8 Afro-Colombian Artists Transforming Cali Into a Black Music Utopia

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla.
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla.
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In Colombia, the city of Cali is often regarded as the unofficial capital of its Pacific coast. Known for its rich Afro-descendant heritage, the Pacific’s diasporic customs are layered and unique yet inextricably linked to Afro-Colombian communities in Palenque and the Caribbean coast. Pacific rhythms like currulao and chirimiya are both preserved by oral teachings and constantly evolving under influences from the outside world. A confluence of trap, dancehall, and afrobeats has begun fusing with marimba arrangements and spiritual alabados cherished along coastal communities, producing music that is both a source of regional Black pride and a beacon of ancestral resistance.

The Petronio Álvarez Pacific Music Festival is one of the calendar year’s most anticipated events, welcoming artists and bands from all around the Pacific for a weeklong celebration that exults Afro-Colombian joy and heritage. This year saw respected elders and rising local stars share the stage with riveting performances from the likes of Ruca y El Quinde de Barbacoas and Bejuco. Plus, with the recent election of President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Marquez, the latter a renowned activist from Valle del Cauca and the first Afro-descendant woman to occupy an executive government position, this year’s festival seemed to ring with brighter colors.

Cali is home to marimba stalwarts like Herencia de Timbiquí and a hub of tremendous significance for salsa, boasting iconic bands like Grupo Niche and Orquesta Guayacán, as well as new school ensembles like La Mambanegra. With so much sonic delight brewing in Cali, we decided to spotlight some essential Black artists reimagining the city’s legacy as a tropical music destination.

Dawer x Damper

Over the last couple of years, Cali’s brightest Afro-futurists have unleashed a string of rump-shaking cuts causing colorful, gender-fluid ripples in Colombian street sounds. Afrobeats provide the backbone for hard-swagging singles like “Quilo” and “Eso,” while the booming perreo of their Afro Fresh collab on “JELOU MAI KITY” leaves no doubt as to their dance floor prowess. Dawer and Damper are real-life brothers balancing fresh beats and visionary aesthetics, so make sure to look out for their debut album out later this fall.

Nidia Góngora

The voice behind beloved projects such as Canalón de Timbiquí, La Pacifican Power, and Ondatrópica, la maestra Nidia Góngora should be treated as nothing less than a legend. Constantly experimenting and expanding on the arrullos and alabados of traditional currulao, like on her two collaborative albums with Quantic, the breadth of her work is dizzying. Add to that her efforts as an activist and educator, as well as owner of her restaurant Viche Positivo and her line of viche distilleds, and you’re dealing with a full-blown mogul.

Alexis Play

Melding hip-hop bombast with the percussive richness of chirimiya, Alexis Play has cemented his legacy as a fearless trailblazer out of the Colombian Pacific. Though he was once a member of ChocQuibTown, today, the prolific rapper, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and activist is best known for his high-octane collaborations and incisive bangers. Joyful anthem “Rebulú” is all about upsetting the status quo, while “Prietitud” alongside Esteban Copete and Nidia Góngora put a burning spotlight on the region’s resilient Black pride.


The ruling authority on Colombian afrobeats, Jossman has been bridging rhythmic traditions of the Pacific with African production techniques for nearly a decade. Engrossing, soft-spoken bars meet silky-smooth beats with roots firmly planted in his hometown of Timbiquí and all of its instrumental glory. Collaborations with Alexis Play, Nino Augustine, and Slow Mike have made him a favorite of slow-grinding dancers, while his unmistakable style translates with ease into dancehall and even the occasional reggaeton crossover.

Cynthia Montaño

Rapper, poet, and educator Cynthia Montaño has been a voracious Cali fixture for over a decade, melding traditional Pacific marimba and drums with everything from jazz to reggae and hip-hop. While early hit “Chontaduro” remains an enduring testament of artistic and regional resilience, forthcoming cuts from her La Fabula LP also showcase her storytelling versatility. Theatrical salsa influences shine on the marimba-driven “Ocaso de Tormenta,” while the buoyant “Yo Tengo Tu Tienes” unfolds as a sunkissed anthem of communal unity.

Junior Zamora

Some of the silkiest Colombian R&B you’ll hear today, Junior Zamora takes queues from his upbringing playing in church bands and singing in the choir. Whether tying into gospel or contemporary hip-hop and R&B references like Frank Ocean and Lucky Day, Zamora’s editorial aesthetics and introspective lyrics keep him ahead of the curve. His wondrous debut LP Ego was released earlier this year, chuck full of baby-making music with plans for sexy new jams already on the horizon for next year.

Afro Legends

Despite their rookie status, Afro Legends have an impressive ability to project wisdom beyond their years. The trio of Flow, Lilian, and Sterling inject their polished trap and R&B with blasts of marimba and organic bass drums, resulting in a textured mix of tradition and innovation. Get swept up in the ancestral poignance of “Dime Si Puedo” and give into the unabashed revelry of true banger “Berembembem.”

Lil Keren

The self-proclaimed Queen Del Trap Caleño, Lil Keren has quickly risen through local ranks with cocky bars and enough swagger to put Balenciaga out of business. Versatile as she is seductive; shake some ass with her Jambeau collab on “Rum Rum,” fall for her seductive wiles alongside Junior Zamora on “2X1,” or tap into assertive affirmations of Black pride on “Prieta.”