How to dance cumbia wepa

Why Cumbia Is the Musical Soul of Mexico City

DispatchZoe MendelsonLaurence Philomene

In Mexico City, cumbia blares out of buses, pharmacies, construction sites, and fancy mezcalerías alike. My Mexican husband once asked me if I knew his country’s national anthem, and I started singing the inescapable, melodramatic, exaggeratedly nasal “Cómo Te Voy a Olvidar” by the megapopular Mexico City cumbia group Los Ángeles Azules. He agreed that my version was a solid stand-in. 

Cumbia has been called the “musical backbone of Latin America” (NPR). It’s a genre of music with a wide range of styles and sounds, unified by its quick-quick-slow rhythm. Maybe you’ve never heard of it, but you’ve most likely heard it and thought it was salsa, or maybe reggaeton. It frequently borrows from and lends to both.

Los Ángeles Azules are a popular Mexican cumbia sonidera group founded in the 1980s.

Cumbia’s origins are in the music of African slaves brought to the north coast of Colombia. The music was originally played with African drums, mixed with indigenous instruments like flutes and maracas. When cumbia made its way to Mexico in the 1940s, it started to get orchestrated with wind instruments. It mixed with other tropical music like danzón and rumba. And then it completely exploded; Mexico went loco for cumbia.

“I think people identified with it because it was working people’s music. Cumbia is a tribute to liberty. You feel it in your body,” says Marisol Mendoza, a cumbia historian, cultural producer, sonidera (cumbia DJ), and founder of Las Musas Sonideras, a popular women’s sonidera collective. By the 1960s there was such a demand for cumbia in Mexico that record-sellers would travel to Colombia and bring vinyls back “like music traffickers,” says Mendoza. 

“It was working people’s music. Cumbia is a tribute to liberty.” 

“And once we sonideros would buy them, we would cover up the album titles and artist names to make the music we had exclusive,” says Ricardo Mendoza, a famous sonidero, star of the film Yo No Soy Guapo, and Marisol’s father.

“I feel bad we didn’t support the artists more now. But still, Colombians who played cumbia started coming to Mexico to further their careers. This was their trampoline.” 

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Waiting to join the next song at Salón Los Angeles.

Marisol’s hypothesis is that cumbia wasn’t selling as well in Colombia because it was a traditional, regional music. “It was like mariachi here. People didn’t think it was cool. In Mexico we made it danceable, singable, marketable. We put it in our fichera movies, our cabarets. And it became associated with the barrios.” 

By the 1980s, there were huge outdoor cumbia parties called sonidos in the streets; Ricardo started one called Sonido Duende in 1975, and it became one of the most famous in the city.  “They would set up under overpasses, close the streets off with vinyl signage, and charge 10 pesos,” remembers Marisol. “They happened early. By 10 p.m. we’d be going for a torta.”

Sadly, by the 1990s Mexico City police were shutting them down, often violently, in full riot gear. “We called them robocops,” says Marisol. But cumbia never lost its popularity. It kept growing and morphing, giving and taking from other musical styles, and spreading through Latin America. 

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Outside Salón Los Angeles in Mexico City.

Now there’s chicha from Peru, villera from Argentina, wepa from San Luis Potosí in Mexico, electrocumbia from everywhere, and an endless supply of other localized and international styles of cumbia. In most new Mexican cumbia, Ricardo explains, “you can still hear remnants of Mexico’s original contributions to the genre: trumpets, synth, keyboard.” 

In Mexico City today you can find live cumbia in dance salons, bars, and public parties like the ones at market anniversaries and outdoor church fairs. You usually hear a mix of cumbias from early classic to electro, depending on the DJ.

There are very few generalizations you can make about what it’s like to go dance cumbia, except that people actually ask one another to dance, and not with the end goal of eventually making out. Otherwise the contexts differ widely.

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Sonido Gallo Negro is a cumbia band that plays around Mexico City and demonstrates the various styles the genre can take.

While it has always been and is still a working-class people’s music, in the last ten years it’s taken on a new status as part of Mexico’s cultural heritage. In February 2020, the López Obrador administration’s Secretary of Culture even released a statement saying that they were planning a series of activities and programs to promote sonideros in Mexico City.

