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Currulao: have fun and dance with this Colombian rhythm!

Guy singing Currulao´s song
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

Colombia is diverse in pretty much everything, and music is no exception. We have the honor and pleasure of enjoying numerous traditional musical genres and dances that are part of our identity. Plus, music is connected to our festive and happy spirit! Currulao is one of many genres you should listen and dance to when coming to Bogotá!

If I had to write about all of Colombia’s musical and dance traditions, I would never finish, or it would probably be an encyclopedia of thousands of pages. Music is inside our souls and engraved in our identity to remind us how beautiful and simple life is. And, as Colombians, we enjoy the infinite number of traditional genres that best showcase our culture and traditions. Besides having an amazing name (which is difficult to pronounce correctly if you are not a Spanish speaker because of the “r”), currulao is the most traditional genre in the Pacific region of Colombia. Its rhythm and folklore are out of this world, meaning that it’s hugely enjoyable and inspiring.

Currulao’s origins

If I listen to currulao, I’ll probably close my eyes, lay down and imagine myself enjoying a nice and peaceful day on the beach, feeling the wind in my face without any kind of disturbance. That’s exactly what currulao transmits to me: a feeling of “hey, everything is alright, relax, enjoy, and be happy.” his musical genre was born on the shore of the Pacific coast, which makes perfect sense because I mean, it would be impossible to not create something beautiful with that majestic landscape!

Currulao´s party tradition
© Photograph by lazyhiker.com

The musical diversity found in Colombia is a result of a mixture of African, indigenous, and European (mainly Spanish) influences. To be specific, currulao was created by isolated slave populations brought from Africa during colonial times to extract gold. With time, they became the Afro-Colombian community and developed their own culture that characterizes the Pacific region. That’s why currulao is the most African-influenced style in Colombia, even if its harmonies were influenced by European music at some level. In 2010, currulao was added to the UNESCO list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity to preserve its heritage.

In addition, the word currulao comes from “cununao,” which is a reference to a type of drum, “cununos,” which is of African origin and plays an important role in the folklore of the Pacific region.

Style of music and instruments

Since it has very strong and notable African roots, Currulao uses mostly percussion instruments (take a look at my article about traditional Colombian instruments). In its most basic form, it’s played by four musicians (usually men) with the following:

  • Marimba de Chonta: The most iconic instrument of the Pacific region. It’s made of a native bamboo called guadua for the resonance tubes and chonta wood for the slabs. It’s played by two people simultaneously: one in charge of the low register and the other in charge of the high register.
Main Currulao´s instruments
© Photograph by solar.physics.montana.edu
  • Guasá or Guaché: Used to keep the time, it’s a hollow cylinder made of guadua or metal and filled with dry seeds or pebbles. To make a sound, you just have to shake it.
  • Cununo: The drum, from which currulao derives its name is a narrow and tall type of drum. To play it, just strike the skin with one hand and with the other, tap the side with a small stick.
  • Bombos:  A large double-headed bass and there are two: the bombo golpeador  (“striking bass drum”)  and the bombo arullador (“lullaby drum”).

There are numerous genres within currulao depending on the tempo, the instrument patterns, and the lyrics. Some of them are bambara negra, caderona, juga grande, and pango.

In recent years, currulao has been combined with other genres and instruments to produce a modern sound. But it’s not an exclusively instrumental rhythm, it also has beautiful singing melodies and patterns, which are usually sung by women, or cantadoras (though it can also be sung by men, or cantadores). A distinctive feature is that it has a lead voice and an answering choir that narrates stories in a rhythmic, rhyming manner.

Style of dance

A couple dancing in the festival
© Photograph by Pinterest

Currulao is a folkloric dance as well; its style and movements are inspired by sacramental rites originated in Africa involving themes of love and nature. It’s usually danced by pairs that move in an agile and vigorous manner. The male moves with strength trying to seduce his partner and the female dances in a calm manner. The choreography has two simultaneous actions: one of circular rotation and another more of a direct movement, forming small circles. There are also some advances, retreats, and the intersection of dances in sequence. In addition, men and women wear traditional and very beautiful white outfits.

Watch a demonstration of currulao’s dance here.

Famous groups

Herencia de Timbiquí band
© Photograph by Pablex

Some of the most recognized currulao local groups are Grupo Socavón, Grupo Gualajó, and Grupo Bahía. Among the famous marimberos (men that play marimba), there is Baudilo Cuama Rentería. There are other more famous groups that are even known on an international level, such as Choquibtown and Herencia de Timbiquí (though these already have a mix of modern and traditional sounds). 

The best songs to listen and dance to currulao, while also noticing the particular sound of each of the instruments, are:

  • El Currulao me llama by Grupo Bahía (such a relaxing and soulful sound!)
  • Te invito by Herencia de Timbiquí (my mother loves them and I understand why because they are great!)
  • Comadre Mayeya by Grupo Socavón (the guy that sings has an amazing voice!)
  • Berejú by Grupo Gualajó (this just make me want to move along and sing the choruses!)
  • Baudilo Cuama Rentería (this is not a song per se, it’s a presentation he did last year, but the way he plays the marimba is absolutely impressive!)
  • Calentura by Choquibtown ft. Tego Calderón and Zuly Murillo (one of the modern versions of currulao’s melodies and rhythms, and if this song doesn’t make you want to dance, then I don’t know what else will!)

The best to enjoy currulao is to go to the Pacific region, but if you are in Bogotá, there are some places where you can enjoy it as well (at least modern versions and mixes): Galería Café Libro or La Negra.

I hope that I made you excited to listen, sing, and even dance to currulao. It’s a beautiful demonstration of Colombia’s diversity through its own unique musical traditions. When coming to Bogotá, take some time to enjoy this melodic side of our culture!

Was this article useful? Do you know more cool stuff about currulao? 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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