Because I was born in Argentina and I happen to play a lot of cumbia and write about it, people have asked me many times about this mystery: how did cumbia, a traditional Colombian rhythm, became so immensely popular in Argentina? I usually say, I don't know, I wasn't born at the times cumbia started migrating south in the 60's. But I was there, coming of age in 1989, when it suddenly crossed over to the mainstream. Before 1989 all my memories of cumbia music are extremely vague, usually related to bizarre TV shows and conversations with the Paraguayan maid who cleaned my house during my childhood.
Yesterday I was digging at a local record store, something I don't do much often anymore but I tell myself that I should. Since I moved my set to all digital, I barely buy vinyl records but I still fetichize them. I guess it's a generational thing.
Anyway, I ran into this gem by Cuarteto Imperial, I guess the album is called Sigan Haciendo El Pasito Con El Cuarteto Imperial (something like "keep on doing the dance-step with the Imperial Cuartet") and it was published in the US by CBS in 1976.
These guys are probably one of the most influential factors in the exportation of cumbia from Colombia to Argentina (along with Los Wawancó), so many of the characteristics embraced by all Argentinean cumbia can probably be traced back to their music. Cuarteto Imperial is one of those old-school type groups that lasts for many decades and change members generation after generation, this was quite common in most successful tropical music orchestras. According to their website, in 1964 they moved from Colombia to Argentina and from there, they helped spread the cumbia gospel through neighbor countries like Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia. In Argentina they sold over 30 million records during the 60's and 70's and some of their classic songs still remain until today in the popular folklore. One example is "La Fiesta De Blas" included in this album I found yesterday, which is a song that mutated into a soccer hooligans chant and is still sung in every soccer field every Sunday. Of course most of these hooligans have no idea where the melody came from (the lyrics were changed to insult the mothers of the adversaries). I know I didn't until I put the record on the turntable today and said "so that's where they got it from!"
I think this phenomenon of cumbia songs chanted by soccer hooligans had to be an instrumental factor in the spreading and mainstrimization of cumbia in Argentina, and of course "La Fiesta De Blas" wasn't the only case. I was never a soccer fan, so I don't know many of those songs, but I remember in the early 90's cumbia crossover hits like Los Fantasmas del Caribe's "Muchacha Triste" and Los Mirlos' "Pídeme La Luna" received a big push from the soccer stadiums thanks to the hooligans' versions and there were probably hundreds of others that I never heard of.
I couldn't find the MP3 version of that particular track to share with you, but eventually I'll rip it from the LP. Instead, I leave you here a funny recent hit from Cuarteto Imperial called "La Cumbia del Mosntruo" which we could label under the sub-genre horror-cumbia (?!) and reminds me a lot of what Fantasma is doing.
Download "La Cumbia del Monstruo" Here