Now, Las Musas Sonideras don’t only play clubs and parties. They also play at museums, cultural centers, and art week events where gringos in fancy clothes stand around looking amazing and not dancing, while Marisol makes fun of them in Spanish over the mic: “I think I’m the only person in here that speaks Spanish!” 

The first time Marisol played at the hipster bar La Chicha in La Roma, her friend said, “Really, you’re going to send saludos here?!” Saludos refers to when the sonideros shout out the names of dance groups that come to see them, the people they know, the people who they wish were there but aren’t, their barrios, and any name that someone writes on scrap paper and hands to them over the DJ booth. It’s a sonido staple. Her friend pointed out that the venue represented a new context for Marisol’s medium. “It’s a new public that’s showing up to see Marisol,” Ricardo agrees. 

Still, Marisol always sends saludos. Even if you scribble down 17 names in barely legible handwriting on a napkin, like my husband does. She will send them all out for you.

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Live cumbia band at Salón Los Angeles.

Where to Dance Cumbia in Mexico City

Foro Hilvana

This place feels like a community center, with bright lights and lots of space to dance. It is uninterested in being cool. There are fans blowing cool air, the alcohol is reasonably priced, and everybody dances. Check their Facebook page to see when cumbia bands are playing. 

La Hija de Los Apaches

This place is a grimy, crowded, sweaty pulquería. (Pulque is a very nutritious and delicious but sort of mucus-like pre-Hispanic alcoholic beverage.) Tuesday nights from 6:30–9:00 they have an amazing house cumbia band. 

Club San Luis

This is a formal dance salon and not-so-former fichera club, which means that yes, some of the women you see around you may be getting paid to…dance. Don’t wear shorts or bring a backpack. Do bring an ID. You have to get a table, and the drinks are not cheap. But the interior is gorgeous: all red velvet, straight out of the ’70s, and the live bands play a mix of salsa, rumba, and cumbia all night every night except Sunday. 

Salón Los Angeles

Their slogan is “If you haven’t been here, you haven’t been to Mexico.” And it’s kind of true! A proper dance salon, the crowd is mostly in their 50s and 60s. You can get a glimpse of Mexico’s pachucos—suit-wearing dance groups—and learn to dance from the real OGs. 

Cumbia on Facebook

Another way to find cumbia is to follow sonideros and cumbia bands on Facebook. Here are a few that frequently play shows around the city:

—Las Musas Sonideras (DJs)
—Sonido Gangster (DJ)
—Sonido Confirmación (DJ)
—Sonido Gallo Negro (live band)
—La Guadalupe Reyes Cumbia Orquesta (live band)
—Son Rompe Pera (live band)

A version of this story originally appeared in issue 12 of Here Magazine, where we also explored the punk scene in London and the underground hip hop culture of Tokyo.  

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Holidays in Colombia from the tour operator "Svoi people", prices for 2022-2023.

Selection of the tour


Beaches on the Caribbean Sea and the high Andes, modern buildings and colonial buildings, the Catholic faith and the mystical rites of the Indians, a lazy sea holiday or canoeing in the Amazon - all this is Colombia. A country of contrasts, a country of two oceans. Enjoy a seaside holiday or explore ancient cities - Colombia is the perfect place to experience new things.

It's always warm in Colombia (about 29°C), which means that at any time of the year you can escape from the bustle of work and, having bought a tour to Colombia, go towards the sun and exciting adventures.

In Bogota, the capital of Colombia, you can find entertainment for all tastes. Walk along the colorful streets on the mountain slopes, get acquainted with the original culture in one of the many museums and theaters, and finally learn how to dance salsa or Colombian cumbia. When, if not during a holiday in Colombia? Bogota, the heart of Colombia, is full of mysteries and contrasts. Everything is here: sports cars and tired mules on the roads, luxurious Catholic cathedrals and shrines of the Muisca Indians, wealth and poverty, chaos and order. Your traveler's luggage will definitely be replenished with vivid impressions.

