In 2007, English fashion designer Amanda Watkins was living in Monterrey, Mexico when she stumbled upon a group of teenagers dancing to cumbia by the river. Sporting looks best described as LA cholo meets Colombia’s Caribbean coast, their heads were crowned with elaborately gelled hairstyles, and they waved graffiti-style signs over their heads as they danced. Watkins didn’t know it then, but she’d end up devoting the next nine years of her life to documenting this working class, cumbia-centric subculture born out of Monterrey’s sonideros– a community that came to be known as “Los Cholombianos,” after Vice Mexico editor Bernardo Loyola dubbed them as such in a 2011 Vice article.
The name caught on, and it later inspired the title of Amanda Watkins’ 2015 book Cholombianos, an in-depth collection of over 150 portraits, interviews, essays, and illustrations about the Cholombian (or “Regio-Colombiano”) lifestyle. More than just an inside look at this community, the book is also an exploration of how how cultures blend in border cities, and how innovative, vibrant aesthetic movements can spring up out of poor urban environments. In this case, they are a symbol of a city that has long been the breeding ground for some of Mexico’s most important musical movements, even amidst cartel violence – and which, through artists like Celso Piña, has carved out its own cumbia identity, which fuses tropical Colombian sounds with musica norteña.
Watkins’ book has since become a multi-disciplinary traveling exhibit that brings together the sounds and colors of the Cholombiano lifestyle, including portraits, music, textiles, slang, and more. With successful shows in London and Guadalajara under her belt, Watkins, who has teamed up with Mexican publishers Trilce, is now set to take the exhibit to Mexico City, where it opens on May 19th and will run until August 28th.
In celebration of the exhibit, we’ve put together a little starter kit for those who want to know the basics of achieving the Cholombiano look. Get acquainted, gel up, and make sure to check out the Cholombianos show at Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico.