MY TRIP CROSS THE CUMBIA COLOMBIANA IN MONTERREY
The Other Eyes of the World: Research on the Cumbia Colombiana in the Border Area between Mexico and the USA
I arrived at the Monterrey airport on Wednesday 29 June 2022. Already on the plane I was warned of the drought and lack of water that the city suffered from months ago and increased leaving thousands of people without water. From the plane they showed me the peeling hills and the dry dam. An arid environment. It didn't take long to find out the names of the companies that steal water in Monterrey. Being born in Chiapas, in the south of Mexico, bordering Guatemala, I was interested in knowing other spaces of tension – tensions related to the ecological, the socio-political and identity. In this border space, nestled in desert landscapes, a subculture has emerged since the 1970s, that has apparently moved in the shadow of a city where modernity and American influence grows vertically as buildings, but the Cumbieros form the roots that interweave horizontally sustaining urban life. I travelled to Monterrey, Mexico, for three weeks to conduct choreographic research on some dances, which are appearing in the border zones. My motivation was to take Cumbia Colombiana Regia classes, to put my body to the test, to analyse the steps and understand the dance. I wanted to meet, talk and learn from the musicians and dancers and attend the dances. I have danced Cumbia all my life, in family events and some discotheques in Mexico. However, this music and style of dance from the Cumbia Colombia from Monterrey was a different one than in my childhood, and it was becoming more and more attractive to me, as it was not some folkloric dance that the government catalogues and teaches us in schools. At the same time, it was also not just tropical Cumbia either: the drums, the snare, the Guacharaca, the accordion, not only sounded different but it looked completely different. This was a Cumbia where the movements of my feet are filled with complexity, where the speed and intensity of the steps contrast with the floating and calmness with which the torso is placed. It seemed like a divided body, fractured but not in conflict, on the contrary, the contrast was in dialogue. Jumps, turns, bends. Working with opposite directions and speeds was something I discovered in that dance. My body began to accommodate itself to the rhythm not only of the accordion but also of the synthesizer and the bass. Something new and intense that I was practicing during the heat of almost 40°C made me boil inside. I felt more and more confident and stronger in the steps. Alex Valdés, my dance teacher, was explaining to me about dynamics like the relays and the duels. A dancer dances in the centre of the space and when this one finishes another one replaces them, having a kind of inherent agreement. I travelled to Independencia, the barrio bravo par excellence of Monterrey. The neighbourhood extends along the hill. In the famous Independencia I was waiting for Luke, a woman who lent me her house to interview her two friends. Two musicians are part of the group Luna Sabanera and the Amantes del Vallenato. Luna Sabanera and Yajaira Yuzira Montes are two artists of Colombian music: the Sabanera and the Vallenato. Two women sitting in front of me with their Colombian hats, smiling proudly and explaining to me how Cumbia has changed their lives. The music and dance of Colombian Cumbia in northern Mexico has allowed the emergence of alterable processes of identification that resemble an internal engine of resistance to the neoliberal system, which is rapidly digging deep into the life of the society as well as the hills of the city. This process of identification of the inhabitants of Monterrey with those of Colombia through Cumbia, I consider a pact between ‘mestizos’ , among the colonized, which extends and resists against the presence of the white, against the US presence and influence in the city. The African, Indigenous and Spanish presence from where Cumbia comes from is reflected, is found and reinforced in this part of Mexico. The dancers and singers of Colombian music have subjectivities, which I consider – as Rivera Cusicanqui would say – stained, variegated, impure, promiscuous. But how did Colombian music come to Monterrey? Some musicians explained to me that this style
arrived through vinyl records, which began to be played by the famous Sonideros. Every day it was heard more and more. Colombian Cumbia was heard in homes, streets, and events. It seems that the Sonideros have taken the music and the people have imagined their own movements, their clothes and they imagine themselves in Colombia, being Colombian. Neither the music of the upper social class, nor the traditional music, represented the feeling of the people who came to the city. Thus, Cumbia became the music of people of the working-class neighbourhoods. For decades, they identified themselves with a mixture of styles that took elements from Chicano, Hip Hop, Punk and Tropical music, together with very Mexican religious elements, such as scapulars or the Virgin of Guadalupe. But, how could we name this – that dance has of placing a rhythm and style of music in other bodies, in other contexts? Since it has no other referent than the music itself, it is the imaginary that invites the bodies to move from their bodily memories of learned experiences. The rest are metaphors, beautiful metaphors that connect the body with its context. I am interested however as a choreographer, in the presence of space, of context, of dancing in the neighbourhoods, in the street, the Retas, the Sonidero, of coexistence, of all these elements that are intertwined in ritualistic moments, performative moments that I attended a couple of nights on the terrace of Mrs. Luke in Independencia. Dancing this Cumbia there, I realized that I identified myself with it, I identified myself with ancestral meeting urban subjectivities. And I like to dance the Colombian Cumbia of Monterrey because it breaks with the essentialist discourses about the identity of Mexicans or the folkloric categories of dance and typical costumes that are colonized aspects of the Mestizo identity. I discovered myself in the Colombian Cumbia Regia, consuming their music, learning to dance their Cumbias, and knowing their stories. My experience in Mexico was one of learning, the knowledge that I acquired in communal encounters, in less ostentatious practices, less verbalized, more alive in ritual, in urban music. In my work as a performing artist, I take perspective as an immigrant, non-white person, trying through choreography to position the body and identity as a transmutable entity. My choreographic research focuses on bodies and their multiple subjectivities and certain dances that allow us to realize how entities are built through identification processes. Mexico, where the effects of global capitalism have struck such sharp edges in a society, can serve as a backdrop against which we can sense possible future developments of a brutalizing and drifting society in Europe and Germany as well. I am writing this text in a dance studio in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, from my memories and from the memories of Monterrey artists who kindly collaborated in my research. In my text I quote and use some ideas of Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, sociologist, historian and activist from La Paz, Bolivia, that have helped me to understand connections and juxtapositions in the processes of identification that I locate in Cumbia Colombiana Regia. Thanks to the people I have met on this journey!
„Gefördert durch die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Programm NEUSTART KULTUR, [Hilfsprogramm DIS-TANZEN/ tanz:digital/ DIS-TANZ-START] des Dachverband Tanz Deutschland und durch das Goethe Institut.“