Cartagena: African legacy in America

By 17 May, 2011

Back from Isla Grande, we spent a few days in Cartagena, a beautiful city, also one of the most important historical ports in the American continent. The city is Colombia’s prime tourist destination, a vibrant place, full of contrasts. Cartagena is one of the places where the indigenous, European and African cultures most intensely mixed.

We were accompanied by Lucas Silva, a Colombian DJ, producer and music lover, that has dedicated many years of his life to record, manage and spread Afro-Colombian music internationally. On our first day, he introduced us to Viviano Torres, aka Ane Swing. He is a pioneer of champeta, a uniquely Colombian musical style, born from a mixture of African styles (like soukous, highlife, mbquanga, juju) with Colombian and Antillean genres (such as rap, raggareggae, chalupa, bullerengue, Haitian compass, zouk, soca and calypso).

The next day we had the rare opportunity of filming Ane Swing playing an acoustic set with his guitar player in one of the only non-restored houses in the historic walled city. He also improvised some verses for one of our songs, and we talked about his lifelong work with music and as an educator.

The next day we met with the mythical Son Palenque group. Founded in the 80s by Justo Valdes, it has since been a sort of super group of musicians from San Basilio de Palenque, playing original and traditional Afro-Colombian musical styles (cumbia, chalupa, mapalé) as well as champeta. They were the first group to sing in palenquero (San Basilio de Palenque’s own language) and also the first group out of Palenque to record in the studio. We filmed them in different locations in Cartagena, and shared their extensive knowledge… They had hundreds of songs to play! We hoped we could have stayed with them for much longer, listening and dancing to their music…. They offered to arrange and play one of our songs for our next album. It would be amazing. Their musicality is unique… you can listen to them here.

We closed our Cartagena experience with a highlight, a collaboration with the incredibly talented Louis Towers. He’s a brilliant and somewhat eccentric painter, thinker and champeta musician, as well as a prolific composer. We went to the Bazurto market to play at one of the music stands. We did a sort of mash-up collaboration with him, capturing a surprised crowd as well as an unexpected boxer dancer who stole the show… Can’t wait to show the video!!!

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