Bogota, Colombia

If your heart desires silver sand beaches and stunning seas, head to San Andrés Island in the Caribbean. This is a delightful place for diving or lazy relaxation under the palm trees.

Interested in history? Visit the oldest city in Colombia, Santa Marta, with its wonderful architecture and the atmosphere of ancient legends.

The country has many interesting cities and wonderful resorts, and excursions in Colombia are as diverse as the country itself. Pick one tour to Colombia and we're sure you'll want to come back for more to see "the other side of the moon".

San Andrés Island, Colombia

Hotels of the Colombian Hotel Association are classified according to the worldwide five-star system. The cost of accommodation in such hotels remains unchanged throughout the year, but in small private hotels it has seasonal fluctuations - from May to November it is much lower. Columbia hotels can be located in modern futuristic buildings or old mansions - choose what suits you best. The competition among hotels is quite high, and therefore each owner strives to provide guests with maximum comfort.

Svoi lyudi will offer you the most interesting tours around Colombia and will select for you hotels in the resorts of Colombia of any level and for every taste.

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Where to go on holidays - Gazeta.


"Park Kultury" begs to have pity on the liver and presents its readers with a brief overview of proposals in the field of New Year's cultural leisure.

It is difficult, very difficult not to sleep during the festive marathon, and therefore we advise you to get out from behind the set table, spit on the TV screen and make a desperate foray into the street. But not to the nearest store, but, as the Armenian driver Ruben Khachikyan advised in the film "Mimino", "to cultural events."

For example, in the cinema. First of all, you can go to some New Year's blockbuster. Fortunately, there are three of them: one New Year's and blockbuster than the other. Stilyagi by Valery Todorovsky Jr.: a musical, but not in the style of Soviet musical comedies, but rather in the spirit of Hollywood's Cry-Baby and Grease. Or "Inhabited Island": Fyodor Bondarchuk shot a domestic version of "Blade Runner" based on the Strugatskys' dystopia. But, of course, the most benign solution for an organism undermined by a nationwide festivities is to go to Love-Carrot-2: no shooting, no songs, only Gosha Kutsenko and Kristina Orbakaite portray children.

Fine entertainment for film snobs is also available.

This week comes Dr. Plonk, a black-and-white comedy by Australian Rolf de Heer, inspired by silent films, films by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And the next time, the Mexican “Cumbia Tied Us Up” will appear at the box office - the winner of the “Perspectives” competition at the MIFF, a film about a photographer who caught a girl stealing, and how it ended.

Go to Bedtime Stories with the whole family: if you don't enjoy it, at least get some sleep while the kids watch Adam Sandler - his hero writes incredible stories that suddenly start to come true. You can tickle your nerves on the horror movie "Murder Theory" from next week: a group of students falls into the trap of a maniac ... well, then you yourself know everything.

For the most sophisticated aesthetes, we offer "On the Sea" with Pavel Derevyanko - a domestic film about the family vacation of Russian tourists. The introductory "comedy in the spirit of Buñuel" adds a special mystery and piquancy to the film. It's already scary.

If during the holidays someone has a craving for art exhibitions, then you should focus on state museums, since the vast majority of private galleries will rest with the whole country.

First recommendation: Joseph Turner exhibition at the Pushkin Museum. This is a very significant tour from the Tate Britain gallery in London, there are many programmatic and simply interesting works by the cult English landscape painter. Turner is called the forerunner of impressionism and modernism, but the point is not so much in the wording, but in the visible and pronounced genius of the author. His exhibition at the Pushkin Museum continues the long-standing educational policy of the museum. Once upon a time, works were brought here that Soviet viewers could not see in Western collections due to the Iron Curtain. Today this is easier, but London is still far away. For everyone who has not been able to get acquainted with the legacy of Turner in his homeland, we strongly advise you to look into the Pushkin Museum.

