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Our Blog: Uncover Magical Colombia

The first in the Colombia Blog Series by Colombia Photo Expeditions, in which Kike Calvo profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia for journalism, ecotourism, science, exploration and photography.

We invite you to explore our site including:

Why Colombia?

Why Us?

Upcoming Expeditions 

Colombia on the Media

Are you a journalist, organization or tour operator in need of images of Colombia? VWPics.com archives one of the best photo libraries about Colombia, including the widest range of bird photographs in the market.
Photo: Rusty Flowerpiercer © Juan Jose Arango / VWPics

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在哥伦比亚观鸟

在哥伦比亚观鸟 (Birdwatching in Colombia)
探索哥伦比亚——文化·音乐·摄影·观鸟之旅

“超过1,900种鸟类——比世界上其他国家都多——哥伦比亚是一个等待被发现的鸟类天堂。 探索高海拔山峰、热带森林、沙漠和沿海栖息地,去寻找一系列热带鸟类,包括鹟、蜂鸟、唐纳雀、巨嘴鸟等。在整个旅程中,去见一见当地组织的成员并了解他们所做的保护工作。”——Audubon

WESTERN ANDES, CAUCA VALLEY AND PACIFIC LOWLANDS

毫无疑问,哥伦比亚是自然和景观摄影、观鸟以及生态旅游的天堂。与我们的合作伙伴一起,我们将探索以下观鸟路线:

Toucan Barbet

Toucan Barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus). Photo Juan Jose Arango

  • WESTERN ANDES, CAUCA VALLEY, AND PACIFIC LOWLANDS

西部安第斯山脉,考卡山谷省和太平洋低地
这条路线的重点是考卡山谷省内的观鸟点,这是哥伦比亚最具备生物多样化的地区之一。据统计,该省鸟类种类达到惊人的1000种。

最佳出行时期11月下旬至3月下旬,6月下旬至9月上旬。

 

Red-headed barbet ( Eubucco bourcierii ), female, Western Andes

Red-headed Barbet ( Eubucco bourcierii ). Photo © Kike Calvo

 

  • NORTHERN COLOMBIA BIRDING TRAIL:
    SANTA MARTA MOUNTAINS, GUAJIRA AND SERRANIA DE PERIJA

哥伦比亚北部鸟类追踪:圣玛尔塔山,瓜希拉和佩里哈山脉

在哥伦比亚北部,加勒比海岸拥有地球上最高的沿海山脉——圣玛尔塔内华达山脉。这些独立的山脉已被确定为地球上最重要的也是唯一的保护濒临灭绝生物和地方性生物多样性的场所。

最佳出行时期:11月下旬至4月上旬和6月中旬至8月下旬。

Buffy Helmetcrest

Buffy Helmetcrest (Oxypogon stubelii) . Photo © Juan Jose Arango

  • CENTRAL ANDES AND NORTHERN PORTION OF WESTERN ANDES

中部安第斯山脉,西部安第斯山脉的北部部分

这条路线的重点是安第斯山脉西部和中部的咖啡种植区,这里拥有哥伦比亚超过四分之一的地域特征。安第斯山脉中部地区以高度超过5000米(16,500英尺)的冰川火山为主。它是哥伦比亚最大的国家公园之一。

最佳出行时期:11月下旬至3月下旬,6月下旬至9月上旬。

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) Photo © Juan Jose Arango

  • EASTERN ANDES AND MAGDALENA VALLEY

东部安第斯山脉,马格达莱纳山谷

这条路线的重点是首都波哥大(距离2.6km)附近的观鸟地点和广阔的马格达莱纳山谷。东部安第斯山脉有各种高原,高原上拥有许多广受欢迎的物种择以栖息的湿地。

最佳出行时期11月下旬至3月下旬,6月下旬至9月上旬

  • SOUTHERN COLOMBIA: PUTUMAYO AND THE COLOMBIAN MASSIF

哥伦比亚南部:普图马约省和哥伦比亚山脉

哥伦比亚西南部的哥伦比亚山脉和普图马约地区正迅速崛起成为下一个观鸟目的地。该地区近期才开始发展旅游业,几乎还未被开发。哥伦比亚山脉是联合国教科文组织生物圈保护区。这里是哥伦比亚最重要的五条河流:考卡,马格达莱纳,帕蒂亚,普图马约和卡克塔的发源地。

