Currulao; Colombia’s Pacific Music


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The music of “currulao” is very popular in Colombia’s South Pacific coast. Currulao music is featured in the Petronio Alvarez Music Festival.

Currulao is not only festive music to dance, but it can carry religious, political and social meaning as well. And the Petronio Festival, which features this music from the South Pacific, is ironically celebrated in the mountain city of Cali.

The how’s and why’s of all of this is explained in the interesting NPR’s Alt.Latino podcast of “In Cali, A Festival Celebrates The Flavors And Music Of Afro Colombian Life“.

Felix Contreras hosts NPR’s Alt.Latino podcast, and along with newcomer Maria Paz Gutierrez, they go deep into this story. Maria, who is Colombian, flew to Cali to cover this festival, and there she got some expert help from Michael Birenbaum Quintero, who has a Phd in Ethnomusicology and wrote the seminal book on “currulao” and the Afro-Colombian south Pacific.

Currulao Music

The backstory of currulao is explained in the description of Michael Birenbaum Quintero’s book “Rites, Rights, and Rhythms. The description says:

“Colombia has the largest black population in the Spanish-speaking world, but Afro-Colombians have long remained at the nation’s margins. Their recent irruption into the political, social, and cultural spheres is tied to appeals to cultural difference, dramatized by the traditional music of Colombia’s majority-black Southern Pacific region, often called currulao. Yet that music remains largely unknown and unstudied despite its complexity, aesthetic appeal, and social importance.

"Rites, Rights, & Rhythms" book cover
Michael Birenbaum Quintero’s “Rites, Rights, & Rhythms” provides a deep look at the Afro-Colmbian music and culture from the South Pacific.

[This] is the first book-length academic study of currulao, inquiring into the numerous ways it has been used: to praise the saints, to grapple with modernization, to dramatize black politics, to perform the nation, to generate economic development and to provide social amelioration in a context of war.

What emerges is both a rich portrait of one of the hemisphere’s most important and understudied black cultures and a theory of history traced through the performative practice of currulao.”

What I get from all of this is what we’ve been saying here at Latino Music Café; that music is at the center of our cultural heritage. And currulao, as important and impactful as it is in Colombia, had gone completely under my radar. But, according to Michael’s book, I’m with a big majority of people that don’t know about this music either.

Alt.Latino Podcast

This 30 minute Alt.Latino podcast provides an interesting look at currulao right from the Petronio Alvarez Music Festival in Cali. Maria and Michael provide us a wonderful briefing of currulao. You can listen below, and read more at NPR’s Alt. Latino website.

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  1. […] The Pacific Music Festival Petronio Alvarez (the full name of the event), is an annual event to celebrate the culture and music of the Colombian Pacific. The population of this region is 85% black, and they highlight all about this regional culture, including the music of “currulao“. […]

  2. […] Escalona helped popularize the Colombian music genre of vallenato through his songs. He spread his songs by playing them in […]

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