploring the rich, diverse sounds and culture of Colombia: "the land of a thousand rhythms". For many lovers of latin music, Colombia has the most interesting vibrant music scene in South America at the moment. As accompanied by our Songlines Travel Leader, the group gained a unique access to the artists and musicians, who shared an intimate knowledge of the places visited.
Raxa, founder of ‘The London Jukebox’, was amongst the group and tells us of their experience on this tour...
The London Jukebox
With much anticipation I packed my belongings and transferred from La Candelaria district of Bogota to its more leafy suburb where I was to meet with the Songlines group that evening. This is the area where the well healed Bogotans live work and play – altogether more developed and wealthier than the downtown area. But the focus of this leg now switches to the music and cultural itinerary. Over the next 10 days we will be introduced to music producers, artists, attend showcases at the BOmm (Bogota Music Market, a gathering of music industry professionals of South America), learn about the history of Colombian music, experience first hand the Palenque, delight in the cuisine and colours of Colombia, and so much more.
First, a brief synopsis of Colombian music. Broadly, the music is aligned to the geography of the country represented by four regions – the valleys between the three Andean mountain regions that straddle the country, the Caribbean coast with influences from Cuba and the Caribbean islands (salsa, reggae), the Pacific coast with groups of people of African decent that have remained isolated and which is reflected in their music, and the Amazonian plains – largely cowboy country where the music from indigenous people has a large influence.
Mario in Bogota
I did not suddenly acquire all this knowledge by just being in Colombia – it is very much thanks to Mario Galleano Toro, a producer, artist (he leads the band Frente Cumbiero), promoter and knowledge extraordinaire of Colombian music.
His presentation, in Matik Matik, a small live music venue run by a Frenchman, with understated décor, was a fascinating historical tour through the regions people and the music, intermittently illustrated with samples of music from his original (and hard if not impossible to get) vinyl collection, carefully selected by him for us.
Maite in Medellin
In Medellin we met with Maite Hontele, a talented, beautiful and warm Dutch trumpeter now based largely in Colombia – here she is in Cuba….
She hosted us in the studios of Merlin Producciones who have successfully established themselves as central to the new wave Colombian music.
Her husband is the lead singer of Puerto Candelaria, a contemporary Cumbia group produced by Merlin Producciones. We were then fortunate enough to see her in a live performance that evening – she and her band were sensational. We had ‘VIP’ seats at the venue, but it was not possible to remain seated for too long with this band.
Rafael in Cartagena
In Cartegena we visited San Basilio de Palenque, a town around 70km from the city, and the home of the Palenque people, language and music.
The town was the first to be declared free of slaves in all of the Americas when some men who were transported to become slaves escaped and built up such ferocious resistance to the Spanish, led by Benkos Bioho (statue of him in the photo collage below), that the latter yielded and allowed them their own place.
Much has been written about them as it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.