Another entertaining story is presented in the Patriarchal Palace of the Moscow Kremlin. The Art of the Sublime Porta exhibition continues here, showcasing various Turkish-made treasures. For example, the richly decorated orb and scepter of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich were made in Istanbul. Or else the sakkos of Orthodox metropolitans and patriarchs, also made by Turkish craftsmen. Sabers, broadswords, pointed "heroic helmets" and other ceremonial ammunition - all this is a presentation of the era when Muscovy was friends and traded with the Ottoman Empire.

Viewers will be surprised to discover that many elements of the textbook "Russian style" were created by Muslims.

And in the building of the Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val, you can see a retrospective of the famous animal painter Vasily Vatagin. It’s tempting to write “come with the children”, but in general, adults should be interested here too. Of course, painting, drawing and sculpture can't compete with the BBC's films for naturalistic observations, but sometimes it's worth taking a break from the TV screen and just looking at man-made art. There is no doubt that Vatagin's works are works of art.

The Tretyakov Gallery has placed another exposition in the Engineering Building. Here are collected household and class portraits from the museums of Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Rybinsk, Uglich, Soligalich, Pereslavl-Zalessky. The plot is rather unsophisticated and does not pretend to be glamorous, but "the soil and fate breathe" in it. As the initiator of the exhibition, Savva Yamshchikov, once put it, “Moscow is Russia's stepmother, and the provinces are its own mother.”

The Musical New Year will begin today, however, none of those who have learned about it now will get there.

Zemfira Talgatovna Ramazanova will give a solo concert in the intimate atmosphere of the 16 Tons club, but, alas, all the tickets have already been sold there. However, maybe not alas - over the past year, the singer has managed to get so bored with her stadium ambitions and scandals with guest workers, which, perhaps, is good that many will be able to take a break from her.

Directly on December 31, the Caviar club stood out with the wildest, but nicest party - here Sergei "Spider, for example" Troitsky will be on the same stage as Santa Claus and honored guests of Billy's Band corporate parties with their clones of classic songs by Tom Waits as everything else . It is not known how all this will turn out for the audience and participants, but next year Billy Novak's team promises to get everyone drunk at the second concert. In parallel with this, two teams will immediately offer to remember childhood and songs from Soviet films. And if the "Adventures of Electronics", speaking at "Tochka", obviously stayed too long in this post, then the Moscow alternatives from the groups "My Rockets Up" and "The Seventh Race", hiding under the pseudonyms "Petrov and Vasechkin", are obviously more interesting in this role. If you are interested, you are welcome to PodMoskovie.

In B-2, meanwhile, an ensemble of the same name will perform. Who would doubt that.

On the first day of the new year, the program is much poorer, and those who find Billy's Band's hoarse moans in their throats will be able to calm down only at the only important imported concert during the holidays - Hans-Peter Lindström will perform at Solyanka. This Norwegian electronic artist in his work, contrary to all expectations, focuses not on drum and bass, but on classic German kraut-rock, about which, after libations, in truth, you can dislocate your brains.

You can, however, dislocate, since the first New Year's week is not rich in musical events, to put it mildly.

Only serious St. Petersburg band Skafandr will perform in the "Chinese Pilot" with a portion of metal instrumental dub.

Concert life will start at Christmas, the musical part of which will be exclusively female. Pelageya and Inna Zhelannaya will perform in different parts of the city - both with variations on the theme of Russian folk songs. The first is in a more danceable format, the second is in a more psychedelic format. The first one is in hangar B1, the second one is in a cozy “Duma”. Where to go is up to you.

Moreover, there is a third option - the young Lithuanian diva Alina Orlova, who will sing "Burnt Sun" in "Caviar". Critics almost unanimously recognized the girl as the main discovery of the year, but if she visits us with such frequency, then soon the hype may disappear, since her main advantage - youthful spontaneity - has every chance to sharpen into cold professionalism in ten performances. Fans of female singing can also go to Tochka in a couple of days.

On January 9, languid Odessites from the Fleur group will perform here, whose sincerity does not interfere with professionalism.

Well, for lovers of, for example, wild dances, who have recovered from all the holidays, the holidays will finish in two evenings at the PodMoskovie club. On January 9, the Salvador band will again prove to everyone that it is possible to play extremely adrenaline and testosterone Latin rock on acoustic guitars.

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