Music of the Andes: Cumbia

Cumbia is a music genre that has its origins in colonial Colombia. There, it began as a music and dance of courtship between people of African and indigenous origins. The lyrics were primarily Spanish although some words in African or indigenous Colombian languages might be mixed in.

Instruments include flutes, drums and other percussion type of instruments such as maracas or guaches which are tubes made from bamboo or tin and filled with seeds. The addition of bass guitars, horns and pianos were added later.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the style of music spread to Mexico, Central America and other countries in South America including Peru. There, it was to take on some of the flavor of the country that had adopted it. Typically, this meant being influenced by the local folkloric music. Peru was no exception and it blended here with such music as the Andean Huayno, criollo, Afro-Peruvian and more.

In Peru, it was primarily popular with those of lower socio-economic status. The music of chicha was named so due to the group that liked to drink unfermented or fermented versions of chicha. As with the people who listened to it as well, the music was looked down upon by those with higher economic status. The term chicha music is still sometimes used in a derogatory manner.

There seems to be some confusion over whether chicha and Peruvian cumbia are the same or two different styles of music. It might be more correct to say that they can be used interchangeably to describe Peruvian cumbia as it was originally developed. However, it is something that is transforming all the time.

The music often includes the typical rock instrumentation of bass, guitars and percussion. It can vary greatly depending on the region where it’s from although, as a general rule, those in the places in the Andes such as Cusco will tend to have a definite influence of Huayno.

There is usually a higher urban influence in cities like Lima. Some early selections have quite obviously been influenced my American surf music. Truthfully, there can be such a great difference between the music of different bands and different regions that you may find yourself you either do or don’t like the genre only to have a completely different opinion after the next band you here. There is even now a style called technocumbia.

One thing is for sure, though. Despite some lyrics accentuating the lives of the downtrodden, the music is all about having a good time. Even if you don’t love it, the beats still have a way of making you want to move. Cusquena can be the perfect toast to another day; a beer.

By Suzana