Cumbia Sonidera: An Introduction to Mexican Cumbia and Its Culture

Tepito, the supposed birthplace of cumbia sonidera
Tepito, the supposed birthplace of cumbia sonidera | © Kasper Christensen / Flickr

Northern England Writer

Cumbia rhythms are as emblematic of Mexico as the taco, torta and tequila, yet this musical style originated in Colombia, before crossing borders and continents and making its way north. It was in Mexico, then, that cumbia became cumbia sonidera, an offshoot genre of this overwhelmingly danceable musical style. Here’s an introduction to this most Mexican of cumbia subgenres and its associated culture.

What is Mexican cumbia?

While cumbia had been big business in its Colombian birthplace since the end of the 19th century, it was only in the mid-20th century that Mexican cumbia really took off, in tandem with other Latin American countries such as Peru and Argentina. While cumbia sonidera is arguably the most well-known cumbia subgenre hailing from Mexico, there are many other prevalent takes on this style – take, for example, cumbia norteña (a slower, accordion-heavy rhythm) or cumbia andina (a fusion subgenre, featuring Latin American folklore music), to name but a few.

Cumbia Sonidera

However, the cumbia with the most fascinating backstory is almost certainly cumbia sonidera, a subgenre that was bubbling away throughout the 80s, coming to fruition in Mexico City during the 1990s. It ultimately peaked in popularity at the turn of the century, spurred along in no small part by the phenomenon of pirated musical recordings.

It was the brainchild of DJs (sonideros) from across the city and is notable for its particular emphasis on the guacharaca (a percussive instrument) and organ elements, as well as electronic voice and pitch alterations. In fact, cumbia sonidera did not exactly develop from new musical advances within established cumbia groups, but rather from the additions made by the sonideros playing the music. In many ways, cumbia sonidera harked back to the cumbia forefather rhythms of the 70s, which included many tropical elements of cumbia colombiana. Either way, when groups cottoned on to the popularity of these shout-out additions from the sonideros,they actually began to implement them into their recordings, formalising the genre of cumbia sonidera as we know it today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ppq0vnkWxfQ

While the origins of cumbia sonidera are somewhat murky, developing as it did from a more or less underground DJ scene, many trace the beginnings back to two Mexico City neighbourhoods – Peñón de los Baños and the notorious Tepito, although San Juan de Aragón and the State of Mexico’s Nezahualcóyotl were also locations where early exponents of the genre could be found. It’s these urban, lower working-class roots with which cumbia sonidera continues to be associated.

Nowadays, cumbia sonidera is actually most frequently produced in the state of Puebla, where they also have their own sub-subgenre called cumbia poblana. Cumbia sonidera has also spread back down to South America, where countries such as Ecuador and Argentina (who developed cumbia villera from this Mexico City sound) have embraced it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwUQsDuuAh8

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

close-ad
Edit article