In just a few days, CCV heads to Colombia for a project that has been decades in the making: an Afro-Colombian musical homecoming for a newly formed all-star group, The Champe-Soukous Collective.
Forging a transatlantic connection between Colombian champeta and its source music—Congolese soukous-rumba, this project delves deep into the African roots of Afro-Colombian champeta.
What is Champeta?
The Afro-Colombian dance music known as champeta was born in the coastal cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena, Colombia. Barranquilla is known for its large street parties and its massive annual celebration of Carnival, with revelers dancing through the night to the loud, pulsating music created by DJs in giant, colorfully decorated mobile sound systems known as picós.
Individual picós are famous throughout Barranquilla and Cartagena. In the archly competitive world of the picó—where each DJ (picotero) is trying to prove that they have the biggest, best, most danceable sound around—it became common practice for DJs to remove the labels from their vinyl records that identified artist and song titles to create mystique around their tracks.
In the 1970s and 1980s, when African music from the Congo arrived in Barranquilla, often via West African sailors, Afro-Colombian audiences embraced the new sounds of Congolese music, with its unique, clean guitar sound and repeating danceable melodic patterns.
Without the names of artists or songs to follow, local musicians started creating their own versions of this music, picking and choosing elements seemingly out of the air. Since the musicians were unable to translate the words to these high-energy, guitar-driven records, they started making up their own lyrics in Spanish. Soon, new Colombian music was born: champeta—as African as it was Colombian.
Josh Kohn, CCV’s associate director, describes the Champe-Soukous Collective as “a story of cultural resiliency amidst the horrors of the slave trade, one that covers thousands of miles, hundreds of years, hundreds of thousands of people, and ends up at the end of a guitar pick, plucking out a guitar line that sounds as familiar in a club in Kinshasa as it does in a bar in Cartagena.”
How did this project start?
This project is the brainchild of David Gaar, a booking agent, manager, producer, artistic director and powerful advocate for community-based musicians from around the globe. For decades, David has worked with musical legends from both the Congo and Colombia and this dream project has been bouncing around his mind for sometime. Josh and Jon Lohman, executive director of CCV, had worked for many years with Cesar “Pocho” Urueta, the drummer for the champeta group Tribu Baharú, one of the bands David has represented. Pocho’s grandfather, Ralphy Cien, was a record importer who played soukous and other types of music for him as a boy growing up in Barranquilla. Pocho absorbed the diverse beats from these records alongside the cacophony of music around him and developed into one of Columbia’s brightest young drumming talents. David and Pocho dreamed up a gathering of champeta musicians, African soukous players, and the DJs and record collectors on Colombia soil for an extraordinary musical gathering. With the support of CCV, that dream is becoming reality.
What is actually happening in Colombia?
CCV will bring together a multi-generational musical cohort with roots in both the Congo and Colombia for a recording project, documentary, live performances and conversations, visits with the massive picos that were essential to the enduring popularity of this music, and a thoughtful look into the history of the shared musical languages of Colombian champeta and Congolese soukous.
This part of the project receives support from the USArtists International Program of Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.
Who is the Champe-Soukous Collective?
- Wawali Bonani (Congo)
- Blandine (Congo)
- Ricardo Lemvo (Congo/Angola)
- Eka Gordom (Colombia)
- Louis Towers (Colombia)
- Huit Kilos Nseka (Congo)
- Boris Torres Guzman (Colombia)
- Ruder “Chindo” Pacheco Silva (Colombia)
- Cesar “Pocho” Urueta Figueroa (Colombia)
- Oscar “El Kike” Banquez (Colombia)
- Wilfred Guzman (Colombia)
- Juan Carlos Pacheco Silva (Colombia)