The Black Musicians Who have Put Colombia on the Map
(5/29/2019) The members of the band Chocquibtown are from El Chocó, a region in the Colombian Pacific where biodiversity reigns, but where you also find “mines full of gold and platinum, pointless self-discrimination, imminent racism, population displacement due to conflicting land interests and a lot of corruption”.
This is how Goyo, Tostao and Slow rap about it in “De donde vengo yo” (Where I Come From), a song that blends the musical genius of a group that fuses hip hop, Jamaican reggae and rap with electronic and local African sounds (like the currulao and the bunde). They are part of the leading voices of the new Colombian black music.
They recorded it in 2010 and its global reach was such that the Latin Grammy Awards recognized it as “Best Alternative Music Song”. By then, Chocquibtown’s songs had already conquered radio stations, festivals and concerts in more than 20 countries for over six years, breaking down cultural and linguistic barriers.
The lyrics, written and produced by them, have political and social content. They seek to vindicate the Afro-Colombian race in all of Latin America and shout their “pride of being black and from territories where our ethnic group is predominant”, Tostao says.
Chocquibtown: a Play on Words
Chocquibtown could be difficult to understand; but for real fans, it’s a simple pun that is easy to pronounce and write.
When the band was created 17 years ago, the three members wanted a name similar to the word downtown to represent their home, house, town. They added something from their native Chocó, (a Colombian department) and its capital Quibdó. This is how Chocquibtown was born.
A name that, according to the band, matches its philosophy: “We are people of love, of good vibes, who produce good lyrics and work fearlessly for our culture and our region, without harming anyone”, they state. They succeeded outside of Colombia by showing that it is a multi-ethnic and multicultural country, a country of white, African and indigenous people.
Various bands and artists, from Led Zeppelin, Gorillaz and Bob Marley, to musicians from Chocó, such as Grupo Niche, Guayacán and Zully Murillo La Banda, have influenced every musical piece by Chocquibtown, enshrined in eight albums and a score of successful singles.
Black Colombia: a Celebration of Music Genres
Chocquibtown cannot be categorized into a single musical genre. They rap, but they also sign Salsa, Dance Hall, Ballads, Vallenato and even Reggaeton.
“Music genres are not restrictive for us. Funk, folklore, ballad … we do what we have to do as long as it has a good vibe and it feels right, says Tostao.
Going through Chocquibtown’s repertoire is proof of that. When you listen to El Bombo, Somos Pacifico y Calentura, you want to learn more about the Afro rhythms and the black peoples of Colombia. But when you come across Salsa & Choke and Uh la la you become intoxicated with the rhythms of the Colombian Caribbean.
Related article: Colombia and the Artistic Footprint of its Black Population
Ballad and reggae lovers find in Nuqui and Desde el día en que te fuiste (since the day you left), plenty of reasons to believe in love.
How do they achieve it? Perhaps the secret to succeeding in any musical genre is the blood bond and the family complicity that unites them (Goyo is Slow’s sister and Tostao’s wife).
Each one contributes with his or her talent. Slow is in charge of beats, production and electronic rhythms. Tostao handles the production and with Goyo, the female soul of the band, they create lyrics that speak of the Pacific, of Colombia, of love and of unity.
At present, the single Pa olvidarte earned them a platinum disc in Colombia and placed them on the radar of Latin Reggaetón, thanks to the remix recorded with Zion and Lennox, Manuel Turizo and Farruko.
Outside the music field, the band is part of the “#RacisNO” campaign, promoted by the Bogota City Hall and supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to fight against racism in Colombia. They collaborate with brands, such as Seven Seven, with their own clothing line, and with yellow, green and blue as the main colors, in honor of their Chocoan flag.
Tostao told PanamericanWorld that, in the future, he expects: “Chocquibtown to reach the top charts without interfering with others, opening the way for new Colombian musicians and continuing to sing the stories of our nation, of our people.”
Mauro Castillo and His Export Salsa
Mauro Castillo is an artist in every sense of the word. He sings, composes, acts, produces and plays the trombone, but if you ask him to choose, Salsa will always be his first choice.
