Monumento a la cumbia

Monument to the dance and music of cumbia in El Banco.

Cumbia is a Colombian musical style and folk dance that is considered to be representative of Colombia, along with Vallenato. Cumbia originated from the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Cumbia began as a Courtship dance practiced among the slave population that was later mixed with European instruments and musical characteristics. It was also used during the Colombia struggle for independence as an expression of resistance against Spain.


Cumbia is a variant of Guinean cumbe music. Cumbia started in the caribean coast of what is now Colombia and Panama, mainly in or around Cartagena during the period of Spanish colonization. Spain used its ports to import African slaves, who tried to preserve their musical traditions and also turned the drumming and dances into a courtship ritual. Cumbia was mainly performed with just drums and Claves.

The slaves were later influenced by the sounds of Amerindian instruments from the Kogui and Kuna (people) tribes, who lived between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Montes de María in Colombia and Kuna Yala in Panamá. Millo flutes, Gaita flutes, and güiros were instruments borrowed from these Native American tribes. The interaction between Africans and Amerindians under the Spanish caste system created a mixture from which the gaitero (cumbia interpreter) appeared, with a defined identity by the 1800s. (These gaiteros are not the same as the Venezuelan Zulian gaiteros.) The European guitars and accordions were added later through Spanish influence.

Cumbia as a courtship ritualEdit

The slave courtship ritual, which featured dance prominently, was traditionally performed with music played by pairs of men and women and with male and female dancers. Women playfully wave their long skirts while holding a candle, and men dance behind the women with one hand behind their back and the other hand either holding a hat, putting it on, or taking it off. Male dancers also carried a red handkerchief which they either wrapped around their necks, waved in circles in the air, or held out for the women to hold. Until the mid-20th century, cumbia was considered to be a Vulgar dance performed primarily by the lower social classes.


The basic Rhythm structure is 4/4. Due to its origins, both African and Amerindian influences can be felt in cumbia.

Musical instrumentsEdit

Traditional instruments used in cumbia:

  • Drums: Cumbia drums were of African origin and were brought along with slaves to the Americas by the Spanish conquerors. Africans used wood, ropes made out of Sisal (Agave sisalana), and dried animal skins to make their drums. The drums were played either with hands or with sticks. The ends of the sticks were sometimes wrapped with dry skin to prevent wearing of the drums. Cumbia interpreters produce variations of the sound emitted by the drum by hitting it on almost every area of the wooden base and dry skin. Today, modern deep-toned drums are used in cumbia as well.
  • Claves: These percussion instruments are a pair of hard thick sticks and usually set the beat throughout the song.
  • Instruments of European origin used in cumbia today include the Guitar, the Mejoranera and the violin (in Panama), the Accordion, the Bass guitar, and the modern Flute.

Modern CumbiaEdit

Cumbia has generally been enjoyed by the lower classes of the American continent due to its simple sound and lyrics. Due to the diversity in Latin America, the music has undergone changes as it mixed with the regional music styles. Therefore, there are several variations of the music.


Today traditional cumbia is preserved and considered representative of the Colombian identity, especially on the northern Caribbean coast. It is associated with Barranquilla's Carnival. Modern forms of cumbia are also combined with other genres such as Vallenato or rock. This mixing of genres is found in the music of modern artists such as Carlos Vives.


Cumbia music is the most representative genre in the country, specially in the central provinces of Veraguas, Los Santos and Herrera, and the precursor of modern popular folk music (called Pindín). In this country, cumbia is played with drums, violin and Mejoranera guitar. Cumbia


The music tends to be appreciated more by the lower social classes, and is often scorned by the upper classes. In Argentina, for example, this social divide is exemplified by the Cumbia villera phenomenon that represents and resonates with the poor and marginalized dwellers of villas miseria, (Shanty towns, and Slums). Argentinian cumbia lyrics typically glorify Theft and Drug abuse, much like Northern American hip hop. Pablo Lezcano, ex-member of Amar Azul and founder of Flor de Piedra and Damas Gratis is known to be the creator of the Cumbia villera "sound". However, it must be noted that a lighter form of cumbia enjoyed widespread popularity in Argentina during the 1990s (see Argentine cumbia). Antonio Rios (ex-Grupo Sombras, ex-Malagata) is a good representative of the Argentinian cumbia from the 1990s. The emergence of cumbia as a massively popular form of music in Argentina came perhaps with the release of Tarjetita de Invitacion by Adrian y Los Dados Negros (from Jujuy, northern Argentina) in 1988 which was certified platinum, a first back then for a cumbia act.


Peruvian cumbia is generally known as "Chicha." It is a subgenre of cumbia, and it is very popular with the lower social classes. Peruvian cumbia started in the 1960s with groups such as Los Destellos, and later with Los Mirlos, Los Shapis, Cuarteto Continental, Los Diablos Rojos, Pintura Roja and Grupo Nectar. The higher classes generally view the music with contempt, though this subgenre is starting to become accepted among them, which is a sign of its increasing popularity. Some musical groups that play Chicha today are: Agua Marina, Armonia 10, Agua Bella, and Grupo 5.


Los Ronisch, the Cumbia ambassadors of Bolivia, are one of the most popular Cumbia bands in South America. The press have called this band "the box-office record breakers" due to its vast popularity among people in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador and other countries. The cumbia sound from Bolivia usually incorporates Saya beats and Tecnocumbia. Another important cumbia band from Bolivia that peaked in popularity in the 1990s but remains highly popular is the band Maroyu.


Cumbia music in Mexico is very diverse, with a variety of styles emerging from different regions. In the south, Puebla City is the center of the Cumbia Sonidera, a rebirth of Mexican Amerindian tribal sounds with modern electronic rhythms and musical textures. In the northern city of Monterrey, Latin Grammy nominee Celso Pina y Su Ronda Bogata have popularized Cumbia Vallenato, and fused it with Electronica, Hip-hop, Reggae, and Dub. The emigration of Mexicans to the United States has also increased the popularity of Mexican cumbia in the USA.

More recently, the term "cumbia" has taken on an even more diverse meaning of a radio format that emphasizes traditional popular and folk music.


Starting in Mexico and gaining popularity later in Peru and Bolivia, the style came from the synthesis of Andean "Chicha" and modern Mexican cumbia with the addition of synthesizers and other electronic instrumentation. Due to this technological change to the music, it is known as "tecnocumbia." The popularity of the tecnocumbia has been increasing over the years, and many countries such as Argentina and Chile have adapted it to their particular likings.


Popular with the lower social classes. It is widely danced at parties and gatherings.

El SalvadorEdit

"Chanchona", found in cities such as Sonsonate, follows a cumbia rhythm and uses instruments such as the Accordion, Electric bass, Conga, Guira, and the occasional keyboard. This genre is popularized by artists such as La Chanchona de Tito Mira and La Chanchona del Arcadio. Chanchona sometimes also features a Marimba, made famous in the genre by Fidel Funes.

Orchestras such as Los Hermanos Flores also perform cumbia with basic instrumentation, replacing accordion with Brass instruments and woodwinds, and using traditional percussion and Electric bass.suck it

United StatesEdit

The Kumbia Kings, The Kumbia All Starz, The Super Reyes, Nando y Solja Kingz, Grupo Fantasma, La Internacional Sonora Show, Chicha Libre and the Very Be Careful are famous musicians based in the United States that have performed and/or specialize in cumbia.


See alsoEdit

  • Panamanian music
  • Colombia
  • Totó la Momposina