When I stumbled upon this band last week, I knew they would be today’s feature. I think Ben would have liked them – or at least been amused by them. Puerto Candelaria is a 6-person band out of Medellín that plays what they call “cumbia underground.” They take the cumbia rhythms that are so important to Colombia’s culture and history, and throw on a lot more layers. Both their music and their style reminds me of Gogol Bordello; both are rock bands that are clearly heavily rooted in their respective cultures’ music (Gogol Bordello in Romani and Puerto Candelaria in Colombian), and both are acts that put on live shows that are much more spectacle than concert.
The band lives in the world of magic realism, the genre for which Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez is famous; basically when things too strange and unusual to believe enter into a very real and believable setting. In an interview with Las 2 Orillas, trombonist Cristian Ríos described Puerto Candelaria as “a fictious place that came from the imagination of all of us, with the purpose of transmitting a message about Colombia through music. It is a tropical, unorganized place that is in constant movement…” (translation mine).
Their bio on their website says they are the country’s “most daring, controversial, and innovative” musical act of recent years, that is “an imaginary place, and at the same time real place, where more than music exists: theater, dance, and humor are the effective resources that the 6 members use to harshly and mockingly show the absurdity that is Colombia” (translation mine again).
Certainly, while I am constantly surrounded by these rhythms, none of the music I hear out in the streets sounds like this. I know I’m an outsider to this country, but I am glad that bands like Puerto Candelaria exist. In my opinion, it makes cumbia music and therefore Colombian culture more accessible to people from other contexts. Most people I know wouldn’t sit at home and listen to traditional cumbia, but they would listen to this “cumbia underground.”