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The History of Colombian Pop Music
by Alex Cosper (4/30/13)

The pop music of Colombia has evovled from centuries of tradition music that traces back to Spain and Africa with Caribbean influences. Pasillo is a type of waltz music that developed in the 19th century and became deeply embedded in the culture. Porro music, influenced by European military marching bands, became a form of big band ballroom music starting in the 1940s. A rural type of folk music known as vallenato dates back to the days of Spanish minstrels. Since the 1970s the Vallenato Legend Festival is held every April in the city of Valledupar, helping boost new music talent. Another important musical style is cumbia, which mixes indigenous Colombian music with Spanish and African styles.

Cumbia has gone through a substantial evolution over the past century. Originally, cumbia bands were based on just percussive instruments and vocals. The big band era ushered in brass instruments and eventually keyboards became an important part of cumbia music. The record label Discos Fuentes was formed in 1934 by Antonion Fuentes, promoting styles such as cumbia and fandango along with merengue and salsa. The label became very successful in the 1960s and helped paved the way for other Colombian labels. In the 1940s cumbia began to move from rural areas to the mainstream. By the 1950s it was very popular. Lucho Bermúdez was a multi-instrumentalist who mixed traditional styles and was one of the first artists to promote Colombian music outside of the country.

During the 1950s rock and roll began to infiltrate the country from Mexico, inspiring a wave of regional rock bands such as Los Speakers and The Flippers. By 1967 the Colombian band Génesis began integrating cumbia with rock and folk. It was an era that experienced a lot of fusion of traditional and modern styles. A group formed in 1970 called Fruko y sus Tesos helped popularize salsa in Colombia. The group was headed by Julio Ernesto "Fruko" Estrada, who is referred to as "the godfather of salsa." He was heavily influenced by the salsa music in New York from a group called the Fania All-Stars. He it back to Colombia, leading to a string of hits such as "Barranquillero Arrebatao," "El Patillero" and "Los Charcos." Estrada as a teen has been part of an earlier legendary group called Los Corraleros de Majagual.

Vallenato music, which is similar to cumbia characterized by the accordion and heavy bass guitar, became popular in the 1980s. Some of the artists who helped make it popular were Alejo Duran, Alfredo Gutiérrez and Lisandro Meza. The style has led to numerous subgenres such as vallenato-protesta, a form of social commentary music, and the Cuban style charanga vallenata. Latin Grammy winner Carlos Vives pushed the boundaries of vallenato into a more rock presentation with his 1993 album Clásicos de la Provincia. The album featured well known traditional songs with an emphasis on accordion. The album was widely embraced by multiple generations, spawning hits such as "La Hamaca Grande" and "La gota fría."

Hip hop started becoming popular in Colombia in the late 80s. One of the major rock breakthroughs in Colombia that has transformed into an international act has been the Monas. Their 2006 self-titled debut album gained attention with the hits "Cae la Noche" and "Tu." But easily the most popular act to come from Colombia has been Shakira. She has consistently releases big selling worldwide albums since Pies Descalzos in 1995. Some of her huge international hits have included "Whenever, Wherever" and "Hips Don't Lie." Other artists to gain notoriety in Colombia have included Juanes, Lusas Arnau, Los de Adentro, Fonseca and Maía.

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