8 Afro-Colombian artists turning Cali into a black music utopia

In Colombia, the city of Cali is often considered the unofficial capital of its Pacific coast. Known for its rich Afro-descendant heritage, the diasporic customs of the Pacific are layered and unique, yet inextricably linked to the Afro-Colombian communities of Palenque and the Caribbean coast. Pacific rhythms like currulao and chirimiya are both preserved by oral teachings and constantly changing under the influences of the outside world. A confluence of trap, dancehall and Afrobeats began to merge with marimba arrangements and spiritual alabados cherished along coastal communities, producing music that is both a source of regional black pride and a beacon of the ancestral resistance.

The Petronio Álvarez Pacific Music Festival is one of the most anticipated events of the calendar year, welcoming artists and groups from across the Pacific for a week-long celebration that celebrates Afro-Colombian joy and heritage. This year, respected elders and local rising stars shared the stage with captivating performances by Ruca y El Quinde from Barbacoas and Bejuco. Moreover, with the recent election of President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Marquezthe latter being a renowned activist from Valle del Cauca and the first woman of African descent to hold an executive position in government, this year’s festival seemed to ring with brighter colors.

Cali is home to marimba stalwarts like Herencia de Timbiquí and a hugely important salsa hub, with iconic bands like Grupo Niche and Orquesta Guayacán, as well as new school ensembles like La Mambanegra. With so many sonic delights brewing in Cali, we decided to spotlight some essential black artists who are reinventing the city’s legacy as a tropical music destination.

Shock Absorber x Shock Absorber

Over the past two years, Cali’s brightest Afro-futurists have unleashed a series of crunchy cuts causing colorful, gender-smooth ripples in Colombian street sounds. The Afrobeats provide the backbone of singles like “Quilo” and “Eso”, while the booming perreo of their Afro Fresh collaboration on “JELOU MAI KITY” leaves no doubt about their prowess on the dance floor. Dawer and Damper are true brothers who balance fresh beats and a visionary aesthetic, so be sure not to miss their debut album later this fall.

Nidia Gongora

The voice behind beloved projects such as Canalón de Timbiquí, La Pacifican Power and Ondatrópica, Maestra Nidia Góngora should be treated as nothing less than a legend. Constantly experimenting and developing the arrullos and alabados of traditional currulao, as on his two collaborative albums with Quantic, the scope of his work is dizzying. Add to that her efforts as an activist and educator, as well as the owner of her restaurant Viche Positivo and her line of viche distillates, and you’re dealing with a mogul in her own right.

alexis play

Blending hip-hop bombshell with the percussive richness of chirimiya, Alexis Play cemented his legacy as a fearless pioneer of the Colombian Pacific. Although he was formerly a member of ChocQuibTown, today, the prolific rapper, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and activist is best known for his high-octane collaborations and incisive bangers. The joyful anthem “Rebulú” aims to upend the status quo, while “Prietitud” alongside Esteban Copete and Nidia Góngora shines a light on the region’s resilient black pride.

Josman

The leading authority on Colombian Afrobeats, Jossman has been bridging Pacific rhythmic traditions with African production techniques for nearly a decade. Captivating, soft-voiced bars meet silky-smooth beats with roots firmly planted in his hometown of Timbiquí and all of its instrumental glory. His collaborations with Alexis Play, Nino Augustine and Slow Mike have made him a favorite of slow-grinding dancers, while his unmistakable style translates easily to dancehall and even the occasional reggaeton.

Cynthia Montano

Rapper, poet and educator Cynthia Montaño has been a voracious regular in Cali for over a decade, mixing traditional Pacific marimba and drumming with everything from jazz to reggae and hip-hop. While the first hit “Chontaduro” remains an enduring testament to artistic and regional resilience, the next cuts from her The Fabula LP also showcases its storytelling versatility. Salsa’s theatrical influences shine on the marimba-led ‘Ocaso de Tormenta’, while the dynamic ‘Yo Tengo Tu Tienes’ unfolds like a sunny anthem of communal unity.

Junior Zamora

Junior Zamora is one of the silkiest Colombian R&B you’ll hear today. He has lined up since childhood playing in church bands and singing in the choir. Whether it’s tied to gospel or contemporary hip-hop and R&B references like Frank Ocean and Lucky Day, Zamora’s editorial aesthetic and introspective lyrics keep it one step ahead. His wonderful first LP Ego came out earlier this year, full of baby music with plans for new sexy jams already on the horizon for next year.

Afro Captions

Despite their rookie status, the Afro Legends have an impressive ability to project wisdom beyond their years. The trio of Flow, Lilian and Sterling inject their polished trap and R&B with explosions of marimba and organic kick drums, resulting in a textured mix of tradition and innovation. Let yourself be carried away by the ancestral poignancy of “Dime Si Puedo” and let yourself be carried away by the shameless rejoicing of the real banger “Berembembem”.

Lil Keren

Self-proclaimed queen Del Trap Caleño, Lil Keren quickly rose through the local ranks with cocky bars and enough swagger to bankrupt Balenciaga. Versatile because attractive; shake ass with his collaboration Jambeau on “Rum Rum,” fall in love with his seductive trickery alongside Junior Zamora on “2X1,” or tap into assertive assertions of black pride on “Prieta.”

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