Colombian stars Paola Jara and Jessi Uribe are part of Colombia's movement, as its regional music goes international.
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As we explored in Part 1 of this series about Mexico, the explosion of digital platforms has not only propelled the careers of mainstream Pop and Hip-Hop acts, but it has also helped to bring the world’s regional Latin music genres into the limelight. Latin America, being such a big market economically, culturally, and geographically, has countless regional Latin music genres to offer; and the possibility of any of them crossing over to regional success is real. One country in particular has managed to become an epicenter of music production, songwriting, and the emergence of many of today’s Latin music superstars: Colombia.
If we put together the variety of music genres hailing from Colombia, the incredible musicians born in the country, and the different initiatives coming from the Colombian government aimed at promoting music as a core element of Colombian identity, it is not surprising to see how Colombia became a Latin culture powerhouse punching above its weight. This country has been successfully and globally exporting music and artists for years, not to mention TV content and literature. Many of today’s biggest Latin music stars such as Maluma, J Balvin, Shakira, Juanes, Carlos Vives, and many more, hail from Colombia.
Music Streaming Platforms and Their Influence on Regional Colombian Music Genres
Similar to what we have observed in the consumption data of regional music genres of other countries, the different audio and video streaming platforms have greatly enabled the revival and internationalization of regional Colombian music genres. The usual suspects, Deezer, Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, have done intensive editorial work in order to promote the consumption of regional Colombian music around the world and to identify emerging trends and artists.
We will start the analysis with Deezer, a platform that in 2019 launched two exclusive music channels dedicated to Colombian music as part of its local hero strategy, which seeks to advocate and promote traditional sounds from all of the countries where it operates. The global platform features music playlists with regional Colombian music genres such as Llanera, Pacifica, Popular, Champeta, Tropipop, Porro, and Choke Sauce, while offering Deezer users in Colombia their favorite traditional tunes. There is a dedicated channel to Vallenato that showcases the popular Colombian Folk genre of the same name, including playlists such as Vallenato Hits, Clásico del Vallenato, Vallenato Grueso, and Puro Vallenato Sentimiento. All of those playlists grew in 2020, both in Colombia and internationally, between 20 and 889 percent, depending on the playlist. For Cumbia, Deezer has curated playlists like Cumbia + Cuarteto = Fiesta, Cumbia Pop, and Cumbia ATR, among others.
Deezer has given market competitors a run for their money by launching differentiated service offerings like Deezer HiFi, which caters to audiophiles. They have also dipped their toe in the waters of exclusive content offerings by hosting exclusive track releases from emerging local artists, as well as exclusive DJ mixes. Another element that has contributed to the traction of this platform in Colombia, as well as its native France and in Brazil,is is the bundling of Deezer with mobile telephone service offerings of local cell phone service providers.
If we examine Spotify’s strategy in the territory, outstanding work has been done as well by its editorial team through the creation of the Hecho en Colombia hub. This hub showcases at least 26 playlists that have featured Colombian superstars like Karol G in “Éxitos Colombia” and Maluma in “Popetón,” as well as Colombian regional music-themed playlists like ColombiAfro, Lo + del Vallenato, Rumba Colombiana, Salsa Colombiana, Pacífico Colombiano, Champeta & Terapia, La + Popular, and Cosecha Carrenguera, among many others.
Apple Music’s Apple Music Tropical hub bundles Caribbean & Tropical Latin music , in several playlists that showcase regional Colombian music genres and artists. The hub also includes Tropical genres coming from other countries of the region: Bachata (República Dominicana), Salsa (very popular in Colombia, but not a Colombian-originated regional music genre per se), and other Latin music genres that align more with mainstream Latin music as a whole.
It is not surprising, as it happens with other regional music genres, to find that the most important platform that fans of this music use to consume regional Colombian music is YouTube. As we’ve discussed in Part 1 of this series, regional Colombian music fans are also mainly located outside of big cities, where YouTube is usually the dominant player. When we delve into specific genres and artists, we will find that these artists tend to be very big on this platform vs. the main music streaming platforms; nevertheless, consumption habits are already shifting as these music genres and artists are crossing frontiers and getting incorporated into different media formats such as TV series and Telenovelas.
