Where Salsa, Jazz and Funk Collide
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s possible that the folk in Colombia has never been louder.
By Wesley Tomaselli
The town of Timbiquí, the world Colombian singer Begner Vásquez grew up in, seemed more likely to deal him a fate of digging gold out of an illegal mine or send him into the crosshairs of his country’s armed conflict. But some things tilt history in your favor — like the record player Vásquez and his friends used to listen to in their small river town, a place tucked away and almost forgotten, a place buried in the thick jungle along Colombia’s Pacific coast. Population: 100.
“When I was growing up in Timbiquí, there were no computers … nothing like that,” says Vásquez, chuckling at the thought. “We listened to records … Manía, Grupo Niche, El Gran Combo … all those groups that were big between ’85 and ’95.”
If their convictions to make music hadn’t been stronger, who knows what would have happened to the young men: Between 2000 and 2003, Vásquez and four friends left Timbiquí, just before illegal armed groups came to the area and began to plant coca, the raw material for making cocaine. In 2004 Vásquez had just crested 20 years old. The five musicians headed north and inland, where they made a new home in Cali — to them, the big city of lights and music — and formed the group Herencia de Timbiquí (the Inheritance of Timbiquí).
It was in Cali that the Timbiquí boys met Gustavo Escobar, who proposed that they fuse their folkloric, rootsy sound with other instruments and styles. Vásquez and the others brought Escobar aboard, and everything fell into place. The commercial life of the big city has far from tarnished the folk — the stuff Vásquez promises “still makes up the roots of our music.” If anything, the evolution of their style only makes Herencia de Timbiquí taste more delicious.
In a big-band-like orchestra of instruments — including the bombo and marimba — influences of salsa, jazz and even funk meet folkloric roots.
Since the move to Cali, the group has grown to 11 members, adding guitar, piano, trumpet and sax to the more percussion-driven original lineup. This summer the band concluded a European tour, and now the members are back in Colombia recording their next big thing. Even though they’re nearly a dozen, when they’re on tour, they’re tight. Vásquez tells OZY that being close is a beautiful thing, and the group’s success is in great part due to being able to avoid conflict.These days they feature a big-band-like orchestra of more instruments, including traditional percussion popular on Colombia’s Pacific coast like the bombo and marimba, along with more voice — Vásquez put down his bass to get out front and sing alongside William Angulo, one of the original five. The influences of salsa, jazz and even funk meet Herencia’s original passion for its folkloric roots. Sometimes the band gives you a sexy, smoky beat with naughty bursts of brass, carrying the story of coca farming in Colombia. Other times it’s heart-wrenching lyrics pleading for love amid solitude, all set to warm rhythms and sobbing horns.
Still, there are sacrifices for the group. Last year, Herencia tried to go back to Timbiquí to film the video for “Amanecé,” a song that celebrates farmers, taxi drivers and fishmongers waking up to face a day of hard work. But the boys couldn’t get in with the cameras and the crew: The penetration of illegal gold mining and armed groups around the country’s southern Pacific edge had made it way too complicated to go back to home.
“It was a total disappointment,” says Vásquez, “because we really wanted to show people where we’re from — our cultural heritage.”
And yet — deserved disappointment aside — it seems impossible for these guys not to be in bliss mode when making music. Because in the end, they shrugged off the tough news about not being able to film in their hometown and took to the outer fringes of Cali instead. They invited their friends, family members and even the little ones, turned on the cameras and wasted no time pumping out the power of the folk.