Mauro Castillo is from Cali, known as the Salsa Capital of the World. This tropical rhythm, which in that Colombian city is sung and danced differently from Cuban and Puerto Rican Salsa, fascinated him when he was barely coming out of the university.
“I trained in lyrical singing, chamber music and I learned to play the trombone, but when I first heard the Niche group, it was an indescribable attraction. I wanted to produce and sing Salsa”, Castillo recalls.
Soon his voice began to be known in the Grupo Niche, one of the most emblematic in this genre, which took him in as soon as they heard him sing.
He immortalized the song Ganas, before joining a personal project as soloist. Viene y se va and Te equivocas are two of the songs that Mauro has made popular outside of Colombia.
People in Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, and even in distant lands like Russia and Malaysia, have danced to Mauro’s music. And, according to him, “any other spot where there is a Colombian colony”.
The Trombone, Mauro Castillo’s Ally
Playing the trombone is that plus with which Castillo is featured in his performances and music videos. It follows him as a faithful companion, as the vehicle through which his own feelings emerge as a man, artist and Colombian.
The reason why he took up this instrument is “because it has a lot of strength and nuances. It is an unpredictable instrument because, if you stop playing it for a while, it is very difficult to pick up again”.
In addition, the influence of groups, such as Puerto Rican Power, Herencia de Timbiquíy and Chocquibtown itself, have helped Castillo make his way in this tropical genre.
This comes through in his recent song Tumbao Marimba, a tribute to the marimba de chonta, a percussion instrument that connects Afro descendants from the Pacific and the Caribbean with their Colombian roots.
The audiovisual theme is yet another spectacle that honors Colombian blacks. The story deals with the most autochthonous elements of their culture: models with braided hair and turbans, accessories with woven beads, Salsa from Cali with acrobatics and colorful costumes.
His skin color has never been an obstacle. “I use music as an element of impact and transformation with messages of unity and celebration”, says the artist, who is scheduled to visit the United States and Australia to continue spreading his good Salsa.
Los K Morales and the New Vallenato Wave
In Vallenato jargon, the families integrated by parents and children who play, sing or compose this musical genre are acknowledged as Vallenato dynasties. The Morales is headed by Miguel Morales, singer of Vallenato romantic lyrics of great fame in Latin America and the Latin community of the United States and Canada.
Kaleth Morales was their oldest son and was the pioneer of the so-called New Vallenato wave in Colombia, but his early death, in 2005, left a gap in that emerging musical style, which is characterized by fusing the classic accordion sound with more youthful rhythms, such as Pop and Reggaeton.
Kanner and Keyner are Kaleth’s brothers and that same year they set out to preserve and continue his legacy. “We were all called to make music”, they say, emphasizing that their task is to rejuvenate the Vallenato with fun lyrics and modern melodies for a more youthful audience.
The more revolutionary style of Los K Morales
From the Colombian coast they have traveled through neighboring countries and other more distant ones like Mexico and Chile, to show the sonorous diversity of the Vallenato. “The goal of Los K Morales, with a more revolutionary style than that produced by Kaleth, is for new generations to fall in love, dance and value this genre that identifies us as a country”, adds Keyner.
Just as Silvestre Dangond, the current Colombian star of Vallenato worldwide, Los K Morales take the accordion, the caja and the guacharaca to produce more urban and commercial rhythms that can conquer spaces outside of Colombia.
Internationalization has always been the goal of the duo. In 2017, they represented Colombia at the Viña del Mar Festival. They participated in the folk competition and made it to the finals. That same year, a series inspired by the life of the dynasty of which they are part premiered on national television.
Attached to the new digital music platforms, Kanner and Keyner have set out to record singles, as requested by their followers. With the song La manzana they have put all their energy and talent so that it becomes a hit in nightclubs the world over and drive thousands to dance to their rhythm, accompanied by the conga, the accordion and the guacharaca.
Article written by Alicia Pepe.