Nuquifestival: A Taste Of The Pacific

By 14 January, 2013

It wasn’t until the Nuquifestival finally began on Saturday night that I got a real taste of Colombia’s Pacific music. Since arriving in Nuqui on Wednesday it was only the emotional, repetitive strains of salsa and vallenato that I heard, pouring out of the local bars and restaurants. In my mind I had imagined that the sound of drums would never be far away, that while walking around the town at night I would hear a drum sounding in the background, the sound of horns perhaps drifting in the night. But all you could hear was the speakers at the bar, wherever you were in town you could hear salsa, turned up til it became scratchy, fuzzy and even less enjoyable than normal. Nuquifestival then was exactly what I was after.

First up on stage – a glorious construction of thick bamboo shoots, palm leaves and beer crates – was four very unassuming ladies. They were here to sing alabaos, funeral songs from the Pacific coast. Far from being morbid dissections of lives lost, these were heartfelt vignettes of everyday life, full of energy and passion; the inexperience that the ladies showed on stage only adding to their charm.

Next up were Nuqui’s very own Los Cumbancheros, adding drums and percussion to what had so far been a purely vocal event. Dressed in bright green and yellow it was now that the party really started; the unassuming demenaour of the lead cumbanchero and his band not stopping their potency for getting the crowd moving. This was tribal music in all the best ways; hypnotic, dripping with sweat and making a direct connection with the audience, who would burst into life whenever a familiar song appeared, or when their elderly frontman took a minute to talk about Nuqui and his life. The only downside was the intermittent role of the MC (a relative of Nuqui’s mayor) who would take a couple of minutes before every song to extoll the virtues of the group, virtues that were clearly present whenever the group performed.

With the crowd swelling, Quantic and Nidia Góngora took to the stage. I had heard this combination one time before, at the Hay Festival in Cartagena last year. Essentially it’s the sound of Quantic playing a mixture of tropical rhythms, focused on building tight grooves upon which Góngora sang. Anyone who has either seen Ondatropica, Quantic Y Su Combo Barbaro or Grupo Canalón de Timbiqui will know what Góngora’s all about, strong female vocals with a variety of interjections to get the crowd going. This is in addition to her normal routine of bringing various members of the audience on stage to spar against her in the dancing stakes. Despite coming from Cauca, and Nuqui being in Chocó (neighbouring Cauca to the north), the crowd took to her straight away. She is a singer clearly passionate about Pacific music and an understanding of her roots which makes her one of the best interpreter of música pacifica I’ve ever heard.

The headliners were Esteban Copete y su Kinteto Pacifico, a group from Cali led by the Chocó native Esteban Copete, a master of the marimba and a fine clarinet player too. It was at this point in the night when everything started to get a little hazy, the beer and aguardiente was in full effect and it was now impossible to simply listen to the music. Anyone was grabbing anyone in the audience, even the poor English guy whose hips simply failed to twist.

Copete and his group play a mixture of music from Cauca (heavy on the marimba) and Chocó (Copete switching to Clarinet for these), with a knowledge of jazz, funk and urban music adding a contemporary edge. It was on the clarinet-heavy songs that the audience truly got moving, helped by the snapping bass licks that generally accompanied these songs. If anything though, the group’s leader never really made a strong connection with the audience, his stories and efforts to pump up the crowd generally not having a great effect. But then maybe everyone was too busy dancing at this point.

As the night moved past midnight and it became clear that the electricity was going to remain on (Nuqui’s generators are normally switched off at this time every night) a local chirimia group took to the stage and the party continued into the wee hours.

As an introduction to Pacific music you couldn’t really ask for more from Nuquifestival, an event that brought together a selection of rhythms from all along the coast and that was undercut with real joy for the music and for dancing. Perhaps the reason música pacifica rarely gets played in the bars and restaurants of Nuqui is due to a lack of it in recorded form, for the people truly seemed overjoyed by the festival. It’s events like this that will ensure that the younger generations in Nuqui and the surrounding villages (who came for the festival too) retain these amazing traditions.

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