The Music of Colombia

Dancers in Colombia
Krzysztof Dydynski/Getty Images

Colombia is a country that straddles both the Pacific and the Caribbean, so it’s not surprising that Colombian music reflects a wealth of musical influences that have given birth to a dynamic musical environment.

In general, Colombian music blends Spanish-influenced guitar and song structure with large gaita flutes and percussion instruments from the indigenous population, while its percussion structure and dance forms come from Africa.

Colombia has traditionally been known for cumbia, a musical style popular in the coastal areas, and vallenato which is more popular in the valleys of eastern Colombia. In the last ten years, Carlos Vives has burst on the world music scene with his own rock/vallenato brand of music.

Notable Salsa Artists

In the 1970s, Colombians went crazy for salsa, but the man who was most instrumental in creating Colombia’s salsa scene was Julio Ernesto Estrada Rincon, known as “Fruko”, who with his band, Fruko y los Tesos, began heating up the streets of the urban coast. Although relatively unknown at first, Fruko y los Tesos soon hit the big leagues and began an international tour in the early half of the decade, garnering fans from their home in Columbia all the way to Spain.

Another artist of note, Colombia’s most famous salsero, Alvaro Jose “Joe” Arroyo won Cali’s “Congo del Oro” prize so many times that they created a special “Super-Congo” category for him; his unique style and highly danceable tracks earned him a reputation and adoration that still lives on in Columbia and indeed throughout the world to this day.

But Salsa didn't stop when the 70s ended. In the 1980s, Grupo Niche — now one of Colombia’s greatest salsa bands — was formed and remains a favorite with fans of hard salsa (as opposed to salsa romantica) everywhere.

A New Wave of Pop and Rock

Perhaps because of the advent of the Internet and its resulting globalization of music and culture, Columbian music has evolved in the last several decades to not only feature artists performing traditional salsa and the like but also a few who have ventured into the mainstream pop and rock genres.

Today there's a new generation of Colombian artists that is setting the Latin pop scene on fire, led by Latin pop superstar Shakira and Juanes. Shakira, who burst on the scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s, redefined the world's expectation of Columbian artists. With such massive hits as "Hips Don't Lie" and "Whenever, Wherever," Shakira introduced audiences worldwide to a unique blend of Spanish and English lyrics and styles, bending the genre to earn her millions of record sales worldwide.