What Is Cumbia?

A public cumbia dance in Colombia (source)

is the name given to a series of unfolding musical forms originally from Colombian. It refers to the music, from its traditional folk origins to the latest modern derivations, the basic shuffling 4/4 rhythm which informs them all, and the dance which developed hand in hand with the music.

Originating from Colombia in the 19th century, cumbia has spread worldwide and along the way created various local variants and mixed with many other types of music, including reggae, electro, and hiphop. Traditional cumbia folk music is still very much active and popular in Colombia, while at the same time more modern cumbia music is popular across Latin America and its diasporic communities; especially many if its local variants.
Take a listen to the first mix on the Sounds page for examples of these hybrid and traditional cumbias.

As a cultural artifact cumbia is quite interesting in that it exemplifies the cultural history of Colombia and Latin America in general with its mixing of African percussion and call and response music, indigenous Amerindian flutes, and later, European brass and orchestral instruments. A hybrid music through and through, cumbia is an example of one of the worlds authentic and successful tri-cultural amalgamations.

Carnival in Colombia (source)

As a distinctly Caribbean rhythm, cumbia has sometimes been called the missing link between salsa and reggae, and its very simple base lends itself to mutability and proliferation. Indeed ethnomusicologists have called it the mother of the Latin rhythms.

Culturally cumbia is the national music and pride of Colombia, and has also been embraced in interesting ways as one of the most popular musical styles in the whole of Latin America.