El Campeón Del Champeta - OZY | A Modern Media Company

El Campeón Del Champeta

El Campeón Del Champeta

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because a guitar and a kind word will take you a lot farther than just a kind word.

By Eugene S. Robinson

In 1948, when Abelardo Carbonó was born, the world he was born into was aflame.

It was called La Violencia: a 10-year civil war in Colombia that saw the extreme left pitted against the extreme right. And right in the middle were real people living real lives, specifically an 8-year-old Carbonó picking up a guitar. In his small town of Ciénaga, located between Santa Marta and Cartagena, Carbonó was sucking in the sounds and styles that he’d later spit out and call the champeta.

A mongrel of parts — African rhythms of bikutsi, Congolese rumba, highlife, juju, mbaqanga and soukous, calypso, compás, cumbia, reggae and soca — the champeta became the style in the streets of Cartagena. The same streets where Carbonó began what would turn into a 20-year career as a police officer after the civil war ended.

But fortune favors the consistent, and the side project he put together (with his brother on bass) ended up getting released on a compilation album. The cut, “A Otro Perro Con Ese Hueso” (slang for “the joys of largesse”), caught the country by the ears. And then? Straight up rocket-ride-to-the-top movie stuff: great studios, great shows, and songs that will just kill you they’re so clever. Which is an early earmark of champeta: its unapologetic embrace of the quirkily clever, satirical and amusing.
Yes, a cop — a job he later said he wasn’t very good at. 

And if Carbonó never did anything but record stuff like “Carolina,” “Negra Kulenge” and “Palenque,” he’d have been golden — for the rest of us. But for himself? Carbonó didn’t weather the inevitable dips of the music industry very well and periodically returned to police work. He even had a gig teaching music at a Guajira mining company school. Which does nothing to dim the sheer shine coming off of his stuff, especially since he’s still kicking and making the music he had a major hand in creating. Music that now is remixed by all and sundry.

And now, for all and sundry, our personal favorite: “Quiero A Mi Gente.”


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