The history of cumbia is a road map that takes you in a complicated serpentine-like journey not only over the Americas, but all around the geographical areas inhabited by Latin Americans. The sonic itinerary gets more nuanced once you look closer at the evolution and social impact that cumbia has had over the decades.
Its birth is rooted in the end of 19th century Colombia, and was founded on the basis of the strong African percussion influences. Being considered as the music of uneducated people, it casted a shadow of stigma on the genre. The raising in popularity started over the 1940s, when Colombian big-band jazz bands, such as Lucho Bermudez's Orquesta del Caribe and Pacho Galan's Orquesta, which incorporates cumbias in their repertoire. Neither of the two composers presented the music in its traditional form, but rather arranged it in a simplified way as to become more accessible to the ears of middle-class urbanites of Bogota and Medellin.
The national recognition of the genre came in the '50s, due to the founding of the first Colombian television company and the development of television broadcast. From here, cumbia spread from Colombia to all over Latin America. A hasty echo of acceptance of the musical genre came particularly from Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Chile, in which cumbia developed differently and acquired a unique sound. Another milestone on its evolutionary scale was the continuous decline of ballroom orchestras and the rise of smaller groups.
By the end of the '60s, the cumbia sound was simplified even more in both Columbia and Mexico. In many cases, these groups used a bass and 2-3 accordions, or, in other cases, they replaced the classical instruments of orchestras with electric instruments such as organs, on which musicians added percussion, trumpets or trombones. This kind of minimal groups contributed to the circulation and popularization of cumbia in every country of Latin America.
Cumbia, as anything else creates by the humankind, is a social construct. It is not a genre that was discovered only once, but rather a continuous morphing category, permanently made and remade due to its stylistic flexibility. It is an ongoing process of transformation through practices and discourses, which created a multitude of sub-genres.
Nonetheless, what you will hear in this episode of Destinations Podcast is a selection of Mexican contemporary cumbias that have their roots in one sub-genre that traversed the '80s and came to maturity in Mexico City during the '90s. Cumbia Sonidera was the mutation created by DJs, called sonideros. The novelties were the shout-outs and the electronic addition that they made while playing music. The sonideros shout-outs had a major influence over the reputation of certain groups which later started using this apparatus for their recordings. The new subgenre of cumbia is now known as sonidera.
Mixtape by Trio Mercur, a project aiming to explore the rough and less produced sound of sonidera cumbia while listening to the standard Cumbia Satanas.
For further investigations check out Back across the Ocean: Migration and musical remittances from Latin America and the Caribbean to Africa, as well as NY Times (with Mexican Soundsystem Cumbia in LA and the U.S.-Mexico Border’s Metal Fence.