最佳出行时期12月至3月初及6月底至9月初。

Buffy Helmetcrest

Buffy Helmetcrest (Oxypogon stubelii). Photo Juan Jose Arango

  • REMOTE COLOMBIA: MITU, SAN JOSE DEL GUAVIARE, INIRIDA, HATO LA AURORA

哥伦比亚偏远地区:米图,瓜维亚雷省圣何塞,伊尼里达,哈托拉奥罗拉

这条路线的重点在于亚马逊和奥里诺科地区等较偏远地段的各种观鸟点。

最佳出行时期:考虑到这些目的地在地理位置上较分散,最佳访问月份和可达性视具体情况/日期而定。

Sword-billed Hummingbird

Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera). Photo © Juan Jose Arango

  • REMOTE COLOMBIA: URABA GULF

哥伦比亚偏远地区:乌拉巴湾

哥伦比亚的乌拉巴地区的西北部与巴拿马接壤,同时连接着太平洋和加勒比海。这块区域尚未被开发。乌拉巴地区是哥伦比亚对国际观鸟者开放的最新目的地,该地区有超过600种鸟类

最佳出行时期11月下旬至3月

BIRDING IN COLOMBIA THE LAND OF BIRDS

探索哥伦比亚——文化·音乐·摄影·观鸟之旅

 

如果您对我们感兴趣,您可以通过以下方式联系我们:

联系我们:colombiaphotoexpeditions@gmail.com

网址:www.colombiaphotoexpeditions.com

instagram: kikeo (https://www.instagram.com/kikeo)

微信: colombia photo expeditions

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Exploring Colombia’s Caribbean with Us

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During the month of March, another group of travelers decided to use the expertise of Colombia Photo Expeditions to explore the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Pictured is National Geographic photographer Karine Aigner with a very happy group.

Interested in organizing your own photo group in Colombia, please contact us.

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“In January 2019 we took a birdwatching trip with Colombia Photo Expeditions, operated by their Birding Partner Colombia Birdwatch, a recommendation from Kike Calvo, and we were treated to a fantastic sampling of the country’s bird species. All the locations and birding hotspots have been carefully curated by Christopher Calonje through the years, offering a great experience for new and seasoned birdwatchers alike. Our talented local guide, José Luna, was very skilled at identifying birds by their songs and calls, and pointing them for us—often times more than once, for those of us who didn’t catch them the first time around! We enjoyed the camaraderie afforded by the small group of eight in our tour and the shared experiences as we traveled through the region, admiring its abundant flora and fauna. Colombia is a spectacular place and its people are friendly and welcoming. Chris and his dedicated staff made every effort to ensure we had the best possible experience, both birdwatching and getting to know his country.”

Click here to learn more about birding in Colombia 

Learn about Colombia: Suggested Readings

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Carnaval 2019 Colombia Photo Expedition

A selection of images taken during our 2019 Barranquilla Carnaval Photo Expedition. Click here if you are interested in joining our 2020 Photo Expedition!

 

 

 

Cover photo © Kike Calvo / Colombia Photo Expeditions

Crash Course on 100 Years of Solitude

If you can spare 11 minutes to learn about Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s masterpiece 100 years of Solitude, it may be worth to watch this entertaining video. As you probably know, the book made Gabo win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

 

To learn more about Colombia, please check our Suggested Readings.

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Protected: 2019 Sabrosura Music Expedition Itinerary

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Music Expert Betto Arcos

I had the pleasure to meet Betto Arcos on a recent press music trip to Colombia organized by Pro-Colombia, where we explored the country’s rhythms and musical manifestations. The outcome of the trip was a much better understanding of the music scene in Colombia; an article for the National Geographic Blog called Colombia: So You Want to Explore the Land of a Thousand Rhythms  and a friendship with Betto. I invite you to learn about his work below, or why not, encourage to join us on our 2019 Sabrosura Music Expedition that will be lead by Betto and our team. 

