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Cumbia refers to a number of musical rhythms and folk dance traditions of Latin America, generally involving musical and cultural elements from American Indigenous peoples, Europeans and African slaves during colonial times. [1] Cumbia is said to have come from funeral traditions in the Afro-Colombian community.


Cumbia traditionally uses three drums ( tambora , tambor alegre  [ es ] and llamador), three flutes (gaita hembra and gaito macho, both forms of Colombian flute  [ es ], and flauta de millo ) and has a 2
or 2
meter. [2] The sound of cumbia can be characterized as having a simple "chu-chucu-chu" rhythm created by the guacharaca. [3] The genre frequently incorporates brass instruments and piano. In order to properly understand the interlocking relationship between cumbia's roots and its Pan-American (and then global) routes, Colombia's geocultural complexities must first be taken into account to comprehend the genre and its subgenres.

Most Hispanic American countries have made their own regional version of Cumbia, some of them with their own particularity.

Examples of cumbia include:

History of Colombian cumbia

Cumbia's background came from the coastal region of Colombia. [7] To be more specific, its dance came from a coastal traditional culture, as cumbia had multiple ethnic influences that originated from this region. One of the biggest factors of its heritage is the African influences that was brought over by the African slaves imported from the colonization of the Spaniards. The influence came from the costeño [8] dance. Another influence was the integration of Spanish people. The Spanish folksongs with influences from the indigenous caused the fusion of races and the elements of their cultures were likewise fused. [9]

The history of cumbia has evolved throughout the years, known as a street dance but had a period of transiting into a ballroom dance. [10] Cumbia is commonly known for having many subgenres from different countries which contributes to the different dance styles known. Cumbia can be referred to as a folk dance while also being known globally as a street dance. To better understand what the dances of cumbia resemble it's better to know the basics of the dance. Cumbia is danced in pairs, consisting the amorous conquest of a woman by a man. This is crucial since the dance from the Atlantic coast [11] has the woman holding a candle in her right hand. This serves as two narrative functions; one to light the way for the dancing woman and the latter for a more serious motif. The latter can be portrayed in an imaginative sentence as a weapon by which the woman defends herself against the advances of her partner. [11]

Since the 1950s, cumbia has been an art form that is stylized, orchestrated and lyricized, contrary to the traditional form. This has diverged through the years and the world-known genre even had a brief period in the 1970s where it lost its popularity.

Expansion into Latin America

As the genre evolved, it expanded throughout Latin America. The expansion has led to the creation of new variations on the form, and international recognition of the genre changed public perceptions. Cumbia almost disappeared in Colombia in the 1970s after the introduction of salsa. Although that was detrimental it could be argued that cumbia found stability in Central America, Mexico, and Peru. [12] The transformation of cumbia in other countries to better align with the taste of populations with very different aesthetic traditions from the strongly African-derived coastal culture [13] from which it originally emerged.

Representing cumbia being perceived as expressing the harmonious outcome of racial and cultural blending, this socially affected the public views on the region's highly discriminated mestizo working class. Socially and economically some changed their views on mestizos due to cumbia being a large factor in shaping their perspective - except in Argentina, where it's still largely seen as vulgar and offensive by much of the middle class and has thus mostly helped reinforce lower class stereotypes. [14]

Regional adaptations of Colombian cumbia





Costa Rica


El Salvador










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