Colombian Music (Way) Beyond Shakira

Thursday, January 28, 2010 - 05:40 PM

Colombia has a very wide range of musical styles, reflecting the country's strong regional cultures and diverse roots - African, indigenous, and European.  It's similar to Brazil, and that shows in the music.  But I think many of us are more conscious of the richness of Brazilian music.  Here are some listening suggestions for Colombians artists and styles mentioned in my story this week.

Aterciopelados are that very special combination of a creative and original yet extremely popular group.  The band has become political and social advocates.  The title song on Río, the most recent cd, refers to the very polluted Bogotá River; the band has promoted a clean water referendum.  (But there’s also a lightness to Aterciopelados' lyrics - as singer Andrea Echeverri points out, “río” is also a form of the verb for 'to smile.')  “Canción Protesta” - Protest Song – was reworked for an Amnesty International-UN project as 'The Price of Silence,' with new multilingual lyrics.  Here's the video, recorded at the UN General Assembly hall.  Note that Andrea is very pregnant with her second child!

Amnesty International / The Price of Silence video:

Check out two additional videos: here and here.

Here are more listening and general links for Colombian artists:

Bomba Estéreo mixes cumbia rhythms with lots of sampling and mixing – and also a serious rock attitude.  They’re part of a very creative stable of artists recording for the indie label Polen, in Bogotá.  Nacional Records has picked up the most recent cd, Blow Up, to break the band in North America. [video]


Carlos Vives is the former soap opera sweetheart who was inspired by a role he played to explore the roots of Colombia's accordion-driven vallenato music, and in so doing so really raised urban audience's awareness and respect for the music.

First he made a cd, Clasicos de la Provincia, covering traditional vallenato classics.  With the help of producer Ivan Benavides, he followed up with a more contemporary take on vallenato, Tierra de Olvido.  The title cut was a huge hit, and he’s made several more hybrid records. [video, video]


Ivan Benavides also led Bloque, a band that didn't make it into the final version of our story as things got whittled down. But Bloque is a critic's choice as probably the first Colombian band of its generation to organically mix rock and roots.


Benavides and British DJ Richard Blair are Sidestepper, maybe the first group to effectively blend electronica with any Latin music.

Sidestepper has been enormously influential on younger artists in Colombia including Bomba Estéreo, and has influenced the popular cumbia DJ scene in Buenos Aires, known as Zizek. [video]


Pernett is a talented young Polen label artist originally from Barranquilla.  Like Bomba Estéreo, they mix cumbia and the African-inflected champeta with modern beats. [video]


Sol Okarina is a fine young artist whose lovely cd Sumergible, also on Polen, blends champeta and other styles with indie pop.


Choc Quib Town is a highly acclaimed Afro-Colombian band that's a little more rap-oriented, but also blending traditional styles and rhythms into their music.  Oro was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2009 and is being released in the US in February. [video]


Toto La Momposina features traditional music from many regions in her music.


Another stream of musical hybridism in Colombian music blends jazz and traditional music. This collection from the (sadly defunct) Chonta records is an excellent starting point for further explorations in new Colombian music.


Finally, here are a few good cds for exploring more traditional and old-school Colombian music:

Cumbia Cumbia compilations, Volumes 1 & 2 - classic tracks from the golden age of dance band cumbia in Colombia, in the 1950s and 60s.

Si Soy Llanero: Joropo Music from the Orinoco Plains, released by Smithsonian Folkways.

Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto: This group is carrying the torch for the most traditional form of cumbia, played on the long-tubed vertical gaita flutes with percussion. A good example is their cd, Un Fuego de Sangre Pura.


And I’ve only scratched the surface here!  If you’d like further recommendations, or have questions, thoughts, corrections, or suggestions - post a comment below.  Or you can also contact me directly.

- Rob Weisberg


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Comments [25]

roxanne guzman

You have a point. But you also have to take into consideration that much of the music done by Juanes is not as traditional as, say the early music of Carlos Vives.

Dec. 24 2010 02:45 PM

only if i knew whatt youu meantt thenn ii wouldd agree

Nov. 15 2010 03:38 PM

after Beyonce 've appeared Shakira weren't so brilliant

Sep. 23 2010 04:36 AM
Low Income Apartments for Rent

I don't like her most recent song. She lost her identity.

Sep. 04 2010 11:29 AM
Lorilee Natalie

shakira is the no one woman and so hot

Aug. 16 2010 09:44 AM

Great list thanks!

Aug. 04 2010 08:20 PM

Great list! Here's more latin alternative picks from Camilo Lara of Mexican Institute of Sound.