And for those wondering about Pandora’s influence on this specific case, this platform is not as influential for Colombian music as it is with other regional Latin music genres. Because Pandora operates today only in the United States, the size of the Colombian diaspora living in the USA is not yet big enough to significantly move the needle of regional Colombian music on this music platform.
The Origins of Colombian Music Genres
Colombia’s regional music genres mix elements from three primary sources: Spain, Colombian indigenous populations, and African sounds and rhythms coming from different parts of that continent. This has resulted in mind-boggling musical diversity, to the degree that Colombia is also called “land of a thousand rhythms.” Due to the complex geography of the country, Colombian music genres can be divided in two main subcategories: música del interior, which refers to different genres that originated in the center part of the territory (including “andean music,” or música andina, and “music from the plains,” or música llanera), and música de los litorales Atlántico y Pacífico, which are the regional music genres that arose on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
To cover every Colombian music genre would be impossible, so we will focus our attention on regional Colombian music genres and artists that have successfully crossed frontiers and are resonating in the music streaming world: Vallenato, Música Popular Colombiana, Cumbia, and Champeta, an emerging genre that is beginning to gain digital platform relevance.
Vallenato is a music genre that originated in the city of Valledupar, located in the northeast of the country and close to the Caribbean Colombian coast. Vallenato blends the two regional genres Son & Puya and is considered part of Colombia’s national identity. This genre is known for its varied traditional rhythms that showcase the accordion as an essential part of its sound. One of its variants uses deep love verses, thus is known as Vallenato Romántico (romantic Vallenato music), while another variant is known as Parranda Vallenata (party Vallenato music), which is pretty much music made for partying, drinking, and singing along to at the top of your lungs. Today, the genre has expanded to include new influences from urban, Latin Rock, and Pop music.
Relative to other regional Latin music genres, Vallenato was barely being streamed by its followers, most of whom preferred to consume their favorite tracks by listening to the radio or to CDs and tapes that were part of their collection. Deezer, as part of its differentiation strategy, anchored the promotion of regional music content in the territories they operate, took specific actions to foster the consumption of Vallenato on its platform with the purpose of migrating fans to the streaming service. They’ve partnered with beloved artists in the genre, featured their songs on the streaming service, thereby supporting the growth of the genre, and ultimately given Vallenato lovers in this market an incentive to go digital. Today, Vallenato is the 15th most streamed music genre in Colombia, and it’s not uncommon to find Vallenato artists on all of Colombia’s digital platforms’ national charts, competing head to head with mainstream Latin artists and global stars.
It wouldn’t be fair to talk about Vallenato without talking about Diómedes Díaz, also known in Colombia as “El Cacique de la Junta.” Although he passed away in 2013, many people give him credit as the artist that finally broke Vallenato music into the mainstream in Colombia and a couple of neighboring countries. Díaz is the biggest record seller ever in the Vallenato music world, selling more than 20 million albums throughout his career, which earned him Gold, Platinum, and even a Diamond certification in Colombia — the first Colombian artist to ever achieve that feat. In 2010, he also won a Latin Grammy for his album Listo Pa’ La Foto. If we go into the numbers, his music is very much alive in spite of his 7-year absence, as he is the third most followed Vallenato artist on Deezer (1.1M followers) and Spotify (1.61M followers). On Spotify, his follower count is close to British Pop-Funk artists Jamiroquai (1.66M) and Puerto Rican Trap star Miky Woodz (1.65M); on Deezer, his follower count approaches that of the American rock band The Strokes (1.14M). If we get into his monthly YouTube views, in spite of being a legacy artist of a regional genre, his average monthly views (58.1M) are head to head with those generated by the now disbanded iconic girl band Fifth Harmony (58.5M), which attained global Pop stardom just a couple of years ago. His positive impact on the popularity of Vallenato is undeniable, and his work paved the way for this music to be known around the Latin world.