Did You Know? Vallenatos are the Colombian folk songs that influenced Gabriel García Márquez’s ‘magical realism’. Click here to listen!

About Betto: A native of Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, Betto Arcos is a radio journalist, curator, agent and music promoter based in Los Angeles. Since 2008, Betto is a regular contributor to National Public Radio and Los Angeles public radio station KPCC, writing and producing stories about musicians and music from all over the globe. Betto is also a booking agent with FLI Artists and is the Latin and World music curator at the San Jose Jazz Festival.

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In addition to his work in public radio, Betto has taught arts & culture and broadcast journalism at Loyola Marymount University. He developed a musi- cal component for two different courses at Harvard University’s Divinity School, “Religion in the Latin American Imagination” (2002, 2011, 2015) and “Latinos Remaking America” (2014, 2016) taught by Prof. David Carrasco. From 2014-2017, Betto was a guest speaker at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, lecturing on Latin American Music to mid-lev- el career diplomats. Betto is the host and producer of the podcast “The Cosmic Barrio”. From 1997-2015, Betto produced and hosted the daily music program “Global Village” on Pacifica Radio’s 90.7 FM-KPFK in Los Angeles.

Read Betto Arco’s Articles on Colombian Music:

https://www.npr.org/sections/altlatino/2016/06/09/481169296/a-guided-tour-of-colombian-music-from-the-mountains-to-the-coasts

https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-05-05/colombian-folk-songs-influenced-gabriel-garc-m-rquezs-magical-realism

https://www.npr.org/2016/07/07/484944084/in-colombia-preserving-songs-that-tell-stories

http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2016/09/23/colombian-music

https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-09-29/bogot-music-market-young-musicians-talk-about-prospects-peace

https://www.pri.org/stories/2012-11-07/los-gaiteros-de-san-jacinto-play-traditional-cumbia-beat

Interested in Colombian Music? Join our upcoming 2019 Sabrosura Music Expedition. 



FIRMA DIGITAL CPE OPCIONES-04

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South America Potential in Medicinal and Aromatic Plants

As we know by now, The Americas is home to some of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, in addition to a vast cultural diversity represented by different ethnic groups. In their new book South American Biodiversity and Its Potential in Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, authors Alissandra Trajano and Ulysses Paulino remember us how historically, South American peoples have shown a high degree of dependence on natural resources, especially on plants, which are used for a variety of purposes. This relationship has resulted in potential sources for new natural products, possibly including the extraction of plant-derived chemical compounds for medicinal and aromatic purposes.

As we all know, the global herbal market is worth billions of dollars, but they remind us that in South American countries, incentives for research and the development of bioproducts by domestic companies are lacking. Moreover, a lack of scientific knowledge on these resources causes native plants to be undervalued, and the high degree of environmental degradation threatens the biological diversity and associated traditional knowledge.

Learn more:
Nunes A.T., Albuquerque U.P. (2018) South American Biodiversity and Its Potential in Medicinal and Aromatic Plants. In: Albuquerque U., Patil U., Máthé Á. (eds) Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of South America. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of the World, vol 5. Springer, Dordrecht

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Have You Ever wondered about the Origins of La Salsa Caleña?

Learn about the history and origins of La Salsa Caleña in this Spanish interview with Benhur Lozada. Sound was recorded by visual anthropologist and photographer Kike Calvo. If you happen to use the content of this interview as research for a blog post or an article, please do credit us. I invite you to listen to the interview, but also to check our suggested readings about Colombia. Or why not, ask us about our new Colombia Music Tours.

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Dancers from Ensaltase on a private performance at La Viejoteca La Matraca. Photo © Kike Calvo

To learn Explore the Land of a Thousand Rhythms, read of last article on Colombian music, including Vallenato, Canciones de Vaqueria, Salsa, Champeta, Son Palenquero, Rap Palenquero and much more.

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Cartagena’s Next Hip Restaurant?

