Música en mi primer idioma: Totó la Momposina

The latest in our series on Latino and Spanish language music and artists looks at one of the queens of Colombian cumbia

Colombia is Cumbia. It is something we are proud of as Colombians. It is infectious, it is rhythmic, it is our dirty dancing. It is so traditional, unique and captivating that I have not met one person who is not amused by the drums and watching someone dance to it. For me, although I don’t listen to enough Cumbia, it creeps in my blood and immediately cheers me up. Although very famous through all of South American, and with distinctive differences from country to country (there is Mexican Cumbia, Argentinean Cumbia, etc) It was originated in Colombia´s Caribbean influenced by the rhythms slaves brought from Africa.  The dance is a courtship, and watching the women twirl with their long skirts and a lit  candle and men with their red handkerchiefs and hats and barefoot is mesmerizing. (You can watch an example here).

If I am going to talk about a singer that is associated with Cumbia (although it is not the only rhythm she sings) for me it has to be Totó la Momposina.

This Legendary Colombian singer is beloved by all the country. She was born in an indigenous town near Mompox, Colombia. (Momposina – woman from Mompox).

Mompox, Colombia

She comes from a family of musicians and is influences by three races (the indigenous – you can hear the flutes, African influences which you can hear in the drums and the guitar which is from the Spanish conquistadors). She learned to sing and dance as a child, started a group with her family in 1964, studied in the Musical Convservatory at Colombia´s National University and toured internationally, and then she went with Gabriel Garcia Maquez to collect his Literature Nobel Price in 1982.

She recorded her first album in France in 1983. After that she toured trhoguh Europe and studfied at Paris´s Sorbone and in La Habana, Cuba. In 1991 she recorded with Peter Gabriel´s WOMAD (World Music Arts Dance) the album “La Candela Viva”. She has had multiple tours and albums, most of which are available here in Spotify.

“El Pescador” Toto La Momposina


This traditional Colombian folklore song was written by Jose Barros and it tells the story of a joyful fisherman.

“El pescador… Habla con la luna
El pescador… Habla con la playa
El pescador… No tiene fortuna
Solo su atarraya”

It translates something like ” The fisherman…talks to the moon, the fisherman…talks to the beach, the fisherman…has no fortune only his fishing net”.

“Yo me llamo Cumbia” – Totó la Momposina

One of the rhythm´s and Colombia´s most famous songs. Written by Mario Gareña it is the anthem of a region and a culture.

“Prende la Vela” – Totó la Momposina

This last jam is just party central and it will get every single person on the dance floor. Enjoy!

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