"One of Diomedes Díaz’s greatest appeals was his ability to connect with his fans. He was one of the first Vallento artists to proudly talk about his humble beginnings and sing about the importance of family. Colombians could relate to his earnest lyrics and universal message on family love, hard work and living life to the fullest. He remains the #2 most streamed Vallenato artist in Colombia in our platform and one of the top 15 most streamed artists in Colombia. Diomedes has influenced new younger artists like Silvestre Dangond, Martin Elias (Diomedes’ son) and Diego Daza to sing about humble origins and family togetherness." - Diego Burgos, Latin Music Global Editor at Deezer
For those who aren’t that familiar with Vallenato, whenever this music genre is mentioned, the first name that comes to mind is Carlos Vives and his global breakout hit “La Gota Fría.” Vives, who is also an actor, was born in Colombia in 1961 and has held an uninterrupted career since he started working around 1980. To be fair, his music is not Vallenato in its purest form, but is rather a mix of this regional Colombian music genre with Latin Pop and Latin Rock, a fusion that enabled his take of Vallenato to be assimilated into other Latin markets almost immediately. To put Vives’ iconic career into perspective, it is good to know that within Vallenato, Vives is the most followed artist of the genre on Spotify (4.2M followers) and Deezer (2.06M followers), while his dedicated Deezer playlist “100% Carlos Vives” increased streams 38 percent in Colombia and 73 percent globally during 2020. These Spotify numbers place him close to former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson (4.4M followers) and above Korean K-Pop sensation BTS (2.1M followers). Due to the international nature of his career, Pandora is indeed important to mention in his case, as Vives has raked in 527M streams across his catalog on the platform, placing him just a couple of spots below British artist Lily Allen (523.4M streams). Regarding his YouTube numbers, Carlos Vives’ 4.23B views place him above none other than the iconic and controversial American rapper and entrepreneur Kanye West (4.2B views).
If we want to see where Vallenato is going, we fortunately can tell you that the future is already here under the name of Silvestre Dangond. Dangond was born in Colombia in 1980 in the region of La Guajira, the birthplace of Vallenato in Colombia, and started his career in 2002 with the launch of his debut album Tanto Para Ti. The level of success he has attained can be understood through his stats. The first important milestone that Silvestre has accomplished is being the second most followed Vallenato artist on Spotify and Deezer, where he has garnered 2.4M followers on the former and 1.26M on the latter, putting him just below Carlos Vives. In the last 12 months, Dangond’s streaming performance on Deezer saw a 46 percent increase in Colombia and a 34 percent increase globally, and his playlist “100% Silvestre Dangond” saw a 75 percent streaming increase both in Colombia and also globally. Looking at the total amount of views generated on YouTube, the 3.66B views he’s been able to accumulate are just a little smaller than the ones made by arguably the most successful former member of One Direction, ZAYN, and his 3.77B accumulated views. When trying to gauge how relevant his music is today, YouTube is again a great reference point, as Silvestre’s channel is generating around 64.3M views per month, comparable to what Kygo is accruing on the same period (66M).
While there is a ton of other Vallenato artists with active and thriving careers, Carlos Vives, Diómedes Díaz, and Silvestre Dangond are the holy trinity of the genre, representing the tradition, the innovation, and the future of Vallenato. The numbers don’t lie.
Música Popular Colombiana (Colombian Popular Music)
Música Popular Colombiana, also known as Música de Carrillera or Música de Cantina, originated in the Colombian region of Antioquia. This music genre borrows heavily from Mexico’s Mariachi/Ranchero music, as well as from Corrido and Huapango. These regional Mexican music genres blended with other regional Colombian music genres, as well as included elements derived from other countries such as Argentina (Tango) and Ecuador and Peru (Boleros). Música Popular Colombiana was born between the 1930s and the 1940s and was mainly performed by farmers of the mountainous region of Antioquia state, before crossing to the mainstream years later. Some Colombian historians attribute the birth of this music genre to the migration spurred by the construction of the railroads in that state, and they also relate it closely to Colombia’s strong coffee growing, production, and trade in that region.
