Transnational Trajectories of Colombian Cumbia

Volume LIII – Number 2

Lea Ramsdell 

Abstract: During 19th and 20th century Latin America, mestizaje, or cultural mixing, prevailed as the source of national identity. Through language, dance, and music, indigenous populations and ethnic groups distinguished themselves from European colonizers. Columbian cumbia, a Latin American folk genre of music and dance, was one such form of cultural expression. Finding its roots in Afro-descendant communities in the 19th century, cumbia’s use of indigenous instruments and catchy rhythm set it apart from other genres. Each village added their own spin to the genre, leaving a wake of individualized ballads, untouched by the music industry. However, cumbia’s influence isn’t isolated to South America. It eventually sauntered into Mexico, crossed the Rio Grande, and soon became a staple in dance halls across the United States. Today, mobile cumbia DJ’s, known as sonideros, broadcast over the internet and radio. By playing cumbia from across the region and sending well-wishes into the microphone, sonideros act as bridges between immigrants and their native communities. Colombian cumbia thus connected and defined a diverse array of national identities as it traveled across the Western hemisphere.

Keywords: Latin America, dance, folk, music, cultural exchange, Colombia

About the Author: Lea Ramsdell is a professor of foreign languages at Towson University. She received a PhD in Romance languages with a concentration in twentieth century Spanish-American and Brazilian narrative from the University of New Mexico.

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