Faced With a Proposed Ban on Colombia’s Northern Coast, Champeta Artists Speak Out

Champeta: a genre of folk music and dance originating in the Atlantic coastal regions of Colombia. Champeta originated among inhabitants of African descent of the Colombian cities of Cartagena de Indias and Barranquilla, and was linked with the culture of the Palenque of San Basilio district. It shows influences of musical genres from Euro-African colonial settlements and from the continent of Africa.

That’s how Wikipedia defines champeta. I define it as one of northern Colombia’s most valuable cultural expressions. Champeta is life; it’s magic. And although the lifestyle was relegated to the margins for many years, today it transcends class and other social boundaries. It’s a phenomenon that represents all of Cartagena’s society, even the people who hate on it by day but can still be found dancing to its sticky rhythms in the clubs at night.

Because of this, champeta elicits the fierce support of el pueblo, the people who first started making and blasting its danceable beats out of picós (tricked out mobile sound systems), among dust storms and unpaved roads. It is the sound of people who have faced adversity but done so with the strength and joy of a happy and festive community.

“Champeta is musical and cultural liberation.”

But like many sounds born in marginalized communities, champeta is being conflated with some of the issues that plague societies struggling with racial and socio-economic inequality. Just as many have blamed gang violence on hip-hop, drug violence on narcocorridos, and sexual hedonism on reggaeton, champeta is now being scapegoated. A new movement, spearheaded by the Concejo Distrital de Cartagena, is pushing to ban the genre amongst Cartagena’s underaged youth, because its lyrics – and the style of dancing – is said to incite teen pregnancy.

This isn’t the first time that music has been banned on Colombia’s northern coast; many years ago, cumbia and mapale fought the same battle, and today those genres are more alive than ever. So it’s embarrassing that in this day and age politicians still resort to the same opportunistic tactics. It’s easier for them to attribute social problems to the devil, to sin, or to music, than to the total ignorance about family planning that stems from a lack of education, opportunity, or meaningful political reform.

En fin, champeta doesn’t cause pregnancies – ignorance does.

We asked other artists to weigh in on the issue and the proposed ban. Read on to hear what they had to say.

Charles King (Pioneering Colombian champeta artist):

What is champeta to you?
It’s the revolution of Afro-Colombian music, a revolution that comes from the Caribbean region of our country.

Does champeta cause pregnancy?
Of course not. I don’t know anyone who’s gotten pregnant because of champeta or any other music genre. This is a disrespectful story fabricated by two-faced “moralists” in this country, denigrating a proudly Caribbean genre. And the ironic thing is that the same lawmakers (councilmembers, congresspeople, senators), allow corruption in their institutions and throughout the country. They’re trying to forbid a genre that comes from the people. If there’s something that champeta is known for, it’s for being real and for always being truthful.

Lucas Silva (Producer from record label Palenque Records):

What is champeta to you?
Champeta, like the punk movement in the UK in the 80s, is a musical movement that is punk and African at its core, something that swept everything in its path. Champeta is musical and cultural liberation. Born in Pico, it brought modernity to Colombian music. It’s a sacred fountain of musical inspiration that everyone drinks from today, and without it, real modern Colombian music wouldn’t exist.

“Solving the problem of unwanted pregnancies requires education – not banning one of our country’s most beautiful genres.”

On my label Palenque Records, we work towards another type of champeta, a blend of afrobeat and psychedelia. We nurture this young genre with mystical vitamins and other hallucinogens so that it becomes enriched with new nuances.

DJ Dever (DJ and Producer):

What is champeta for you?
Champeta is a musical genre that has gained renewed traction on a national level over the last three years. It’s representative of the city of Cartagena and it’s evolved, like everything has. I feel proud of its progress and evolution, since I had a key hand in that, alongside artists like Kevin Florez, Lil Silvio, and el Vega, among many others. This genre is a part of Cartagenero culture and it’s being stigmatized over a few incidents of disorderly conduct at champeta events. Those incidents represent the actions of individuals, not of the genre.

Fredy Lorduy (Communications student):
They’ve been wanting to ban champeta for a long time now. But I think it’s been the same for several years, it’s just politicians trying to get in the spotlight. Solving the problem of unwanted pregnancies requires education – not banning one of our country’s most beautiful genres. Champeta is a way of feeling music; it’s the music that represents us and makes us feel like Cartageneros.