Similar to Ranchero, this music primarily speaks about love, loss, and heartbreak, so its lyrics include references to ugly crying and drinking heavily as means to overcoming one’s love-related sorrows. There are other songs in this genre that evoke a happier party mood ideal for drinking and singing along in bars, which explains its other name, Música de Cantina (Pub/Bar Music). At the beginning, this music was seen as music to be consumed mainly by Colombia’s working classes, but it was its nationwide commercial expansion around the 1980s that made it possible for Música Popular Colombiana to become a Colombian regional music genre in its own right. The growth of the playlists "Hits Música Popular" and "Amor Penas y Despecho", both curated by Deezer, illustrate its growth in popularity.
"Although Música Popular has roots from Mexico, it’s a genre that has been embraced wholeheartedly by Colombians. There are huge Colombian artists in this genre including Jessi Uribe, Yeison Jimenez and Paola Jara - but what we’ve noticed at Deezer is also a great interest for Mexican artists such as Christian Nodal, who ranks #1 as the top most streamed artist in this genre. Other popular Mexican artists in this genre include: Vicente Fernández, Alejandro Fernández and Carin León. They have helped influence and revolutionize a new genre, the new “Música Popular Colombiana”. - Diego Burgos, Latin Music Global Editor at Deezer
As such, we’d be remiss not to mention Paola Jara, a female artist of this genre who consistently puts songs on the Colombian charts. Paola was born in 1983 in the Antioquia region, the origin of this music genre. She formally started her music career in 2009, and that’s when she got her first hit “Voy a Olvidarte,'' followed a couple of years later by “Soledad Acompañada,” “Que Sufra, Que Chupe, Que Llore,” and “Murió El Amor,” her biggest hit. When we look at her numbers and trends, her career continues to look promising, as Paola is now the fourth most followed artist of this genre on Spotify (331K followers) and on Deezer (187.7K followers). It is not surprising, as already discussed, that her growth on YouTube is possibly the most significant in the genre, with year-over-year growth of 56.5 percent in the last 12 months, which brings her to 427M views, close to those of the American actress and singer Zendaya whose channel views now add up to 428M. Even if Instagram is not a music streaming platform, Paola has been a savvy user of the social platform, which has paid off, as she now has 4.89M followers in the platform, a 48.1 percent growth in just one year, putting her close to the Dutch DJ producer Hardwell.
Pipe Bueno is arguably the biggest rising star of Música Popular Colombiana. Born Andrés Felipe Giraldo Bueno in Cali, Colombia, Pipe started his career when he was 16 years old, recording his very first album in 2008. His breakthrough single, “Recostada en la Cama,” propelled him to stardom in his home country, and he followed up that single with the smash hit “No Voy a Morir,” among many others. As far as statistics and trends go, Pipe Bueno is the second most followed artist of this music genre on Spotify (587.2K followers), which places him above the rising Puerto Rican Trap star Guaynaa. On Deezer, Pipe has 490.3K followers, and he is also in the Top 10 most streamed artists of this genre. His YouTube channel views grew close to 18 percent last year, putting his accumulated views at 778M+, comfortably above the American rapper Lil Yachty, who has generated a little more than 775M accumulated views. It is also interesting to find that Instagram seems to be a social network that works very well for this artist, as he grew his follower base by almost 25 percent to 7.7M followers which is pretty close to the 7.8M followers that the internationally renowned Californian Pop Rock group Maroon 5 has amassed throughout their successful career.
Up next is Jessi Uribe, the undisputed star of Música Popular Colombiana and the most streamed artist of this genre in the last two years. Uribe was born in 1987 in Bucaramanga, Colombia, to a musical family: his father is a Mariachi singer who used to take him to his shows when he was a little kid. Besides being a singer, Uribe is also a songwriter, and several fellow artists in Colombia and beyond have recorded his songs, including Mexican mariacheño superstar Christian Nodal. Jessi participated in a couple of TV Talent shows before his career finally took off with the song “Dulce Pecado,” which has generated more than 370M views on YouTube.
