Manifestation of sounds in the Caribbean: the champeta

The champeta is the popular music of the Caribbean coast, but its origins brought with them an important cultural manifestation. Learn more about its history.

Published 2023-02-09 10:45:58

Music has had a very important relevance in many ancient civilizations around the world, and has marked an evolution of sounds from its beginnings to the present. Colombia is recognized for being a musical country, with a diversity of dances, rhythms and a very marked festive spirit; and a festive spirit that stems from the blending of European, indigenous, and African traditions, indigenous and African traditions; resulting in the diversity of musical genres, among which champeta stands out.

Origins of Champeta: Political and cultural Expression

The champeta is the popular music of the Caribbean coast, but its origins entailed a cultural and political manifestation of the Afro-descendants of the Caribbean in the face of the cultural imposition of the white elite. In Santa Marta, champeta is considered one of the popular sounds belonging to the mestizo zones. These sounds are associated with the mixture of white and black people, but, compared to other Caribbean areas, it is not considered offensive or related. 

This name was derived from the use of a large knife called "champeta" (a sharp tool used in fishing or agriculture), as the attendants usually carried them with them to defend themselves from fights that arose during the events in which African music was played or when they returned to their homes.

The champeta party

The musical pieces of the champeta are played by picós or horns, and one of the reasons for the manifestation through music. It is said that champeta has roots in African music, however, many sources perceive champeta as a genre that mixes indigenous sounds of the Afro-descendant population with African soucous (such as juju from Nigeria or mbaganga from South Africa). What differentiates it from other genres or rhythms is that it is the last Afro-descendant genre created in America.

The center of champeta's diffusion is the verbena party, in the street, or it can be in a sports field, as long as it is in a popular neighborhood. During these events, it's common that streets are closed, sound equipment are set up, bathrooms are provided, food and liquor are sold, and an entrance fee is charged.

The champeta was created, born and spread in the Picó party, (a picó is a sound system of six or more 18" speakers decorated with colorful paintings). It is a manifestation that has been able to help Afro-descendants to become a musical genre that is now recognized and has managed to spread. Its importance lies in its origin, in the community and in its legacy. 

No other population has had as many negatives as the African-American community, who have had years of struggle, of abolishing slavery, the commercialization of blacks and living in precarious conditions. In spite of that, creativity allowed them to share and leave a legacy of traditions, mainly musical, and in other aspects, such as gastronomy.

We invite you to reflect more on the Afro-descendant culture on the occasion of Black History Month and celebrate it in Santa Marta!

You may also be interested in: Black History Month in Santa Marta


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