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Dancing Colombian champeta: a movement of freedom and joy!

People dancing champeta
Sofía Machado

Sofía Machado

Colture editor but also architect, writer, dreamer, and adventurer. My mission is to tell stories that connect people and to discover, create and enjoy the amazing world we have the pleasure to live in. Instagram: sofiamm55

There’s no doubt that music represents freedom and joy anywhere in the world, especially in a country like Colombia where people are fiercely proud of their musical heritage. And, among the hundreds of dance styles we enjoy, champeta is for sure one of the most fun, interesting, and flamboyant ones!

When you come to Colombia, you’ll experience first-hand how music transforms lives and makes everything more enjoyable. Here, everyone seems to know all the lyrics and will sing and dance anytime, anywhere. Plus, you’ll also notice that much of our music isn’t stuff you’ve heard before. Champeta is currently one of Colombia’s most popular music and dance styles and it’s guaranteed that you’ll hear it in bars, clubs, and even casually on the street. Its beat and lyrics are very catchy and it’s easy to dance to as well. Champeta is exclusively an urban style of music and it’s considered a revolutionary take on Afro Colombian music in Colombia, especially on the Caribbean coast.

Champeta’s basics

Champeta is like salsa combined with twerking, that’s pretty much it! It was born in the early 1970s in the slums of Cartagena and San Basilio and it’s said to have arrived with the sailors from West Africa which gives it a strong drum beat. This, along with the influence of styles such as salsa, reggae, and even reggaeton, make up Champeta’s identity. Its name derives from the term “champetudo” which was applied to residents of African descent as a way of expressing disapproval of their culture and traditions; that’s why it was despised by the upper-middle class because it was considered the music of thugs and of the poor. Therefore, it was music that people rarely admitted to liking if they were not from the slums. So, the history of champeta is also the history of slavery and mistreatment in Colombia and, like many other styles, it was also used as a way of expressing thoughts and beliefs. Lyrics often referred to politics, social problems, and a desire for change; so on top of everything, it was also considered a threat to the government.

Champeta is pretty loud and it has a heavy bass that combined with the beat, creates a feast for the ears. In the 1990s, it began to change because of digital technology and the introduction of the placas (or interruptions) into the music, which made it even more festive. In Bogotá, it was still considered too sexual and unsophisticated, but it wasn’t in the 2000s that champeta had its definitive breakthrough and nowadays, it not only has revolutionized the industry, but it also has made it to the top of the charts just like salsa or reggaeton usually do. 

Dancing champeta

Anyone can dance champeta, but it does require a lot of agility, passion, energy, and soul. It’s almost like an explosive, funky style to dance and it’s definitely not as slow as bachata, for example. The basic steps require a lot of fast footwork, and leg and hip movement. It can even feel like doing a workout to burn calories! One of the most iconic steps is “el caballito” (the little horse), where you just mimic the movement of a horse (champeta does have dozens of steps that basically imitate certain actions).

Want to learn?

  • Choco to dance:  it’s wonderful because you have beginner, intermediate, and advanced level classes, as well as a ridiculously cheap price of $29,900 COP ($9.99 USD) for four months (unbelievable, I know!) of any class you wish. You’ll also contribute to scholarships to promote education in Chocó (one of Colombia’s departments), so you also contribute to a social cause!
  • Whee Dance Lessons: I recommend going to these lessons every Thursday at Meeting House. You’ll learn to dance merengue and many other Colombian or Latin rhythms, as well as share the experience with other foreigners and locals (for free!). It’s a hell of a good time, really!
People dancing
© Photograph by Nicolás Vallejo (FNPI) on Flickr

You can also learn by taking a look at these Youtube videos that teach you the basics so you can practice:

Want to dance for fun?

The best place to dance champeta is definitely Cartagena and San Basilio de Palenque, but in Bogotá, there are lots of bars and clubs that showcase it as part of their regular playlists or even live band sets. So, if you are coming here, head to:

  • Campanario: located in Zona Rosa (one of Bogotá’s uptown club areas). Here you’ll dance the night away and have a great time with your friends!
  • La Negra Bar: here you can enjoy and dance all types of music, including champeta! It has a nice atmosphere and is always a lot of fun!

Famous champeta artists and songs

As champeta is relatively new, there aren’t thousands of artists to choose from, so it’s easier to select a few. Here they are:

Songs:

  • El celular by El Zaa y El Yao (it’s impossible that this song doesn’t make you want to dance immediately!)
  • El serrucho by Mr. Black (mandatory at any Colombian party!)
  • La invite a bailar by Kevin Florez (everyone knows the lyrics of this one!)
  • Busco alguien que me quiera by Afinaito (sing it out loud!)
  • Yo voy ganao by Systema Solar (mixed sounds of various styles, including hip hop, make up this amazing song!)
Mr. Black
© Photograph by http://plazez.com/blog

To listen to more songs, click on this Spotify playlist and enjoy!

Champeta is more than a regular dance; it truly embodies a very important part of Colombia’s history and culture. And I dare to say that it’s one of the most vibrant, funky, and explosive dance styles you’ll ever experience! 

Read our articles about vallenato, merengue, salsa choke, and other Colombian dance styles to know more.

Was this article useful? Do you know other cool facts about champeta? Or maybe an experience you would like to share? Please share and/or comment on this article, and visit our homepage Colture to take a look at my articles and many others to find more essential information about Bogotá before and during your trip.

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