As writer Ashley Mateo wrote in Time yesterday  “With its pink steel bars, exposed brick and piping, and wall paintings of jungle plants, Interno could be any other hip Colombian restaurant. But the employees inside aren’t just prepping food—they’re serving time. The 60-seat restaurant is located in a cordoned-off area of Cartagena’s San Diego prison, a minimum-security facility that’s the last stop for women before they’re released.”

We are very happy to see that the photograph of choice was taken by our founder Kike Calvo .

 

TIME_KIKE CALVO

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Colombia: So You Want to Explore the Land of a Thousand Rhythms?

This is the latest post in the Colombia Blog Series by Kike Calvo which profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia related to journalism, ecotourism, visual anthropology, exploration and photography. This article belongs to the author’s lifelong series The Güepajé Project.

For the past few weeks I embarked on a rather remarkable music exploration around Colombia with Colombia Photo Expeditions. Most people have probably heard of, and hopefully danced to, international hits by artists like Shakira and Carlos Vives. But fewer are familiar with other of the many folk rhythms, which are as vibrant and fascinating as the interconnection between music, literature and daily life in this country. Through my field notes, audiographs and conversations with locals, this article explores the diversity of musical expression in some of the musical hotspots in Colombia, ”the country of a thousand rhythms”, which are actually calculated at 1,025. Not too shabby.

Palenque

A visit to San Basilio de Palenque is a trip back in time. Its insularity from mainstream Colombia is one of the reasons it was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The village is also considered the first free town in the Americas.

On arrival, travelers will be welcome by high temperatures and dusty streets. Maybe not much to this town after all? Wrong. The strong and proud Afro-Colombian spirit in this town tells the story of human tenacity and is likely to touch your heart. Four hundred years ago, when ships transporting African slaves arrived to Cartagena, many escaped and settled in then remote and hard to access Palenques. A statue of Benkos Bioho, who established Palenque in the early 1600s with other runaway slaves (cimarrones), embellishes the main square. Language of choice, Creole, celebrating their African roots.

Musician and singer Jose Keymer, member of upcoming Colombian music group Kombilesa Mi, and creator of the new genre called Rap Folkloriko Palenquero, a fusion of urban rap, sang in palenque language and incorporating traditional rhythms of the area. San Basilio de Palenque was declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and is considered the first free town in America.The word

Musician and singer Jose Keymer, member of upcoming Colombian music group Kombilesa MI. They play a new genre called Rap Folkloriko Palenquero (RFP), a fusion of urban rap, sang in palenque language and incorporating the traditional rhythms of the area. Photo © Kike Calvo / Colombia photo expeditions

I separated from my group trying to capture the essence of this town and I arrived a little late to Kombilesa Mi studio. When I entered I was blown away by the energy and the rhythms of resistance of this group. Lead by Afro Neto, their music combines the sounds of hip hop with Afro-Colombian roots. The new genre is called RFP, which stands for Rap Folklorico Palenquero. There is no doubt to me that this new generation of Palenquero musicians have a very distinctive vision and voice of their own.

“When I feel something, the first thing that I do is think about music,” said Jose Valdes Torres, member of Kombilesa Mi. “Music is a universal way to express all our feelings. The hardest thing here is that we are all farmers. We live from what the land gives us. Also from music, and from Las Palenqueras who visit Cartagena daily, in an attempt to sweeten the life of all Colombians (selling traditional sweets).”

“Here in Palenque we grow up by cuadros,” said Kombilesa member José de Jesús Valdes Sala. “The term refers to any kind of social organization. Whether your group of friends or a corporation you belong to, you share this friendships until the end of your life cycle.”

Palenquero boy holding his drum. San Basilio de Palenque was declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and is considered the first free town in America.The word

Palenquero boy holding his drum. San Basilio de Palenque was declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and is considered the first free town in America.The word “palenque” means “walled city.” Photo © Kike Calvo / colombia photo expeditions

At Palenque´s Cultural Center I experienced being immersed in the rhtyhms of 15+ drums playing a symphony of color and sounds. ¨For us, drums are a key element of daily existance and culture in Palenque,¨said Andreus Valdes Torres, director of the Casa de la Cultura. “It is through them that we share our feelings, happy or sad. We use drums to say goodbye to our deceased during funerals. But we also use them to transmit happiness during our joyful celebrations. In Palenque you can listen to many rhythms including lumbalu, bullerengue, la chalupa, mapale, puya, catalina and culebra.”

