The Sounds of Colombia: An In-Depth Look

Music of the Andean Region in Colombia




The Andean region throughout South America is a vast, diverse region. Particularly in Colombia , Andean music has a very diverse background which has evolved over the years. Colombia is a country known for violence and drugs by outsiders where music and expression are not often seen or heard of. In the Andean region in Columbia , origins of this music come from all over the world such as Spanish, African, and Pre-colonial people (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana). The Andean region dates back to the early years of Colombia shortly after the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16 th century. Andean music is used for political, social, and personal means. From escape to expression, Andean music is important to this culture regardless of how popular it may or may not be.



Colombia is a land of wonder, beauty, and rich culture. Although Colombia has been best known for its drug cartels and coffee, this country has long been home to a diverse and talented group of people. The music of Colombia is full of many instruments because of multiple cultural influences. Colonial, Andean, and new age music fills the radios and the streets of cities throughout the country. Traditional Andean music can be heard throughout the Colombian-Andean region. This style has shown great persistence to remain in the lives of Colombians. As it grows, Colombia 's culture rapidly changes and creates diversities as influence from around the world leave their mark. Even though Colombia continues to improve to get passed the bloodshed that has plagued their country for so long, music can offer a safe relief from a dangerous life.


Location, Geography, and Climate of Colombia

Colombia is located in Northern South America . It borders the Caribbean Sea , the North Pacific Ocean , Panama , Venezuela , Brazil , Peru , and Ecuador ( Lyon , et al. 2000). Colombia is the only South American country with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea (CIA, 2004). This country is the fourth largest country in South America . Its size is equivalent to the area of Spain , Argentina , and Peru ( Lyon , et al. 2000), or slightly less than three times the size of Montana (CIA, 2004).

Colombia has a large area of mountainous ranges. There are three Andean chains called the Cordillera Occidental , Cordillera Central , and Cordillera Oriental that run north to south across the country. Also another mountain range is the largest coastal mountain coastal range in the world called the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta along the Caribbean coast. The rest of the country lowlands divided into two specific regions: “the savanna-like Los Llanos in the north and the mostly jungle-covered Amazon in the south ( Lyon , et al. 2000).

Because of how close Colombia is to the equator, the climate is mostly tropical with higher temperatures; but the temperature does change with altitude such as the Alpine areas in the Andean range. There are two seasons: dry or summer and wet or winter ( Lyon , et al. 2000).


Brief History of Colombia

The first Europeans to settle in the area of current Colombia were the Spanish in 1499 where they encountered indigenous people already living. The earliest surviving town of Santa Marta was founded in 1525. Independence wars began towards the end of the 18 th century. From these wars, Gran Colombia was founded headed by a man named Bolivar ( Lyon , et al. 2000). In 1830, “ Colombia was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia (the others being Ecuador and Venezuela )” (CIA, 2004). During the 1990's, there was a violent campaign to overthrow the Colombian Government that had been escalating for 40 years. This period has become known as “La Violencia” ( Lyon , et al. 2000).


Distinctive Features of Colombia

Some of Colombia 's export resources include petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, oil, nickel, gold, copper, and emeralds (CIA, 2004). Colombia has the largest deposits of coal in Latin America ( Lyon , et al. 2000). Colombia is the world's second largest coffee producer, after Brazil . Other important resources the country produces are sugar, cotton, flowers, bananas, rice, maize, potatoes, tobacco, barley, beans, and cocoa. The diverse climates throughout the country make it possible to have so many different crops (Lyon et al. 2000). As stated, drugs are an important export for Colombians bringing unwanted, negative attention and stigmas to the country. Drugs such as marijuana and cocaine are the main drug exports that are bought and sold around the globe (CIA, 2004).

Some of the problems plaguing Colombians besides ongoing violence are “deforestation, soil and water quality damage from overuse of pesticides, and air pollution, especially in Bogotá, from vehicle emissions” (CIA, 2004). Some of the natural phenomenon problems in Colombia include volcanic eruptions in higher regions, occasional earthquakes, and periodic droughts throughout the country (CIA, 2004).


Origins of the Colombian-Andean music

Andean music is not limited to just Colombia . This style of music stretches all the way from the northern tip of Colombia to the southern most parts of Chile where the great Incan empire ruled which ended up being almost completely destroyed by the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the early 16th century. “The groundwork for the development of musical nationalism in Colombia was laid during the republican period, which opened a new phase in nineteenth-century Colombian music, mostly through the cultivation of European operatic and symphonic repertories and styles” (Behague, 1979). European and African influence has played an important role in the creation and development of music in the Andean region in Colombia . From Europe , Spanish rhythms and instruments began to take hold of this region's music, which “differs noticeably from Indian music of Peru or Bolivia ” (Starrt Enr. Web Page Designer, 2004). Typical forms that exist are the bambuco, pasillo guabina, and torbellino played with string instruments such as the guitarra or also the piano (Starrt Enr. Web Page Designer, 2004). The “Pasillo Fiestros” is a descendent of the European waltz, but the pasillo is “more expressive, more romantic, and quite exciting” (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 1996). As the years passed new instruments as well as new ways to play traditional instruments were discovered as more and more cultures influenced the Andean style. One of the most prominent composers during the 1910s and 20s was Guillermo Uribe-Holguin. He lived in New York and Paris while he was young which exposed him to different styles of music from other countries. He translated these influences into his music to create solo songs, piano pieces, chamber music, and several orchestral works (Behague, 1979). Since 1950, Colombia along with other Andean nations has not been able to successfully establish or maintain a presence in contemporary music (Behague, 1979).


The Cultural Significance of Andean Music

Sample Song: [28K]   for "Las Mirlas"  

Original Lyrics of Song and Translation

Interpretation of Song


Prognosis for this Musical Genre

I believe Andean and folklore music has been alive for so long because people love its traditional, natural sound; therefore, I feel that, even though it may not be as popular, it will remain a significant genre of music in Colombia and all over the Andean region.



The fight for a restored national image in Colombia has become a national quest for many in the country. Colombian economy has long been dependent on coffee and drug exportation, but the movement for this to change has helped people open their minds to new ideas. Music in Colombia has been around for years yet with no popular face to people who listen to the radio everyday usually listening to a more Westernized sound. Andean music, particularly the Spanish and African influenced styles, is just one genre of creativity that Colombians have begun to focus on in rural and small urban areas to become popular culture not only in their own country but internationally. Why do they try so hard? To do their part in rejuvenating the national image and pride in the beautiful, diverse Colombia .


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

    Behague, Gerard

           1979   Music in Latin America: An Introduction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

    Gradante, William J.

           1999   Music in Latin American Culture: Regional Traditions. New York: Schirmer Books. pgs. 302-382

    Lyons, James, Wayne Bernhardson, Robyn Jones, Andrew Draffen, Leonardo Pinheiro, Krzysztof Dydynski, Maria Massolo, Conner Gorry, and Matt Plotkin

           2000   South America on a Shoestring. Australia: Lonely Planet Publications. pgs. 583-592.

    Wade, Peter

           2000   Music, Race, and Nation: Musica Tropical in Columbia. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


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