Champeta: Music and Liberation
Through music, we become uplifted beyond the scope of everyday problems, often entering a different world, if only for a while. Music transcends the boundaries of time and place, and that is what champeta has been able to do. Champeta is a fusion, what can be understood as the love child of Colombian and African musical styles. This style of music was born in Cartagena, a Colombian Port city where the music was played in picós, brightly-colored speakers, within the area from as early as the 1950s.
Background and Development
The word champeta was first used in reference to music in the 1980s. Prior to that, a variation of the term—Champuedo—was used by the economic elite to refer to the people who lived in districts such as Cartagena and disparage any remaining bits of their African cultures as violent and backward. The term was mostly used in referral to blackness, vulgarity, and poverty at the expense of the people who were mistreated and enslaved. Despite this marginalization, champeta managed to crack into the mainstream when it became integrated with more well-known sounds such as salsa, jibaro and reggae. The emergence of ‘creole therapy’ in the 1980s also aided the development of champeta as an Afro-Colombian genre with influences flowing in from African and Euro-African areas.
Music and Sound
The music is known to be played at high volumes and exudes a therapeutic element, as it soothes and relaxes. The base in this type of music is dominant over the harmonic lines and melody and is, therefore, relatively easy to dance to. A champeta song is basically divided into three parts: introduction, chorus and, ultimately, the repetitive rhythms (el Despeluque). The lyrics of these songs are usually a depiction of the people of African descent in Cartagena and their rebellious attitude. The songs are sung in either Palenquiro (Spanish-based creole) or Spanish, and the lyrics reflect their dreams of progress and change even in the face of economic, social and political exclusion. The central aspects are the language, picós, celebrations (perreos) and the musical expression. Other aspects include political activism, dance, videos, and costumes. As of today, the music has extended its reach and can relate to art, literature, and cinema.
While the music may have started as a social and communal affair that was meant to be a consolation to the people, today, it has gone beyond just contributing to the informal economy and entertaining locals. The music has created an identity for Afro-Colombians and has given a voice to the once silenced and has been a symbol of liberation for the people.
Some of the prominent Afro-Colombian artists include Abelardo Carbonó and Son Palengue the band from the 70s and 80s, and currently, they include Zaider, Mickey Bass, Black Ykvrass, Big Yamo, Papoman and Eddy Jay.