Few songs evoke Colombian pride like Grupo Niche’s salsa classic “Cali Pachanguero.” The moment the song’s opening trombone intro plays in a room full of Colombians, chairs and tables get pushed to the side, the space turns into a makeshift dance floor and a sing-along breaks out.
So what if the song is a love letter to the city of Cali? The entire country embraced Cali’s unofficial anthem as its own, and felt national pride when a snippet of the song played during the 2020 Academy Awards.
“Cali Pachanguero” — normally a staple at any Colombian celebration — was written by the late Jairo Varela. The salsa legend co-founded Grupo Niche with Alexis Lozano, giving it a name (“Niche”) that is used to refer to dark-skinned people. Varela is one of many Afro-Colombians who’ve shaped music in a country known as “the land of a thousand rhythms.” Not many others, however, have achieved the same level of mainstream success.
Breaking through in the industry has historically been an uphill battle for Afro-Colombians. But artists such as Varela’s Grupo Niche, Lozano’s Orquesta Guayacan, Toto La Momposina, Leonor Gonzalez Mina and, more recently, ChocQuibTown — which includes Varela’s niece Gloria “Goyo” Martinez and nephew Miguel “Slow” Martinez — have led the charge and served as inspiration for others.
With Black History Month kicking off today (Feb. 1), it seems appropriate that we celebrate by highlighting Afro-Colombian artists, both veterans and newcomers you might not know, but should, including Lido Pimiento, Mauro Castillo, and more.
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