Colombia has so many unique and distinct musical genres that you could probably attend a different music festival every weekend of the year and still miss out on some! However, there are some amazing folk music festivals in Colombia that stand out from the rest, so here are the best folk music events not to miss on your next trip to Colombia.
Vallenato is a hugely popular accordion-led folk music genre originating in the Caribbean city of Valledupar, and every year the city hosts the biggest vallenato festival in the country, the Vallenato Legend Festival. Hundreds of musicians and bands battle it out to be crowned the king of Vallenato and, every five years, the festival crowns the Kings of Kings.
If the Vallenato Legend Festival is the big, showy national celebration of Vallenato, then the Cradle of Accordions Festival is the true heart of Colombian accordion music. Held every year in September in the small town of Villanueva in Guajira department, it has been declared a Cultural and Artistic Patrimony of Colombia, and musicians from across the country flock to the town to take part every year.
The tiny village of San Basilio de Palenque near Cartagena was the first free slave settlement in the Americas and its people have maintained many traditions connected to their African ancestry, as well as creating a multitude of new and unique ones. It’s the birthplace of Colombian music genres like champeta and Palenque, and hosts an annual drum festival which sees the biggest talents in Colombian coastal music gather for a weekend of dancing and celebration. Check out this video to get an idea of what this unique festival is all about…
Also known as El Pirarucu del Oro – or Golden Pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish in the world – this celebration of Amazonian cultural heritage is held every November in the Amazonian border city of Leticia. Indigenous people from across Colombia, Peru and Brazil gather to perform traditional Amazonian folk music and reaffirm their values, cultures and traditions.
El Banco is a small city on the banks – the clue is in the name – of the Magdalena River, which is the cradle of Colombian cumbia music. The city hosts the annual National Cumbia Festival, which sees bands and dancers from across Colombia converge on the riverbanks to take part in a series of contests and live performances. The whole thing culminates in the crowing of the Queen of Cumbia.
About three hours south of Cartagena, nestled in the scenic Montes de Maria hills, is a pretty little town called Ovejas. This unassuming little place is the home of the National Gaita Festival, held every October. Gaitas are a traditional Colombian Indigenous flute-like instrument, as well as the name of a genre of music principally performed on a gaita (it’s a bit like proto-cumbia). For those few days every year, the town fills up with musicians playing cumbia, porro, gaita and puya, and Ovejas comes alive to the strains of Colombia’s most important folk music genres.
Bullerengue is a hugely popular traditional genre in Caribbean coastal regions, and every June the small town of Puerto Escondido in Cordoba department is the setting for the raucous, riotous fun of the National Bullerengue Festival. With live music, parades and traditional food, it’s one of the lesser-known folk music festivals in Colombia but no less fun for that!