Jessi Uribe is the most listened and followed Musica Popular artist on both Deezer, where his playlist 100% Jessi Uribe grew 172 percent in Colombia and 395 percent globally from February 2020 through January 2021, and Spotify, where available data shows that Jessi grew his average monthly listeners in one year by 26.5 percent to 1.6M. His 830K followers on the Swedish platform put him just a couple of spots below Maroon Five’s vocalist Adam Levine. His YouTube performance is stellar, as is to be expected of artists in this genre; he grew his channel’s views by 51.5 percent in the last 12 months to 1.3B accumulated views. This puts him within a similar rank as Country singer Carrie Underwood (1.33B views) or rising American Pop star Lauv and his 1.37B total views. It is clear that, due to his notorious growth trends and his promissing forays into foreign markets such as Mexico and the US Latin market, we will be hearing more of Jessi Uribe in the years to come.
Cumbia is possibly one of the biggest musical contributions that Colombia has made to the world. The origins of this regional music genre go way far back, as it emerged on Colombia's Caribbean coast during the 17th century, resulting from a fusion of Spanish, Native American, and African musical traditions. The Black cultures in the area contributed percussion and rhythm, the Native Americans contributed musical instruments such as caña/flauta de milo and gaita, and Spanish colonists contributed the language and the traditional clothing worn by the performers. The original cumbia instruments include tambora, tambor alegre, llamador, maracas, flauta de milo, and two different types of gaitas; later iterations of the genre have incorporated instruments such as electric bass, accordion, trumpets, and congas. The origin and meaning of the word Cumbia is controversial, and experts have not yet come to agree on it; however, the most prevalent thesis is that it’s an evolution of the African word cumbé, which means celebration. Today, within Colombia, there are different Cumbia subgenres such as Cumbiamba, Cumbia Sabanera, Cumbia Vallenata, Cumbia Maya, and Cumbia Popular, among others.
When speaking about Colombian Cumbia artists that have made history, there are numerous artists that come to mind, such as Lisandro Meza, a trailblazer that contributed to the globalization of this music genre around the world and whose music has seen a great surge in popularity as of late. However, it is inescapable to review what is possibly the biggest Colombian act that still remains active, relevant, and with an enviable 60-year career span: La Sonora Dinamita. The original orchestra was formed in the Colombian city of Cartagena in 1960, and they disbanded in 1963 to come back together in 1975. Even if La Sonora Dinamita’s lineup has changed over the years, it has always featured a strong female lead vocalist, including the now successful female Colombian-Mexican Cumbia star Margarita La Diosa de la Cumbia. This band has generated huge hits throughout its whole history that are quintessential to the genre such as “Se Me Perdió La Cadenita,” “Mi Cucu,” “Que Nadie Sepa Mi Sufrir,” and “Qué Bello,” among many others.
If we review La Sonora Dinamita by the numbers, and due to the popularity of Cumbia in Mexico and among the Mexican diaspora in the USA, it is not surprising to see that their Pandora stats are to be reckoned with: They have 1.07B streams on the platform, pretty close to the 1.1B streams of the American Indie Folk band Bon Iver, who are known for having a devoted following. Regarding the monthly amount of video views being generated by their YouTube channel, La Sonora Dinamita are accruing an average of 48.8M views per month, which is comparable to American R&B artist H.E.R (48.9M views per month), or the reputed Indie singer-songwriter Christina Perri (49M views per month). On Spotify, the average monthly listeners that La Sonora Dinamita boasts today (2.55M) are pretty close to those of the British Alternative Dance-Electronic act La Roux (2.6M); on Deezer, their follower count (320K) almost equals the Mexican-American artist who became an icon by doing Cumbia Tejana music (and, unfortunately, due to her highly publicized assassination): Selena (321.8K followers).