Palenquero Edilson Sala, 15, plays the drum. San Basilio de Palenque was declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and is considered the first free town in America.The word

Palenquero Edilson Sala, 15, plays the drum. Palenque de San Basilio is only one of many walled communities that were founded by escaped slaves as a refuge in the seventeenth century. Many of the oral and musical traditions of palenque have roots in Palenque’s African past.                 Photo © Kike Calvo / national geographic creative

Our Palenque experience continued with sampling of local cuisine delicacies near a banana plantation. We shared lunch with some local celebrities, such as musician and composer Rafael Cassiani, leader of El Sexteto Tabalá, known as Kings of the Son Palenquero. To understand the history of this place it is key to listen to songs such as Las Orillas de un Río and Clavo y Martillo. Tabalá means war drum in the local tradition.

AUDIOGRAPH: Son Palenquero sang by Rafael Cassiani.  Audio recorded by Kike Calvo in a banana plantation. San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia. Headphones are recommended.

Emelia Reyes Salgado, La Burgos, and her group “Alegres Ambulancias de San Basilio de Palenque” showed up to this gathering. As the heavy rain adorned the atmosphere with background noise, La Burgos sang songs that are living proof of the espiritual bond of Palenque with Africa.

La Burgos, Alegres Ambulancias de San Basilio de Palenque, afro-colombian, musician, outdoors, palenquera, dialect Photo © Kike Calvo

Afro-colombian singer La Burgos sings a mixture of African dialects with Spanish and Portuguese. her group las Alegres Ambulancias is the main keeper of the Lumbalu songs, the Afro-Colombian funeral tradition. photo © Kike Calvo / colombia photo expeditons

AUDIOGRAPH: “Graciela, Apaga la Luz” sang by La Burgos. Sound recorded in a banana plantation,  San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia. Audio by Kike Calvo.  Headphones are recommended

On departure, a strong rainstorm began in the area, with lightening striking not far from the roofed space where we had lunch. Then our van got stuck in the mud. As we pushed the van out of the mud I kept thinking about their Bantoo sounds and the cantos de Lumbalú. These Afro-Colombian funeral songs have remained intact for centuries, honoring the dead with rum and music.

As we drove away, Bullerengue sounds faded in the distance. A slow and emotional dance from the Caribbean Region, Bullerengue is a cumbia-based style traditionally sung exclusively by women.

Cali

For those who love Latin American music, Cali needs no introduction. Cali is considered the Salsa capital of the world. My first thought? I may have arrived to the right place.

For the locals or caleños, salsa is a native sound, a musical style to be proud of, and this clearly permeates the Cali culture. There are dozens of salsa schools in the city, Swing Latino, Rucafé, or Tango Vivo & Salsa Viva just to name a few. You could potentially dance salsa everyday of the week, which may actually be a dream to many.

Representation of characters of the tradition of the Cauca Valley. Several life-inspired local characters were incorporated by Enrique Buenaventura to his experimental theatre play La Mojiganga and now a must during the Feria de Cali. Photo © Kike Calvo

Representation of characters of the tradition of the Cauca Valley. Several life-inspired local characters were incorporated by Enrique Buenaventura to his experimental theatre play La Mojiganga and now a must during the Feria de Cali. Photo © Kike Calvo / national geographic creative

But what stole my heart about music in Cali was the Viejotecas. In 2001 Popular Music magazine perfectly described the viejoteca phenomenon in Cali, referring to local discos that began holding afternoon dances, Old-theques, catering to the young at heart or 50+ crowds.

I visited La Matraca, in the Obrero Neighborhood to attend a private performance from Ensalsate, a dance cabaret type show, that fusions genres and musical rhythms, in a perfect combination of sounds, color and music.

