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La Feria en Bucarafarra

Every Colombian city and pueblo has a week of the year for La Feria – a giant festival that takes over the town. The past week was Bucaramanga’s feria. La Feria began with the Juan Luis Guerra concert I mentioned earlier and an event in San Pio Park similar to A Taste of Denver – there were food vendors selling all sorts of food. Since most of the vendors were offering meat that didn’t look particularly appetizing to me, I just got some old-fashioned American carrot cake. The first weekend of La Feria ended with jazz music in San Pio. Two bands played old fashioned dixie jazz, one of whom featured an incredibly charismatic singer who was like Betty Boop brought to life. Live jazz music is something of a rarity here so I thoroughly enjoyed the concert.

Throughout the week I managed to make it to various events that were part of La Feria. In our main park, Parque Santander, there was a street theater festival with performers from all over South and Central America.

Triciclos Negros from Piedecuesta in the Street Theater Festival. Photo from: IMCUT Bucaramanga

Triciclos Negros from Piedecuesta in the Street Theater Festival. Photo from: IMCUT Bucaramanga

One evening I went with my pals from salsa class to the Festival of Orchestras in the same stadium where I saw Juan Luis Guerra. The orchestra played merengue, vallenato and salsa. The music was pretty good and I got to practice my merengue dancing. Compared to salsa, merengue is quite a bit easier. Another afternoon I went to the bandshell in a park near my house for a festival of folkloric dance. Oh how I love the folkloric music of Colombia! I am still regretting not bring my camera along, but here are some videos of the types of dancing that were represented.

Of course there was plenty of cumbia, a type of dance originally from the Caribbean Colombian coast which originated as a courtship dance among the African population. It has since spread all over South America. You can see at the beginning of the video some colorful banter between the men and women, which is something I’ve seen often in folkloric dance performances. I never understand much of what they’re saying, but it sure sounds spicy!

There was also some MAPALE! Undoubtably my favorite dance from Colombia, it’s an Afro-Colombian dance from the Caribbean coast. I highly recommend searching for more videos of Mapale dancing, I love it.

There was also the traditional Joropo dance. This dance comes from Venezuela, but has spread throughout Colombia.

The last group of the afternoon was the 84 year old Ana Matilde Alvarado Sajonero and her group La Candelaria. I had goosebumps during all four songs that she sang, the group was incredible to see in person. They come from the town of Rio Viejo in the department of Bolivar, about 100 miles north of Bucaramanga.

What I thought would be the crowning jewel of La Feria was the Grupo Niche concert! Grupo Niche is one of the most famous salsa band from Colombia, alongside Fruko y Sus Tesos and Joe Arroyo. They were formed in 1978 and have so many songs that I love. My favorite, however, would be Cali Pachanguero.

The concert took place at CENFER, a venue not unlike the stock show grounds in Denver. There were thousands of people and we were forced to endure hours of reggaeton music. Luckily one of the opening bands, Orquesta Rey y Rey, was not a reggaeton band and played some salsa and merengue. Finally at 2:30, after SIX AND A HALF hours of waiting, Grupo Niche started to play. After all that waiting they only played 7 songs, none of which were the ones I really wanted to hear. So by 3:30 my friends and I were waiting on the side of the road along with 500 other people trying to try to catch a taxi or bus back into town. The night was evidently a disappointment, but also an experience unique to LOCOLOMBIA.

In the midst of all these events was Colombia’s version of Valentine’s Day. Instead of celebrating Valentine’s Day in February they celebrate Day of Friendship and Love in September. In both my salsa class and English class at Colombo we took part in secret friends – you draw someone’s name and buy them chocolates. I may or may not have made myself a little bit sick this weekend devouring all the chocolates I received.

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