When trying to discern what the future holds for Cumbia in Colombia, we find that today’s biggest Cumbia acts in the world are from other Latin American countries, and we’ll speak about that in our last article of this series. However, there is one group/collective hailing from Colombia who promises to surprise us in the near future: Frente Cumbiero. Frente Cumbiero is spearheading what is known as the “new Cumbia movement” in Colombia. They have toured extensively in Latin America, while also having visited Europe, Africa, and the United States, among other countries. In the last 12 months, their Spotify followers have grown 63.4 percent (24.3K today), their Spotify average monthly listeners have duplicated (155K today), their YouTube views have grown 808 percent (773K today), and their Instagram following has grown 49 percent (17.7K today). On Deezer, their streaming activity saw an increase of 28 percent in Colombia and 14 percent globally in the same period. This quartet’s streaming numbers are not yet as big as one might hope, but the performance of their two biggest hits, “Cumbia del Monte Fuji” and “Chucusteady,” give us a glimpse of what this group could become.
Champeta, which is also known as Terapia, is a musical genre and dance that originated on the Caribbean coast of Colombia in the early 1980s. The dance has its roots in Chalusonga, which originated in the mid-1970s. Chalusonga was a combination of Colombian chalupa music and Afro-Cuban percussion that, when it reached Cartagena de Indias, evolved into Champeta. Champeta became a movement that defined the Afro-Colombians’ identity in that region of the country, as its origins derive from African colonial settlements and contemporary African culture. Among the instruments used in this regional Colombian genre are percussion, which are predominant in its sound, electric guitar, bass, and synthesizers, which help define the melodic lines of the genre. If you want a more contemporary and high profile showcasing of Champeta, you just have to take a look at Shakira’s half time Super Bowl performance in 2020, where this fragment of her show showcases it. She also posted a rehearsal for that part of her show here. Needless to say that Shakira’s embracing of this music genre in such a high profile event as the Super Bowl has brought more visibility to Champeta.
El Sayayín is one of the pioneers of the genre, and rising stars Luister La Voz and Kevin Florez are also artists worth checking out. However, among them all, the artist who has managed to break through into the Colombian mainstream today is Mr. Black El Presidente. Born as Edwin Antonio Antequera Mercado in Cartagena de Indias, Mr Black El Presidente is a singer, composer, and producer who specializes in Champeta. He started his career in 1998 with the song “Los Trapitos Al Agua,” followed by a string of hits that culminated with “El Serrucho,” a song released in 2013 that has 68M views and 17.3M streams on Spotify, making it his biggest hit yet. While this music genre is still relatively small on platforms like Spotify and Deezer, YouTube is a whole different story. When we compare his official YouTube lifetime performance, his 576.3M views put him in the same league as the German DJ/producer Felix Jaehn (579.8M lifetime video views), and not so far from the iconic American rapper, songwriter, and producer Missy Elliot (593.4M accumulated views). His instagram profile, which boasts 1.42M followers, puts him immediately above Liam Gallagher (1.42M), part of the legendary British band Oasis, and not too far from the 1.43M followers that the American DJ and producer KSHMR has today; this amount of followers underscores the appeal that Mr Black El Presidente has in his native Colombia and potentially beyond.
Champeta is a Colombian music genre that, outside of Colombia, has only really gained some traction in Venezuela and Ecuador. Nevertheless, based on its continuous appearance on Colombian YouTube charts, Shakira’s worldwide showcasing of the genre, and the breakthrough hit that “El Serrucho” represented for Mr. Black El presidente, it wouldn’t be surprising if we soon started talking about a viral Champeta hit — especially now that we live in the shortform video era where tunes can be used for engaging, fun choreographies that are being widely used on TikTok, Triller, and Instagram's Reels.
What Comes Next?
After reviewing the numbers of regional Colombian music artists, it is even clearer why it is important to acknowledge Colombia as a cultural powerhouse to be reckoned with. Colombia’s rich cultural heritage and privileged geographical location has poised this country as one of the leaders in the production of cultural content in the years to come.
As we will see in our third and final piece on how Latin America’s most prominent regional musical genres have started to evolve into the future, Colombia and Mexico have already spread their culture beyond their borders many years ago.
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