You can read this text in Spanish here. Translation by Debora Olalla.
As we face a new decade, Colombian music is emerging from several of its geographic corners as a constant discovery of diverse sounds and increasingly stronger scenes.
Twenty years ago, Colombian music branched out. Parallel to the great international figures such as Shakira, Juanes, and Carlos Vives, a consolidated movement began–a movement that some have called “the new Colombian music,” of which groups such as Bomba Estéreo, Systema Solar, Monsieur Periné, Pernett, Chocquibtown, and La Mojarra Eléctrica are a part of.
Today, 20 years later, a new breed of musicians emerges, not only from the richness of folklore and their electronic experiments, as it happened before, but from the reinvention of an identity across a range of genres–from ambient to post punk, from tropicalia to indie, from songwriting to trap, from reggaeton to techno. In the face of a new decade, bridges are being built to connect the peripheries with the capital cities and create an increasingly decentralized dialogue of the music being made across the country.
And of course, a lot of work is needed to introduce everything that is happening with the new bands. We need media channels and committed local scenes with audiences supporting their bands, and bands supporting and growing together. However, the first steps are being taken–or at least an attempt is being made.
Although this selection is only a glimpse into a very long list of projects that deserve to be known from abroad, it is also an attempt to rescue some of the movements coming from different cities, and within these cities, different sound explorations that will show where the current Colombian sound evolves from.
Isabel Ramírez is a singer-songwriter from Manizales who in the last year has become a point of reference with her socially conscious themes, her calls to consciousness, and her way of encapsulating everyday stories. Her energetic and heartbreaking voice is a vice which it is difficult to detach from, and she is undoubtedly one of the ambassadors of that powerful Latin American guitar and voice folklore.
In recent times, Colombian rap has lived its most prosperous years with a bunch of MC geniuses in Medellin and Bogota who have made the movement one of the strongest in the continent. Within this list of names is El Kalvo, a Bogotano with a hoarse and somber voice whose songs describe condensed stories of the city, from the most banal to the most transcendental.
Within the growing scene of singer-songwriters, Briela Ojeda, directly from Pasto, in the south of the country, is one of the names that stand out–not only for her fascinating voice, but also for those ambiguous stories. Between the abstract and the poetic, these stories make her solo project something unique to sit down and escape from reality.
From the very mountains that have been declared the reggaeton capital of the world, Medellin, comes an antique proposal which points to the future of the most popular rhythm of our times, pierced by the past’s nostalgia and with a clear slogan: perreo and tears are more than welcome in the club. Their recent debut, EVG en el mapa, is a retrospective of the sound that flooded the Aburrá Valley minitecas in their early years, reimagined and released through a sub-label of Insurgentes, Tra Tra Trax– a platform where the Latin sound is also being cooked up for the world’s dance floors.
Lee Eye is aggressive, but fragile. Her confident voice, her sharp lyrics, and her chameleon-like style are combined with the most streetwise trap or the most seductive neo soul, which makes her proposal absolutely attractive in an increasingly diverse scene. Lee Eye is probably one of the most promising voices of the present time.
From the heart of Tumaco, also known as “The Pearl of the Pacific,” Agrupación Changó takes an introspective look at the roots, the traditional music, and the folklore that rescues the history of the most remote villages and translates it into a language that is natural to them, but exotic to the rest of a country that has yet to discover much of its wealth. Hand-in-hand with Discos Pacífico, a lab for the sounds of the region, and with the production of the legendary musician and producer Ivan Benavídez, they have just released their second album, a precious compilation of their tradition, their customs, and their territory.
If Cali is “The Heaven’s Branch,” SmokerBambi is a cyberangel who lives in the lustful, hot, and dangerous lands of the neoperreo, the explicit narrative of a reality which is sometimes leftovers from the narco-aesthetic and at times critical of the virtual world–the digital lives and the vices of the web.
Babelgam is without a doubt the revelation band of 2019. Among being labeled as post-punk, avant pop, or doom pop, the Bogota band has the sound of a visceral and unhappy generation–a generation with a history that repeats itself in an alternative scene, tending to get stuck in certain musical phenomena. The band’s powerful live performances, introspective stories, and aesthetic value make it a reference point for what is likely to become a movement of brutal and ruthless bands.
Gato e Monte
Gustavo Casallas sings with guts. It’s crude and potent. It’s colloquial and unfiltered. He narrates things as he sees them, without much adornment, but with a lot of prose. He uses what he calls “chiflamero,” a bandola with a tiple soul that serves as an excuse to unite a wandering spirit, with a sound that is many places at once. His debut album Gurbia is a treasure from start to finish.
The Cotopla Boyz
The future of tropicalia, the mix of sounds, the investigation and reinterpretation of tropical music, the gold mine in Colombia, is not only in the hands of these people, but in projects that are committed to following a path laid out by well-established names such as Frente Cumbiero, Meridian Brothers, or Los Pirañas. In these moments of global uncertainty, if there is one thing we can be sure of, it is that tropical lysergia is guaranteed.