When in Cali you will probably pass by a giant golden sculpture in the shape of a trumpet that reads the word Niche. It was created in memory of Choco-born musician Jairo Varela, creator of the salsa group Grupo Niche. Each of the bells plays the rhythm, harmony and melody of a different song. This landmark will point you to the entrance to the Museo Jairo Varela. Cali and Varela were forever immortalized in the nation’s rich musical history thanks to his nationally acclaimed song ¨Cali Pachanguero¨.

Dancers from Ensaltase on a private performance at La Viejoteca La Matraca. Photo © Kike Calvo

salsa Dancers from Ensaltase at La Viejoteca La Matraca in cali’s Obrero Neighborhood. Photo © Kike Calvo / colombia photo expeditions

But Cali goes beyond salsa sounds. Each year, rhythms such as Currulao or Chirimia infuse the breeze that descends from the Farallones mountains. The city hosts the Petronio Alvarez Music Festival, where the Marimba de Chonta and other instruments are used to play the traditional music of the Colombian Pacific Region. Mesmerized audiences come to pay homage to the Afro-Colombian culture year after year, listening to local and international bands that play Pacific indigenous music.

Grandson of the iconic Colombian composer Petronio Alvarez, Esteban Copete, born in Choco, is one of the members of Kinteto Pacifico. Copete has explored the musical tradition of the Pacific Region, such as Currulao or Chirimia, and has combined them with Jazz, Bossa Nova and R&B. Photo © Kike Calvo

Grandson of the iconic Colombian composer Petronio Alvarez, Esteban Copete, born in Choco, is one of the members of Kinteto Pacifico. Copete has explored the musical tradition of the Pacific Region, such as Currulao or Chirimia, and has combined them with Jazz, Bossa Nova and R&B. Photo © Kike Calvo / Colombia photo expeditions

Grandson of the iconic Colombian composer Petronio Alvarez, Esteban Copete, born in Choco, is one of the members of Kinteto Pacifico. Copete has explored the musical tradition of the Pacific Region, and now combines Currulao and other Pacific traditional rhythms with Jazz, Bossa Nova and R&B.

AUDIOGRAPH: Agua Abajo played on a Marimba de Chonta by Esteban Copete. Sound recorded in Cali, Colombia. Audio recorded by Kike Calvo.  Headphones are recommended

For musical explorers a visit to Bongo master José Ovidio Quinonez Workshop, locally known as Billo, could well be a treat. He integrated orchestras, which accompanied the different iconic singers such as Daniel Santos, Celia Cruz, Miguelito Valdez, Maelo Ruiz, Roberto Lugo, Luisito Carrion, Tito Nieves or Santiago Ceron. Today he works from his space in Barrio Villa Colombia, and teaches percussion to new generations.

“I arrived to this same house in 1962,” said Billo. “I never thought I would raise my family being a musician when I played Guarachas as a kid using old food cans. But it came true. My parents had to hide my drums so I would focus in my studies. But whenever I had the chance I would bring the rhythm out of those cans, Tiki tiki taka ta Tiki tiki taka ta.” His first recording was “Atiza y ataja” around the year 1971 with composer Edulfamid Molina Díaz, aka Piper Pimienta.

Portrait of Conga and Bongo music master Ovidio Quinonez, locally known as Billo, in his home and workshop. Photo © Kike Calvo

Portrait of Conga and Bongo music master Ovidio Quinonez, locally known as Billo, in his home and workshop in cali. . Photo © Kike Calvo / colombia photo expeditions

When asked what makes the Salsa from Cali so special he quickly answered. “It is the magic we as caleños bring to the stage when we perform,” said Billo. “A way of playing that people really enjoy, a special spice.”

Valledupar

As I arrive in the land of troubadours, Valledupar, a city in northern Colombia known as the capital of vallenato music, the snowy peaks of the Sierra stare at us. The word vallenato means native of the valley. The expression was later used to refer to the music created in this region. Every April, Valledupar hosts one of the most important music festivals in the country, The Vallenato Legend Festival.

