The Rude Magnificence of Nature
It has been posited that as the continents began to pull apart in the Triassic Period, the crest of land that forms the Colombian coast and the folds of the Sierra Nevada mountain range became the cradle for all terrestrial life. There are still many primitive plants that flourish in the Andes, and it would make sense that at its point of origin, life would be teeming with diversity and a wide array of habitat to support it. I imagine that in the Caribbean heat, the land came apart like taffy, the Rio Magdalena like a long bead of equatorial sweat that broke and rolled from the high Andean peaks to the coastal town of Baranquilla and out to sea.
The Caribbean coast of Colombia is a languid place, fecund and musky. It has grown thick with towering ficus and scheffelera trees, palms of all sorts. Bromeliads and ginger stalks stand erect in jungle thickets, long vines covered in stringy moss sway from contact points on trees and rocks. Huge spiders wait silently in their webs, shiny millipedes scuttle through the humus. The cautious and quick zig-zagging trail of leaf cutter ants, ubiquitous in this area, cut intricate highways into the jungle floor. Parrots and cicadas add to the cacophony of growth, the humming continental drift and the vibrant cry of teeming life. Below it all, tectonic plates rub up against one another, slipping and folding and grinding out a geologic lust that seems to vibrate throughout the entirety of the continent.
In the cities that line the Caribbean coast of Colombia, you can hear this lust made manifest in the Cumbia rhythms that pour out of the bars, the loping bass lines and the shuffling of the guira like musical pheromones, drawing pelvises together in the sticky heat. The trumpets, the flutes, the sousaphones, and the saxophones fall through call and response lines like two lovers trading secrets in a loud bar, portentous and full of anticipation.
The sensuality of Cumbia seems to run counter to our northern sensibilities. Where we favor elevated heart rates and turgidity, Cumbia offers a measured and more affectionate form of movement. Where we want speed and gratification, Cumbia offers mystery and the intensity of expectation and fantasy.
I once found myself in a Colombian dancehall, and was pulled from my table (where my girlfriend and I sat and watched the whole room fill with people of all ages who sang along and danced so very passionately) several times by a kind, knowing woman who saw in me a lesson to be taught. I would sheepishly follow her to the dancefloor and try to follow as she led me. Her movement originated in the hips, slight and graceful and full of tectonic force. I would smile at her through the smoke, dazzling in the dim light, and try to mimic what I saw her doing. My hands would invariably sweat in hers, and like the young, inexperienced dancer that I was, I would shuck and jive too quickly, boorishly fumbling through the minutiae of the dance movements and falling way ahead of the beat. The dancefloor throbbed with lovers all around us, and she gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. In her beautiful striped dress, glistening with sweat and surrounded by a hundred people singing along to the song that brought us together, she squeezed my hand, leaned toward me and simply said, “Lento. Lento. Lento.”
This week’s playlist is comprised of a fantastic compilation of old Cumbias from Colombia, originally released on the Discos Fuentes label (Colombia’s first record label) and (thankfully) licensed for release here in the states by the always fantastic Domino Sound label. This collection has to be one of the best reissues from the last few years, and I offer it to you with a call to seek out other releases on the Domino Sound label and with the following advice, given to me by a beautiful dancer in a fading memory, which I hear loud and clear when I listen to this set of songs: Slow Down. Slow Down. Slow Down.
It’s in the hips and it’s in the knees. With everything crawling so quickly across the surface of the world, it’s important to remember how slowly the continents shift, convergent plates grinding against one another in the subterranean dancehall beneath the Andes, in movements so slight and so grand. Can you hear them? Can you feel them in their sway?
[audio:http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/01%20Cumbia%20Campesina.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/02%20Baila%20Rosita.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/03%20Cumbia%20Cienaguera.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/04%20A%20Orillas%20del%20Magdalena.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/05%20Macondo.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/06%20Esperma%20y%20Ron.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/07%20Soledad.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/08%20Cumbia%20en%20la%20India.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/09%20Santo%20Domingo.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/10%20El%20Mangle.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/11%20Los%20Gavilanes.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Orillas/12%20Cumbia%20Negra.mp3|artists=Los Corraleros de Majagual,Los Guacharacos,Conjunto Tipico Vallenato,Nafer Duran y Su Conjunto,Banda y Coros Campesinos de Repelon,Los Guacharacos,Combo Los Galleros,Andres Landero y Su Conjunto,Los Cumbiamberos de Pacheco,Eliseo Herrera y Su Conjunto,Los Gavilanes de La Costa,Carlos Roman y Su Conjunto|titles=Cumbia Campesina,Baila Rosita,Cumbia Cienaguera,A Orillas del Magdalena,Macondo,Esperma y Ron,Soledad,Cumbia en la India,Santo Domingo,El Mangle,Los Gavilanes,Cumbia Negra]
A Orillas del Magdalena – Coastal Cumbias from Colombia’s Discos Fuentes
1. Los Corraleros de Majagual – Cumbia Campesina
2. Los Guacharacos – Baila Rosita
3. Conjunto Tipico Vallenato – Cumbia Cienaguera
4. Nafer Duran y Su Conjunto – A Orillas del Magdalena
5. Banda y Coros Campesinos de Repelon – Macondo
6. Los Guacharacos – Esperma y Ron
7. Combo Los Galleros – Soledad
8. Andres Landero y Su Conjunto – Cumbia en la India
9. Los Cumbiamberos de Pacheco – Santo Domingo
10. Eliseo Herrera y Su Conjunto – El Mangle
11. Los Gavilanes de la Costa – Los Gavilanes
12. Carlos Roman y Su Conjunto – Cumbia Negra