Cumbia is a musical and dance genre that originated in Colombia and Panama but has now become popular in the rest of Latin America and has numerous variants and adaptations.

History tells that, in Colombia, cumbia arose on the Caribbean coast from the cultural fusion between the indigenous people, the slaves who arrived from Africa and the Spanish during the Colony. In Panama it was also developed during the colonial era, with choreographies and music of African origin and dance steps contributed by Andalusians, Galicians and indigenous people.

The origins of cumbia are shared between Panama and Colombia.

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Types of cumbia

Beginning in the 1940s, Colombian cumbia began to spread to other Latin American countries. Thus, subgenres such as Argentine cumbia , Mexican cumbia, Peruvian cumbia, and Venezuelan cumbia appeared, among others.

Among the most common instruments of traditional cumbia bands are the drums, the Colombian bagpipes, the millo flute, the maracón and the gouache. The various adaptations of the genre may include violins, accordions, traverse flutes, and keyboards.

In the Mexican cumbia, on the other hand, instruments such as the electric guitar, the electric bass, the timbaletas, the congas, the güiro and the clarinet are usually used. In Peruvian cumbia, finally, it is possible to notice the influence of genres such as salsa, merengue, huayno or bolero.

Argentine cumbia, for example, has influences from chamamé and tango. A version of this subgenre that has become popular in the last decade is the cumbia villera, characterized by its marginal lyrics.

The güiro is a percussion instrument that is usually part of the cumbia bands.

The village variant

The most evident characteristic of the cumbia villera is the content of its lyrics, which generally deal with lives that revolve around the consumption of alcohol and drugs, crime as an everyday occurrence, and sex as one of the most precious objects.

With regard to the adjective “villera”, in Argentina it is used in a derogatory way to refer to any person or thing that originates from a slum (the name given to an informal settlement there that is largely made up of houses in a precarious state).. On the other hand, this word also serves to name any lower class person, making their economic and social situation their main aspect, and diminishing them as a human being.

In the case of the cumbia villera, the use of this term refers to the fact that most of the members of groups that approached this current came from slums of Greater Buenos Aires. Just as it happens with the expression of English origin “nigger” in the United States, for example, when a person who lives in a villa calls himself a “villera” or calls a neighbor in this way, there is no implicit contempt, but rather it is used to reaffirm belonging to the place and the pride of being part of a group that, despite being rejected, struggles to get ahead and be recognized by the rest of society.

A cumbia born in Greater Buenos Aires

Cumbia villera originated in the second half of the 1990s in poor neighborhoods in the north of Greater Buenos Aires and gradually spread to the rest of the provinces. The choice of the name of this current was in charge of the group Yerba Brava, since that is how they baptized their first album. From the year 2000, several bands with a similar style appeared, which were quickly labeled within this subgenre.

In general, the perception that the Argentine people have of the cumbia villera is that it is a current of vulgar music and without any richness; middle or upper class people who listen to it usually do so with the intention of having fun and not because they believe that its lyrics and rhythms hide a deep message, given the differences between the language they use and that accepted as cult.