The Guatapuri River, flows from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta into the Cesar River in northern Colombia by the city of Valledupar. Photo © Kike Calvo

The Guatapuri River, flows from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta into the Cesar River in northern Colombia by the city of Valledupar. Photo © Kike Calvo / colombia photo expeditions

Minutes after my arrival I decide to go for a stroll. Soon I see a big crowd gathering around a bright yellow bridge. As I get closer, young locals are cliff diving Acapulco-style, passing close to giant rocks, into the Guatapurí River. The pure water glides down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains all the way into town. My heart stops for a second when I approach the railings as the bridge is quite high. Then I raise my camera to compose a scene including the golden statue of Rosario Arciniegas, a little girl that according to legend, turned into a mermaid after swimming in these waters. Folk stories like this and daily life scenes fuel the Vallenato genre.

Andres Turco Gil accordion academy trains young children in the music of vallenato, many of them are refugees from violence or live in poverty. Photo © Kike Calvo

The academia de musica vallenata Andres Turco Gil trains young children in the music of vallenato. many of them are refugees from violence or live in poverty in rural areas of colombia.Photo © Kike Calvo / national geographic creative

For any musical explorer, the Academia de Musica Vallenata Andrés Turco Gil is a must. Even the uninitiated will have their foundations rocked. Each classroom has the names of deceased “juglares” or singers. Alejo Duran, Colacho Mendoza, Juancho Rois surround in spirit pupils as they practice. The place is the alma matter of the talented Niños del Vallenato, who have performed for people such as Bill Clinton, Hugo Chávez and even the Emperor of Japan. “I don’t know where we would be without this music,” Gil said to the New York Times in 2004. “A pure vallenato tastes like the mountains, like the forests.”

Since 1979, master Andrés Eliécer Gil Torres (nicknamed “El Turco” by his grandfather), began teaching accordion under the shade of the trees in the patio of his house in the Primero de Mayo neighborhood. It was not until 1985, that “El Turco” Gil formally founded the music school. Bill Clinton, in his book “Giving: How each of us can change the world”, describes in one of his pages “I wish every conflict area had a teacher like Maestro Gil and children like Los Niños Vallenatos.

AUDIOGRAPH: Vallenato by country-side blind accordionist Juan David Atencia, student of the Academia de Música Vallenata Andrés “Turco” Gil. Valledupar, Colombia. Audio recorded by Kike Calvo.  Headphones are recommended

It doesn’t take long before the visitor realizes that valduparenses love their roots and make a conscious effort to show it. Multiple monuments around the city celebrate their roots. One hour north, in a small town called Patillal, the Parque de las Monedas is a fun outdoor monument that displays one meter golden coins portraying the faces of musical masters such as Rafael Escalona and Freddy Molina on one side, and lyrics of their songs on the other. And if you didn’t realize it, the name of the town comes from the delicious patilla fruit (watermelon).

Hidden in San Joaquin neighborhood we visited a music gem, Beto Murga’s Accordion Museum, that boosts a collection of accordions and bandoneons carefully curated. Hosted by Beto and his wife Rosa Duran, the couple charmingly shared with us the stories behind the collection with pieces originally from as far as Germany, Italy, Russia or the Czech Republic.

“This collection began from the nostalgia of a father,” said Murga. “When my son was five years old, I bought him a accordion. As he grew up, I kept it in my studio. What happened was that years after, Colombian vallenato composers Emiliano Zuleta Baquero (The Old Mile) and Moralito (Lorenzo Morales) visited my studio, and immediately they were drawn to my son’s accordion, starting to share stories about their early beginning. That is how I started doing field research about the world of the accordion.” Needless to say that from a musical controversy between the two in 1938, the Vallenato masterpiece of La gota fría emerged.

Colombian vallenato composer Beto Murgas at his home and accordion museum. Photo © Kike Calvo

Colombian vallenato composer Beto Murgas at his home and accordion museum. Photo © Kike Calvo / colombia photo expeditions

“Acordate Moralito de aquel día

Que estuviste en Urumita

Y no quisiste hacer parranda

Te fuiste de mañanita

Sería de la misma rabia …/…”

 Before my day ended, we visited the headquarters of the Festival del Vallenato. Every year, The Festival features a vallenato music contest for best interpreter of accordion, caja vallenata and guacharaca, as well as piqueria (battle of lyrics) and best song. Its origin dates back to 1968 when the celebrated vallenato composer Rafael Escalona, Alfonso López Michelsen, and the writer Consuelo Araújo, came up with the idea of organizing a festival that celebrated vallenato, a musical genre that’s autochthonous to Colombia’s northern Atlantic coast.

