February 28, 2021

La champeta: from the most African Caribbean to the Super Bowl | Culture


Students of the school of Viviano Torres, in Cartagena de Indias. On video, the performance of Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.



The champeta it stops.

The picotero, as the dj of this musical genre is called, takes the microphone and announces:

“Let’s stop for a moment to attend to authority.” The authority.

The police have arrived, explains a boy. But nobody moves from your site.

About 500 people have gathered to dance on a Friday night, in a popular neighborhood of Cartagena de Indias. In a cookie.

The minutes pass. The police are leaving. They just wanted to verify the permission for the dance.

The music returns, and the bodies move.

“Re, Re, King of Rocha”, is heard when a boy in command sinks the button of a musical console and the champeta returns to take the place, a stripped of bare ground where these neighborhood verbenas are made, the purest origin of what the world knows today as champeta, that dance with which Shakira dazzled in the Super Bowl.

The music rumbles, comes out of a picó, a huge speaker at a deafening volume even meters away. No one seems to care. They are going to dance. The champeta was born from these places, “from booths, the clubs of the poor,” explained hours before Luis Marín, the director of the music producer Rey de Rocha.

In this dance nobody shakes the body, they just move it gently as if they were dancing on a small invisible tile. No jumping, no horses at the moment. Only hip movements so natural that their bodies seem made of gel.

“I have a house in jail / I live a bandit life,” bandit by you, you hear. It is the story of the man who stole to give his wife, adds the pecker.

“Release, release,” he sings.

The performance of Shakira and Jennifer López in the Super Bowl.



And then comes the creep. Thus, without initial letter d, it is as they say at the time of the climax of the champeta.

King of Rocha, the pride of Mother Africa, “they chant.

Africa, this is Africa. In the Colombian Caribbean.

Resistance music

“We dancing, we transmit the story of the champeta, of Africa, of the black race,” says Ruth Cassiani, 15, at the home of Viviano Torres, one of the champeta’s precursors with Charles King.

In an African and colorful outfit, Torres speaks and plays his songs. “When Shakira was very young once we showed up in Barranquilla and she asked me for autographs. At that time I was the famous, “laughs Viviano, who composed his first song in 1984.” Now she carries the word champeta and bursts it in the world. I am excited that the champeta is vindicated. It has been a poorly regarded genre. They even banned it. Everything has been said about the champeta, that she is pregnant, that she puts to drink, that it is only of people who fight, ”he says and gives play to Champeta everywhere, one of his latest albums.

The song does not take a minute and a dance has already taken place. Nicole Bertel, Ruth and other children who are part of the Africa Grande group begin to jump, move their hips, open and close their legs. The champeta looks like a kind of hip hop of the Caribbean, with waist failures, mimicry and, above all, laughter. You can’t dance champeta without smiling, says Ruth. This is the Paseo de Bolívar neighborhood, but it is also Africa.

A few hours from Cartagena there is the Palenque de San Basilio, the first place in America where slaves were liberated. Hence also comes the origin of the word champeta. “A Palenquera family named Valdés danced with a champeta, which is a machete of cutting bananas, on the back,” says Afro-Caribbean musician Abelardo Carbonó in Barranquilla. Although this is not so clear. Others say that it is from a word of the Palenquera language or that it appeared in a dance when the audience shouted “champagne” and thus stayed.

The culture of the picó

The African records began to arrive in Cartagena and Barranquilla from France from the sixties, but the sound had traveled in the slave ships long ago. “First the rhythmic pattern was imitated, but since they did not understand the language, they decided to do it in their own. So if the song said, for example, ‘Heritier Enge, Heritier Enge, Buka Makepá, Buka Makepá, Lembisá ‘, here they sang it ‘sign the check, sign the check, pure machetazo, pure machetazo ”, says Marín, cultural manager and musician of Rey de Rocha.

Collectors listened to them in huge speakers called “picós” and therefore, accustomed to this music, even children distinguish a soukus, from a Congolese rumba or from one of Zaire. “This is from Nigeria, this from Kenya,” explains Fernando Viloria, of the picó El Huracán, of Barranquilla, while installing huge speakers on the street and people stop to take pictures with the sound system.

The champeta is an unstoppable hurricane. A genre that, by circling the Caribbean, has been adding rhythms, instruments, voices. Music with African roots, but reinterpreted in Colombia, with guitar, keyboards or organeta and lyrics that tell the reality of the neighborhoods, the center of the musical movement. A living chronicle of the Caribbean.

Walter Hernandez, member of the Afro-Caribbean band Systema Solar.


Walter Hernandez, member of the Afro-Caribbean band Systema Solar.

“Champeta is also resistance, a feeling of pride and historical vindication. This is the new deed of blacks and mestizos in the Colombian Caribbean through music, dance, gestures. We talk about having a different way of distributing the music, of the autonomy in the ways of creation. Of hybridity and diversity, the spirit of something that is not finished and that is in permanent movement, that is unclassifiable ”, explains Walter Hernández, musician of Solar System. Now, they count in Cartagena, they try to resist reggaeton.

In the dance it sounds Love returned and all close their eyes and sing. It is success months ago, the attempt to return to romantic letters.

In the world of champeta, picós are more important than radio stations. A musician composes, takes his album to the owner of the picó, produces it in the recording studios of the neighborhood and throws it in dances like this. “The people try it, they appropriate it and if they like it. In that also the champeta is resistance ”, explains Louis Towers, who introduced the genre to the genre in the middle of the songs.

The picoteros are essentially music collectors, people like Fernando Viloria or Don Alirio, who proudly spend their salaries on records. But it is also an aesthetic. “A picó is a totem, a sound system with personality, colors, a personality. It has an investiture, followers, an emphasis on sound quality, they are a heritage of the great Caribbean, ”explains Hernández, from the Vokaribe station in Barranquilla.

The one of the hurricane picó has a colorful drawing of Poseidón, but each one puts the lights to him, the phrase that identifies it. They are colorful and traveling discos.

The champeta has also lived dark hours. In Cartagena it was banned at the end of 2000, in Barranquilla they saw it as “black and poor music” because the lyrics were considered ordinary. And there was a time when they were. A mayor accused the Champetua culture of causing insecurity and pregnancy. “That is not true. The champeta what he has done is save lives, ”Viviano Torres defends. Thanks to music, many singers made the quite of poverty and a possible destiny of violence. Today they are the pride of their neighborhoods.

And pride in Colombia, where music is taken seriously, is danced.

“Stop the fight, enjoy, stop the fight, enjoy. If you behave well we go until 3 in the morning, the musician sings in the picó of the neighborhood of the other Cartagena, which is outside the walls and everyone chants the phrase.

From here nobody moves.

Everybody dance.

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