La Champeta – Slum culture, identity and sensuality

La Champeta – Slum culture, identity and sensuality

If you ever find yourself well planted in the lovely Caribbean city of Cartagena you might like to know she has more to offer than the beautiful colonial houses and the beach. In the poorer neighborhoods there is a unique cultural phenomenon which has been growing in the city for almost 100 years: La Champeta.

The expression comes from the old word Champetudo which was an old cultural identifier used for the poor residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the old walled town. The name stems from a knife called Champeta. The knife is similar to the Machete and was used by the poor in the kitchen, as a tool of work and as a weapon.

Today the word Champeta is mostly known as the unique musical style which is being pumped from large speakers in these poor neighborhoods. The musical style has strong African roots, but was originally known under the name of Creole Therapy, when it surfaced in the 1970s. The style got its name from the large dance events arranged in the neighborhoods in the 70s and 80s. At these events people felt they could relax and forget their troubles as they were dancing to the loud rhythmic music. It was these events the tradition of playing insane loud music from gigantic speakers for all that wants and don’t want to hear it came to be.

Creol Therapy was in the beginning a mix of salsa, jíbaro and reggae. In the 1980s Champeta spread to the neighboring towns Barranquilla, Santa Marta and was later known all over Colombia. The style then changed name to Colombia Therapy before it took the old and cultural heavy name of Champeta.

The expression Champetudo is still a strong cultural identifier in the neighborhoods of Cartagena and Champeta is very closely tied to the identity of the people in the neighborhoods. They are proud of their music and their culture.

The dance goes in a hyper slow super sensual dance. For many westerners the music might sound simple and weird, but spend enough time in the neighborhoods of Cartagena and you will ultimately find your head subconsciously nodding to the rhythms of the neighborhood.

“El Celular” by El Zaa y El Yao

This video is a much commercialized version of Champeta. The song is actually based on the rhythm and text of a Brazilian song by the name of”Comendo Água” performed by the group Aviões do Forró. Most Champeta songs have a distinct homemade sound and often exist only in concert recordings.

”Mujer de Cabaret” by Rey vol 46

This is a classically preformed Champeta song preformed what would be a modern Creole Therapy session.

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