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La Salsera

This weekend began on Friday night like any good weekend – with salsa dancing! On Saturday afternoon I arranged a screening of Esperando El Tsunami at the beautiful Centro Cultural de Oriente. It’s a mesmerizing documentary featuring the musicians Lulacruza on a trip through Colombia. It has some incredible music and very poetic dialogue about nature and the beauty of Colombia. I highly recommend it! The filmmakers are showing the film via screenings set up by folks all around the world. Here is an outtake from the movie featuring a group, Sexteto Tabala, who I will have the privilege of seeing here in Bucaramanga in a few weeks!

Sexteto Tabalá was founded in the 30′s by Manuel Valdez Simancas “Simancongo” in the famous Maroon village of San Basilio de Palenque. Simancongo was part of the Lumbalú Cabildo (a council of elders in charge of mortuary practices and the organization of all the rituals that are done in Palenque around death – as in the Congo and Angola).

Initially, the group met just to play at funerals and Lumbalú rituals, but began to settle as a band thanks to Rafael Cassiani Cassiani. Since then, their music has become part of the daily life of Palenque. Every week, the members of the sextet go together to work the land; and between blows of machete they sing.

The Sexteto music comes from the Cuban son, who arrived in Colombia in the 20s through exchange with other slaves working in sugar mills. The palenquero son has since developed into a unique genre, staying primitive, spontaneous and mysterious, with magical realism in lyrics. The son is genre unknown to most Colombians, except in the black communities of the palenques and in the Caribbean coast.

After the screening I went out for night #2 of salsa dancing with four other girls. I really can’t express enough to my American friends how otherworldly delightful it is to go out salsa dancing. We first went to a chiqutico (very, very small) club called Salsa y Bembe where we took turns dancing with nearly every person there. What I enjoy about hanging out in these small salsa clubs is that you instantly feel like part of a small community. Everyone dances with each other, sometimes they teach you a new step, everyone requests their favorite salsa songs and talks to you about the music, and there is always someone who will teach you how to play the maracas, guiro, bongos or shekere that are sitting in the corner. On top of all that there’s the fact that salsa music is just so good, I daresay I’ve listened to salsa almost every day for the last 5 months and I never grow tired of it. I am also enamored with the decor of salsa clubs – Salsa y Bembe in particular has these amazing pop art paintings of the great salsa legends that I am always tempted to steal when I go there.

The owner of Salsa y Bembe with the club's record collection. [Photo from Salsa y Bembe facebook page]

The owner of Salsa y Bembe with the club’s record collection. [Photo from Salsa y Bembe facebook page]

After a spell in Salsa y Bembe we headed down the street to the infamous Calison. Calison is always filled to the brim with couples showing off their salsa moves and a palpable energy. I leave you with one of my favorite salsa songs. The theme may sound familiar…it’s the Pink Panther! If you’re in the mood for more salsa you can listen to my ever-growing youtube playlist of all my salsa favorites.

In other news, I’m now learning to live as most Bumangueses – without hot water! Our hot water heater (a luxury) was broken and we’re waiting for the building to install a new one. I’ll let you know, dear readers, if I ever get used to freezing cold showers; at this point it does not look promising.


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