Given the recent explosion of Colombian rhythms and interest in cumbia, I decided to explore elsewhere so I’ve put together a little set of tracks by leading ladies that both helped pioneer another cumbia explosion that took place in Mexico in the mid 60’s. Acts like Carmen Rivero y su conjunto, Linda Vera, and Sonia Lopez helped popularize their own take on the popular rhythm and together brought these tropical soundz to Mexican audiences as well as abroad, including the U.S. that was looking for new Latin musical idioms beyond the cha cha and mambo.
Carmen Rivero, or “La Senorita Cumbia” as she’s also known, was one of the pioneering forces to attract interest to the rhythm in Mexico, even traveling to Colombia herself and bringing back with her a repertoire of Colombian songs and through her group helping to create a distinct Mexican touch to the cumbia which would eventually make its own roots across Mexico’s diverse musical landscape. Rivero along with Mike Laure, another artist who also got bit by the tropical bug, began by interpreting both popular songs of the day along with creating their own takes of popular Colombian cumbias. Mike Laure also would replace some of the traditional Colombian instrumentation with elements that were more familiar to his background in rock and roll: the rock drum kit, electric guitar, the electric bass, and sax. Rivero similarly would take the rich popularity of Afro-cuban rhythms in Mexico from previous decades and and incorporate its instruments into the cumbia form, introducing the brass trumpets made popular by the likes of Perez Prado as well as replacing an instrument for another, for example substituting the guiro instead of the traditional Colombian guacharaca. Together, Rivero and Laure helped pave the wave for the many hybrids that would emerge from variations on the rhythm both in Mexico and abroad.
So here’s a little primer in the evolution of the Mexican cumbia by some of the its leading ladies. First up, is “Flauta de Caña” sung by Sonia Lopez y su conjunto, a singer who is most popularly associated as the Sonora Santanera’s sole female singer. The track here is taken from a compilation of Mexican cumbia released on CBS.
Next up is a track and rare live footage of Chelo y su conjunto with their take on “Maquino landera”. Here the band turns a bomba, orginally written by the Puerto Rican born Margarita Rivera and made popular by Ismael Rivera and Cortijo y su Combo, into a sweet cumbia injecting some nice sax parts and organ keys. Chelo first emerged onto the music scene in Mexico through her cousin’s band, Mike Laure and Los Cometas, performing backing vocals and playing the guiro before leaving on her own with a brief period dabbling into tropical rhythms before settling in more commercial modes of ballads and ranchera forms in the 70’s.
Here’s Carmen Rivero y su conjunto with two of my favorites tracks from a US released compilation on Caytronics, here covering a Colombian standard, “El Pescador”, here sung by one of Rivera’s singers, Linda Vera. Additionally I’ve included another track that i really love off this comp, not sung by either Vera or Rivero, (perhaps only singing the backing vocals) but one that I couldn’t resist including, “Cumbia de la media noche”
Lastly on a more recent note, I heard a short piece on public radio’s The World on the Chilean boom in cumbia in recent years. Led in part by bands like Chico Trujillo who blend elements of peruvian cumbia, ska, big band,dance hall, and rock to create modern and fresh take on the sound. So I dug a little deeper and found this sweet little track by the Chilean band, Chorizo Salvaje, fronted by Natalia or Nata for short. Here’s their song “Bailemos Cumbia” a song that was featured on a 2008 comp. Santiago Caliente. Check it out and enjoy. EB