Palenque de San Basilio is considered the first free African slave town in the Americas. We compile a list of seven iconic and new Afro-Colombian bands from Palenque that shouldn’t fly under your radar.
What makes Palenque de San Basilio a musical hot spot is its deep connection with its African heritage, which comes from a community who escaped slavery from coastal plantations to found their enclave in Palenque’s village in the early XVII century. The town is located in the foothills of Montes de María in the northern coastal region of Colombia, a very isolated place that allowed them to keep their distinct creole language, known as lengua Palenquera, and their amazing array of musical styles.
When you arrive in Palenque you hear a mix of beats coming from loud picós (from ‘pick-up’), a sound system operator, tuning rhythms ranging from champeta, reggae, Afro-punk, Congolese soukous and folkloric hip-hop to more traditional drums and percussion.
The town’s party happens the second weekend of October when the Festival de Tambores (Drumming festival) and Ñeque y Tambó celebration gather local musicians to showcase genres like Terapia or champeta, lumbalú’s sounds (a funerary tradition with Central African cultural roots), rap Palenquero, reggae, electronic music and DJs. For four days they perform while people hang out in the central square or dance at the forefront of the houses to jam and drink ñeke, a sacred sugar liquor to Palenque’s musicians. Here is a list to capture the lush and sonic landscapes of the first free black town of the new world.
Kombilesa Mí are a nine-member ‘rap folkloric Palenquero’ collective. Their music combines Caribbean rhythms like cumbia, mapalé, champeta, bullerengue, son palenquero, puya, African soukous and hip-hop with lyrics delivered in the Palenquero language. They’re lead by Adris Padilla, alias Afroneto, who encouraged several hip-hop collectives to end rivalries between rappers to start this band in 2016. Their second album, Esa Palenquera, is filled with references to their African roots, the strength of Afro women, Palenque traditions and their ongoing fight to end racial discrimination. Kombilesa Mí have carved their own path in their town and abroad to spread their Palenque language and mark the legacy of Palenque de San Basilio on the world.