This post is way overdue. I was waiting for my past employer, Summerstage, to post it on their blog – but that never happened. So enjoy my coverage of my last trip to Cartagena, Colombia in December 2012. Also, if you’re interested, as a supplement you should read Chief Boima’s reflections on Gentrification and culture in Cartagena for MTV Iggy:

From December 5 – 8, 2012 – in the historic colonial center of Cartagena de Las Indias on the Caribbean coast of Colombia – El Mercado Cultural Del Caribe (in it’s 5th year) gave platform to artists from all over the country to share, shine and learn.


With a special focus this year on the region’s indigenous and Afro-Descendant music, we converged, as representatives of festivals and venues across the world, to listen to the overwhelming variety of rhythm movements of the past and present: folks like Diana Ezerins (Kennedy Center in DC), Sarah Rucker (Texas Folklife), Allie Silver (Free Radical Productions), Eddie Cota (Levitt Pavilion in LA) and Melanie Fernandez (Harbourfront Center in Toronto).

Historic Cartagena
Historic Cartagena

From folklore dance troupes to experimental theater groups, drum-worshipping percussion collectives to fusion-focused future music makers, matriarch-led “tambor” music of the Palenque to young women from the capital city celebrating the same tradition – I met entrepreneurs, DJs, artists and musicians enthusiastically creating sounds which fight to be heard and celebrated outside of the region.

Mujeres de musica tambor - showcase!
Mujeres de musica tambora – showcase!

Myself and the delegates from abroad sat down with over bands and groups for 15 minute intervals across two days.  There were also professional panels and workshops which bands and managers attended with notepads in hand.  There was even a recording session where alternative producers from Cartagena recorded traditional acts.

Cartagena Alternative - compliation featuring a lot of local acts!
Cartagena Alternativa – compilation featuring a lot of local acts!

It became apparent that though there was a lot of desire to play out into the world, a lot of the groups were not well-versed on the complicated, resource-needed road to touring abroad.

Tomas of the Batata family y Los Alegres Ambulancias!
Tomas of the Batata family y Los Alegres Ambulancias!

I started to prepare hand-written “roadmaps” to conferences and people which the bands should know about like APAP in New York in January and WOMEX in Europe in October.  For more alternative bands, I suggested the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC) in New York in July, which houses two concerts at Summerstage every July.

Charles King's manager let me flip through this book about Champeta!
Charles King’s manager let me flip through this book about Champeta!

During the evenings, we enjoyed performances in various Plaza’s throughout colonial Cartagena, those same plaza’s where slaves were sold and bought (Cartagena was one of the main ports for the Slave trade), independistas sacrificed and new worlds found; a common primordial beat raced through our hearts, pounding.

View from the lovely Centro Espana - site of El Mercado.
Ocean view from the lovely Centro Espana – site of El Mercado.

We smiled and danced as those we met earlier at the conference during the day shone their light on us with the ocean in the distance, sweat trickling down our necks and the humid scent of rum on our breath.

Courtesy of El Mercado Cultural del Caribe!
Courtesy of El Mercado Cultural del Caribe!

Thought I would highlight some groups, but you can find all the bands who performed here.

Bazurto is a band of dynamic champeteros – meaning they make champeta, which according to Wikipedia: “Champeta is the cultural phenomenon and musical genre of independent and local origin from the African descendents in the areas in and around Cartagena de Indias, (Colombia).”  Past Summerstage performers, Bomba Estereo, tap into Champeta in a lot of their music.  What I think sets Bazurto apart is the collective nature – they have a club night called Bazurto Social Club every Thursday – where they perform their lively fusion, weaving in hip-hop, dancehall and other influences.  This is a great EPK where the band tells their origin story and compares their musical mixture to the variety found at a typical open-air market in Cartagena:

Bazurto All-Stars!
Bazurto All-Stars!

A collective of young women from Bogota who play traditional tambor music from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Aguasala formed their collective in 2008.  According to their bio:  “They keep on, learning to communicate through nature, talking with her and reconnecting with her as women from the Capital city: the ridges and mountains, wanting to express feelings of nostalgia, love, life and death and above all, celebration.  The music connects all people, it’s fun and celebratory.”  Learn more about the group here.

Palpitar means heartbeat – Aguasala’s CD!

Las Alegres Ambulancias started in 1905 in Palenque de San Basilio to preserve the musical tradition of the grandmothers, mothers, aunts and fathers who were its members, all part of the extended Batata family. Las Alegres Ambulancias has been transformed from generation to generation, evolving with the community, its traditions, fiestas, funerals and daily life in general.”  San Basilio de Palenque is considered the first free town in America, in case you did not know.  After the conference I spent time in Parque Tayrona near Santa Marta and had this CD on me.  Being by the ocean, hearing the drums, tapping into my heartbeat…this is MUSIC!!!!  Learn more about the history of the village here and Las Alegres Ambulancias here.  Watch this very informative EPK:

Las Alegres CD!

Funk-Cho (name: Alfonso Salas) is a modern day troubadour for Latin America, a singer-songwriter incorporating funk, pop, jazz, pop and folk with an undeniable Caribbean perspective.  Born in Cartagena, Funk-Cho lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he and his band, The Caribe Funkers operate from.  In this feature profile piece in Cartagena’s lead paper, El Universal, Funk-Cho expands: “Most afro-descendant music is connected.  I’m not sure if it has something to do with the heart, but there’s always been a consistency – in the bass, in the percussion – it’s a strong root, so Funk and El Caribe go together.” Hear more on Soundcloud.

Funk-Cho y The Caribe Funkers
Funk-Cho y The Caribe Funkers

CHARLES KINGEl Palenquero Fino,’ Charles King is one of the OG’s of champeta music, a pioneer.  He toured in the US for the first time last year and even shot a video in Coney Island (watch).  He was super jovial in person and eager to get Champeta out to Europe and the States.  Given his team and organization, I think he’s got a great chance.  Watch this great coverage from Colombian National Radio.

Charles King
Charles King (Photo via El Mercado)

Finally, when I got back to New York City, Julianne Escobedo Shepard (aka Jawnita) had me on her East Village Radio show, Universópolis.  I fleshed out the trip some more and played some other artists I learned about, so if you’re interested in hearing that, the playlist action is here: the archive by hitting LISTEN on 1/12/13:

Tune-in every Saturday from 4 - 6 PM EST!
Tune-in every Saturday from 4 – 6 PM EST!

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