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Articles Photos by Pablo Larralde. Courtesy of Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

Ghetto Kumbé in Havana: the future is in the roots 

Among the hectic scenes of electronic music, but with Afro-Colombian sounds as a base, the band Ghetto Kumbé stands out with an impressive proposal. Composed of three musicians from the Colombian coast, the group was born in the capital, Bogota, and already has twenty songs where percussion is the basis for generating unique sounds: digital rumba, electronic folklore or fusioned cumbia.

Behind his irresistible energy and cadence lies a deep exploration of the musical roots of Colombia and West Africa, weaving a sonic bridge that connects ancestral traditions with the modernity of electronic music.

During the group's stay in Havana last week, we held an interview in which they confessed that behind their songs there is a rigorous research of the rhythms heard in Latin America and mainly in Colombia; which have similarities with the sonorities of some African regions.

In addition to becoming a novel musical proposal, the idea of fusing the melodies comes from the need to delve into the origins in order to make known the very essence of traditional folk music. Edgardo Garcés, better known as Guajiro, tells us why:

"Many didn't even know the name of the traditional instruments, and the idea of setting up and creating this whole world was to bring them some of the folklore with new music of these generations... For us it is important to preserve the tradition, that the mixture is very organic, without losing the essence".

Photos by Pablo Larralde. Courtesy of Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

Dressing the traditional music of African roots with the avant-garde sounds of electronic music combines two seemingly divergent sound worlds, but in the fusion they create a powerful and exciting synergy. By uniting the ancestral and the modern they create something unique and fascinating that transcends the barriers of time and space. They manage not only to keep alive the essence and spirit of traditional music, but also a new form of expression that takes it to unexplored territories and connects it with new audiences and cultural contexts: "the future is in the roots".

Adding a commitment to tradition, Ghetto Kumbé's commitment to give visibility to the social reality of Colombia and the revolutionary movements of the world is a beacon that guides their art and their message. In an environment where superficiality and hedonism prevail, the group has opted for a less traveled path, marked by authenticity, honesty and a deep duty to the realities that surround them.

"The project from the beginning was very risky because we weren't making commercial music and it wasn't the end of us either. At the time we started, all our musician friends were in this process of making something that hits, that sounds, being on the radio, on TV, making money; and we were on the opposite side of all these ideas. We don't care if we don't make money. When we started to create and we knew that we already had something as close to what we imagined, we came to the conclusion that this could also be the channel to say what nobody dares to say. For me the message is important. I do most of the lyrics and I don't see myself writing a lyric that has nothing to say". This is how Garcés tells us about his beginnings in the face of the challenge posed by the music industry. As Andrés Mercado, the band's percussionist, aka Doc Key, told us, "when songs are powerful, they generate awareness". This was the concept they wanted to reach: use the influences in the neighborhoods and connect more with small towns and places where there is a different reality. "You have to say things that come in, that are interesting and not a negative repetition," he said.

From the beginning they had nothing to lose and they gave it their all. That fit in with the music they were making and the audience started to identify with it as well.

Photos by Pablo Larralde. Courtesy of Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

On the other hand, when asked about the meaning of Ghetto Kumbé, a concept called "block party" emerges. Mercado says that its creation "is influenced by the music born in the neighborhoods, the ghettos; from the interpretations of electronic music but made in the neighborhoods: those of Africa, Venezuela, Colombia, all the Caribbean. And kumbé is an African term, they say it means celebration...".

It is then Ghetto Kumbé more than the sound, it is the heartbeat of everyday life, the voice of a people that celebrates, cries, protests and loves through their songs. By adopting this meaningful name, they connect with the very essence of Colombian popular music, with its Afro, indigenous and mestizo roots that intertwine to form a unique and exciting sound mosaic.

After five days of exchange in Havana, thanks to the support of the European Union and Cosude in the framework of the project A ritmo de inclusión del Fondo de Arte Joven, the band was able to share their art with DJs, producers and the public on the island. During three workshops they showed their creative process and collaborated with young talents. In these sessions, they experimented live and direct, fusing Cuban rhythms enhanced and revitalized by the beats and electronic synthesizers, which resulted in a unique moment of total learning.

The remaining two days featured concerts at Estudio 50 and Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Accompanied by the musical experience, spectators were impacted by the band's visual aesthetics: extravagant masks, colorful drums and futuristic neon that generated a hypnotic state, with a constant flow of emotions, rhythms and sensations, wrapped in a vibrant and captivating atmosphere that invited movement and contemplation. Each meticulously designed element transported the public to a space where the traditional and the contemporary converged in a dance of colors, sounds and meanings, giving rise to what they called the "ritual of the drums".

Photos by Pablo Larralde. Courtesy of Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

Ghetto Kumbé transcends for Cuban audiences as a way to explore the relationship between music, dance, performance and ritual essence. In an immersive experience, the band invites the audience to immerse themselves in a universe in which music becomes an instrument of human connection and cultural expression.

Before this encounter in the Havana capital, the group had only had contact with Cuban music through a record by Los Papines that they once found and from which they took inspiration and combined sounds for one of their songs.

Almost at the end of the interview Guajiro said that this has been a trip to learn and to know in a short time how the dynamics of Havana is, and that it has strengthened their identity as musicians and as people of the Caribbean. He ended by saying: "after getting into all the folklore and African roots, that curiosity also begins, you start to know yourself, to realize all the journey that Africa has made through the Caribbean... So there is much more to learn, to investigate and there is much more to do".

The group's visit to Cuba, the birthplace of countless musical genres and an inexhaustible source of inspiration, is a significant milestone for both parties. By immersing themselves in the musical and cultural richness of the island, the artists discover new perspectives, draw inspiration from ancestral sounds and forge deep connections with local musicians who share their passion for music and tradition. This opens the door to future alliances and opportunities for creative exchange, which not only enriches the group's repertoire, but also strengthens the bonds of fraternity and cooperation that unite the artists on their journey through the musical Caribbean.

Photos by Pablo Larralde. Courtesy of Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

Karla Gabriela Quintana Quiñones More posts

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