Derived from the Bantu people’s word to dance in Africa, or is it the South American Tupi-Guarani word for murmuring… the origins of the folkloric Latin American genre of Cumbia are still very much hotly contested. Here at 2gb, we couldn’t give a toss. All we know is, if something’s worth fighting over, it’s sure as hell worth listening to.

Whenever you delve down the rabbit hole of a genre, you’re going to find that it’s far more extensive than you ever realised. With its subgenres shooting off from the main trunk of a ‘master genre’ that now stands tall, rooted into the history of music and culture from the past 20, 50, 100 years, you can soon discover that your weeknight love for medieval folk music and weekend passion for pop have indeed cross pollinated and formed a brand new offshoot of Bardcore for you to enjoy seven days a week.

Having grown from the Columbian coastline communities of Barranquilla, Cartagena and Santa Marta in the 1800s, cumbia is considered an old oak of a genre these days. It’s been walked, donkeyed, bussed, trained, freighted and flown all over Latin America, adding an instrument or altering a tempo as it establishes itself in each destination. Argentina has its Cumbia Villera, Bolivians have diffused the genre with an Afro-Bolivian Saya beat, there’s the now well established Chicha in Peru, and Cumbia rebajada in the barrios of Monterrey, all living in harmony amongst tens if not hundreds more variations. And it’s the story behind the simple and yet accidental discovery of cumbia rebajada in the northeast region of Mexico that has got me climbing this mighty Cumbian oak. Or perhaps more specifically, watching the 2019 Fernando Frías film Ya No Estoy Aqui (I’m No Longer Here) centred around the genre and it’s associated subculture, showcasing it in its natural habitat of the suburbs of Monterrey.

If you haven’t watched it, I recommend you get yourself a blanket and take a free trip (if you have Netflix) to the hills of Nuevo León, all through the power of cinema. And if you can get past the thoughts of how THAT hairstyle ever came into fashion, you’ll be in awe of the kids’ moves as they effortlessly dance in double time to the slowed down versions of tracks that were already 90bpm before they reached the smooth smooth hands of the local sonidero. The story goes that DJ Gabriel Dueñez, a local music digger, collector and mixer (referred to as a sonidero in his native Mexico) was playing at one of many family fiestas in the suburbs of Monterrey when after rinsing six hours worth of cumbia, his turntable began to overheat slowing down its motor and rpm to reinvent the records as unhurried 70odd bpm bruisers.

The reduced rpm really deepens and elongates the singer’s lyrics, bringing them to the forefront of the tracks and allowing them to be digested in time with the music. The longing for their land, the sadness it brings them; this is a theme that runs through much of the genre, as is heard in the film’s soundtrack Lejanía by the Colombian wizard Lisandro Meza:

En mi pecho floreció una cumbia
De la nostalgia como una lágrima que se escapa

(A cumbia blossomed in my chest)
(From the nostalgia like a tear that escapes)

But with a genre this extensive, you’re always going to find a wildcard of an EP (a few if you’re lucky). While Lisandro is a veteran of the game, there are new kids chopping and screwing the genre as they see fit to produce something novel in a genre that has churned out thousands of tracks over the years keeping it fun and fresh for the youth not associated with cumbia’s past. Take the Bogota-based boys, Frente Cumbiero, who have not been afraid to blend the genre with sounds and cultures originating on the other side of the world as they spent 2020 collaborating with the left-field Japanese folk group Munyo Crusaders to produce a unqiue 4 track EP which lays soothing Japanese lyrics over an upbeat and brass-lead rhythm (check out Tora Joe on the B-Side for my biased recommendation).

Perhaps the nostalgic words have brought about a similar feeling in me to rekindle 2gb. Whether or not the case, we’re happy to be back, and happy to be sharing beautiful music with you! Until the next post, que el 2gb se baile la cumbia!