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Undoubtedly one of my favorite things about Colombia is its rich musical history. After listening to a steady stream of salsa for a few months I’ve finally started becoming acquainted with other genres of Colombian music. Champeta is a type of music from the Atlantic coast of Colombia, specifically the city of Cartagena. The word “champeta” literally means a type of machete, but was also used as a word to describe the poor, Afro-Colombian residents of Cartagena beginning in the 1920s. During the 1970s sailors started bringing African LPs to the port cities of Colombia and DJs started playing these songs at street parties.

Champeta music was/is played over picós – giant, elaborately painted soundsystems invented in Cartegena. [image from Africolombia blog]

The scarcity of these imported records created a strong sense of competition among the DJs. To prevent others from stealing their best songs, DJs would scratch out the real names of the songs and write their own code names on the record to remind them which song was which. Afro-Colombians being creating their own imitation of African music, combining it with Latin rhythms, and thus Champeta was born. Colombia was the first country to record Afrobeat music outside of Africa.

Lisandro Meza y Su Conjunto doing a cover of Fela Kuti’s “Shakara”.

Son Palenque were one of the most famous Afro-Colombian bands. “Palenque” is a term for a community founded by freed slaves. Many of Son Palenque’s first songs were written in Palenquero, a Spanish-based creole language that today is only spoken by a few thousand people.

And this is what Champeta music sounds like today…

More articles about Champeta music!


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