Totó La Momposina, Live in Quito – an 18-Image Gallery
QUITO – Ten days after Cassandra Wilson made me cry at the opening of the Ecuador Jazz 2015 Festival, it was only fitting that Colombian national treasure Totó La Momposina would leave me in tears after her performance at an open air concert that officially closed the festival yesterday afternoon.
The Latin Grammy Award winner and one of Colombia’s most important musical ambassadors played for more than 90 minutes before an appreciative crowd that packed the Plaza del Teatro in Quito’s historical city center.
I wasn’t the only one moved by the power, emotion and sincerity of her exceptionally beautiful voice, one belying her 74 years. If I have a quarter of her energy, charisma and charm at that age, I’ll be a very happy man.
The woman who would eventually become Colombia’s Queen of cumbia was born Sonia Bazanta Vides in Talaigua, a village set on an island on the Magdelena River called Mompos, thus the ‘la Momposina’. In the 16th century invading Spaniards forced the locals into the island’s dense forest where they later intermarried with escaped African slaves. That heritage is at the heart of her unique melding of Afro-Colombian and indigenous styles, a style that takes its roots from Totó’s research of local music and dance styles as a young girl.
We all have a way of singing. That style that I have developed and interpret are the bailes cantados (singing dance). Bailes cantados is primary music: we use drums, our palms, repetitive choruses with verses that talk about the day to day life of man and the life in the Caribbean.
What I do comes from the Caribbean coast but it is a style of singing that exists in all of America. The different rhythms are divided between zones, sub-zones and sub-zones of sub-zones, and depending on where you are the name changes.
You can call them merengue, or bullerengue, you can call them chuana, you can call them pajarito, in the region of Bolivar you can call them tunas or chalupa, it just depends on where you get your information. I come from an island called Mompós where the people call it chandé, but you could also call it tambora or zambapalos.
These bailes cantados are also visible in the evolution of cumbia. Everyone in South America was introduced to commercial cumbia, they don´t know the old cumbia. I always begin with cumbia that is played with the instruments of our native people like the African drums, that our ancestors gave to us. In America, and in the entire world, one must understand that there is an enormous influence of African culture in all of us, contrary to story of the conquerors, the Italians, the Germans, and especially the Spanish and their moral influences, African culture won. And that’s what I sing using new instruments like the electric guitar or the bass guitar.
But I use the instruments at the service of the music and not the music at the service of the instruments, to be more clear, you have to study the percussive elements of the bass and electric guitar in order to interpret the instrument with the music that we know. It’s important because they are instruments that we didn’t create ourselves, the clarinet and trumpet for example are European.
The progeny of five successive generations of musicians and dancers –her father was a drummer, her mother a singer and dancer— Totó formed her own band in 1968 and began to pursue music professionally.
Her road eventually led to the Sorbonne in Paris in the 1970s where she studied music, choreography and rhythm. She also began touring Europe, presenting for the first time the indigenous music of her homeland to the outside world. In 1982 she accompanied Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Stockholm to perform at his Nobel Prize ceremony. Her star and stature has continued to rise since.
She joined the WOMAD Festival series in 1991 and two years later recorded La Candela Viva on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records label which put her firmly on the international map. In 2013 the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Her band was impressive as well, in the sound, scope and breadth of their instrumental repertoire which included guitars, traditional flutes, saxophone, trombone and tuba, and a variety of percussion.