"La Popular" and the New Chilean Cumbia

Sweaty, dancing bodies pack the courtyard at Liceo Victorino Lastarria, a high school in Providencia. Hanging from the railings of one of its balconies, a banner declares: “Al Poder le Molesta la Cumbia. (Power is disturbed by cumbia.)” The crowd is mostly teenagers and twenty-somethings, and the music is loud and vibrant. This isn’t your mother’s Cumbia.

 Image courtesy of La Fonda Permanente
Image courtesy of La Fonda Permanente

The concert was organized to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of 2016’s Revolución Pingüina (“Penguin Revolution”), in which hundreds of thousands of high schoolers across Chile went on strike demanding education reform. The crowd celebrated, accordingly, with the music most closely associated with the student movement and youthful rebellion in Chile: La Nueva Cumbia Chilena. (“The new Chilean Cumbia.”) Chilean Cumbia is a powerful, growing movement, but without La Fonda Permanente (nicknamed “La Popular”), a local concert venue and organization committed to promoting cumbia, it wouldn’t be where it is today.

 Image courtesy of La Fonda Permanente
Image courtesy of La Fonda Permanente

Unlike traditional cumbia, which began as an Afro-Colombian courtship dance, bands playing modern Chilean cumbia incorporate elements of rock, hip hop, reggae, and various Latin American musical traditions into their songs. Their youthful, raucous, and intricate music often boasts of being cumbia casera (“homemade cumbia”), representing a culture of working-class youth that prides itself on its roots.

“We’ve constructed a scene around La Fonda Permanente,” says Eduardo Lopez, manager of the venue. “Our contribution has been to bring cumbia to the masses.” From the movement’s origins in the early 2000s to its explosion in 2009-2010, “La Popular” has been connecting bands to each other and to their fans, nurturing an explosive new musical community.

 Image courtesy of La Fonda Permanente and Santa Feria
Image courtesy of La Fonda Permanente and Santa Feria

In the last few years alone, the Cumbia scene has transformed immensely. “The movement has grown a ton. Bands now have 3 or 4 shows a week, with professional studios and recordings. It wasn’t like this just a few years back, when only Chico Trujillo was recording professionally,” says Lopez. These days, dozens of bands are making professional-quality videos and songs, including well-known acts like Santa Feria, Juana Fe, and Banda Conmoción as well as newcomers like Bloque 8 and La Combo Tortuga.

 Image courtesy of La Fonda Permanente and La Combo Tortuga
Image courtesy of La Fonda Permanente and La Combo Tortuga

Cumbia is more than just danceable: it’s a cultural movement with political purpose, and La Fonda Permanente reflects this commitment to social change. “La Fonda Permanente has always been political,” explains Lopez. “We are always working with workers’ and students’ movements, and we understand that this is our responsibility as cultural actors. If we were just a space to dance and listen to music, we would just be another passing style. Being connected to these movements gives content to the music.”

La Fonda Permanente often has shows at their venue in Barrio Brasil, as well as festivals and larger concerts at venues around the city. This weekend, they’ll be in Concepción, but if you can’t make it down that far south you can also check out their next big show at Teatro Caupolican on June 3rd.

La Fonda Permanente
Barrio Brasil
Agustinas #2539
Metro Cummings
www.fondapermanente.cl

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