Jul. 30 2010 12:49 PM

I like Beyond Shakira , waka waka shakira in world cup is perfect

Jul. 22 2010 03:13 AM

I love this website, the information is great and I have bookmarked it in my favorites. This is a well organized and informative website. Great Job!

Jun. 17 2010 05:51 PM

I was the first artist of Polen records and now i dont have any reation with this record label, and my music dont have any realtion with bomba, sorry but im a creator and this comment is offensive for me, if you really want more about me please go to my pages, thanks.

Mar. 28 2010 12:30 PM
Musica en Linea

Really I did not like much her recent cd

Mar. 18 2010 09:13 AM
Jaime T

Also, check out the band Systema Solar at

Mar. 17 2010 09:33 AM
Dresses to Wear to a Wedding

I liked her previous look. Now she is looking as Beyonce.

Feb. 24 2010 08:24 PM
Rob W

Hey - thanks everyone for the great comments and suggestions! I for one will certainly check out the artists that have been suggested here, Colombian and Mexican too (that's a whole other story - a ton of interesting stuff is happening in Mexico, music is opening up there too). As for Shakira and Juanes - I could probably argue that Shakira isn't quite rock enough and Juanes isn't quite rootsy enough for the concept of the radio segment - but it's debatable! I certainly could have given a quick mention to them on the radio segment, but it's tricky doing pieces like this, you don't have a lot of time to squeeze everything in! But really I'm especially interested in encouraging people to check out new and younger and less well known artists. And even Aterciopelados aren't known by most Anglo-Americans.

Feb. 04 2010 10:49 AM

Colombia tiene una variedad de ritmos gigantesca como lo dice el post. Buenísimos los recomendados, Bomba estéreo y Carlos Vives son un hit! por supuesto que faltó Juanes, pero lo que pasa es que el no hace esas mezclas de música floclórica, el hace pop, de hecho es el latino con mayor cantidad de latin grammys.
I love this post.
Welcome to Colombia, its amazing!

Feb. 03 2010 04:49 PM

Nice review and colombian music panorama. Although there are other indie bands full of interesting proposals. Here it is Sicotropico Pls check this out

Feb. 03 2010 11:44 AM

can't go wrong with vives! also Fonseca is a great colombian artist too :D

Feb. 02 2010 08:29 AM

Shakira is colombian? I didn't know that.

You might like my latest blog,
Swing by and leave a comment if you can! Thanks!


Feb. 01 2010 11:59 PM

Aterciopelados are really kick ass. One of their earlier hits: "Florecita Rockera" is a classic.

I don't know much about Carlos Vivez aside from his first two albums that were great. I've heard he's put out more awesome music since, just a matter of checking out.

The thing about Shakira is that people really need to discover her Spanish output which is thousands of miles superior to her English music which is just mediocre. And that's irritating really, that someone with clear talent, dumbs herself (and her music) down acting like some fabricated, blonde pop-princess to chase after commercial success in America.

Feb. 01 2010 10:36 PM

My college roommate was from Bogota and just the stories she shared with me made me want to visit. It is such an exotic place and has much to offer. Oh and I also LOVE cumbia.

Feb. 01 2010 04:39 PM
Steven Roll

Aterciopelados was my gateway drug to Latin music.

There are plenty of Latin bands out there with a great alternative sound. Here's some that you'll enjoy--no matter what your native tongue might be.

1. Cucu Diamentes. Formerly with Yerba Buena, the Latina songtress broke out on her own with the release of Fun Machine in 2009 to rave reviews.

2. Chetes (Mexico) (his distinctive voice is addicting )

3. Hello Sea Horse! (Mexico City --check out "Won't Say Anything" on YouTube).

4. Buika - Afro-Spanish singer. Sort of like Sade.

5. Mexican Institute of Sound (A one-man band with a big name. Serves up an eclectic mix by blending mariachi and horns with electronica, new wave, rock, and hip hop.)

The Latin alt beat is starting to influence English language bands too. Check out these two tracks on Vampire Weekend's latest album:

1. Horchata
2. Diplomat's son

Both are available for free at

If you're really into Latin music, check out the Ritmo Latino Facebook FanPage.

Feb. 01 2010 04:25 PM
Citizen Pete

Vives has great material! And Bomba Estreo is also very good and with great attitude!

Feb. 01 2010 03:53 PM

Good list, but I didn't see Juanes anywhere. I guess Juanes is pretty mainstream in the Hispanic world though he doesn't have anywhere near the same stardom in the English-speaking world as Shakira.

Feb. 01 2010 11:13 AM
Citizen Pete

Vives has great material! And Bomba Estéreo is also very good and with great attitude!

Feb. 01 2010 09:33 AM

l think latin is temptating.

Feb. 01 2010 09:17 AM

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