As the breeze refreshed the starry Colombian night, Arahuaco singer and composer Jose Ricardo Villafañe joined us in a traditional parranda. With the arrival of the accordion in the 20th century the indigenous gaita pipes, which had been used since pre-Columbian times, was replaced.

AUDIOGRAPH: “La Casa en el Aire” sang in Arahuaco indigenous language by Ricardo Villafañe with Alvero José Lima. Valledupar, Colombia. Audio recorded by Kike Calvo.  Headphones are recommended

“In Valledupar the traveler will find sources of inspiration,” said Murgas. “Here we have singed to the mountains, to the flatlands, to the Rio Guarapuri, to our girlfriends. Here you will find friend gatherings or parrandas, were locals gather to listen to music and to sing songs pleasing their friends. This is why Valledupar is the Vallenato capital of the world.”`

Llanos

In Los Llanos things still remain the way they used to be in many parts of the world. Cows are milked at dawn to accompany the morning coffee and gain energy for the daily chores. Daily tasks are accompanied by an oral tradition known as cantos de vaquería. Songs from the soul, and spread by the winds, that are still heard across the flatlands of Vichada, Arauca, Meta and Casanare. With masterful skills, locals milk the cows to the rhythms and whistles learned from their parents, in an improvised expression of identity and love of daily life.

The Joropo, locally known as Musica llanera, is a musical style resembling the fandango, and an accompanying dance. It has African, Native South American and European influences and originated in the plains called

Colombian cowboys dance and play Joropo music at finca gramalote in villavicencio. it is locally known as Musica llanera and clearly resembles the fandango. Photo © Kike Calvo / colombia photo expeditions

There are four types of acapella songs: milking songs (canciones de ordeño); cattle driving songs (canciones del cabestrero); calming songs before sunset (canciones de vela); and taming songs (canciones de domesticación.) Each cow has a name, and a song is created for her.

AUDIOGRAPH: Canción de Vaquería by local llaneros. Villavicencio, Colombia. Audio recorded by Kike Calvo.  Headphones are recommended.

For those interested in venturing in the Colombian flatlands for a day, an option is to visit Gramalote Campo Ecologico on the outskirts of Villavicencio. This allows travelers to become llaneros for a day: from attempting to llaso, saddle and ride their new faithful steeds inside the ¨manga¨ to play rejo, made of the last sacrificed maute where the cowboys will capture a partner of the opposing team. For those interested in exploring the surrounding areas, horseback riding will get them to beautiful places such as “Salto del Angel” waterfall.

Environmental portrait of young Colombian cowboys and cowgirls. Photo © Kike Calvo

young Colombian llaneros in traditional joropo attire, a genre of creole music. Photo © Kike Calvo / colombia photo expeditions

AUDIOGRAPH: Canción de Vaquería by local llaneros. Villavicencio, Colombia. Audio recorded by Kike Calvo.  Headphones are recommended.

At the rhythm of Joropo, moving my feet in a zapateo motion I think about how Los llanos preserve not only natural beauty, but also the voices and identity of those Colombian cowboys fighting hard to preserve ancestral knowledge and vanishing traditions. Today these oral expressions are UNESCO´s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Portrait of a Colombian llanera in traditional joropo attire leaning over a wooden fence. Photo © Kike Calvo

Portrait of a Colombian llanera wearing a joporo dress. this musical genre has African, Native South American and European roots. Photo © Kike Calvo / colombia photo expeditions

There is something intrinsically musical in Colombia. I can’t easily describe it. Maybe it has to do with its isolation due to the political conflict in the last six decades. It could be the resilience of its people, or the sheer creativity of its artists, dancers and musicians. What I can say is that any musical exploration in Colombia echoes in us, travelers, when we venture beyond our fears of discovery. I would dare to add that Colombia is a culture that is best understood through its sounds.

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Colombian Marimba Player Esteban Copete

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