Columbian Cumbia Music

Cumbia – Pimsleur’s Guide to Latin Music

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Welcome back to our series on exploring Latin culture and language through music! In this series, we break down the most popular Latin music genres, giving you a complete overview of how they came to be and exclusive info on what’s trending! Today’s episode is all about cumbia music and how a folkloric courting dance became an international phenomenon and one of Latin music’s largest genres!

 We will cover:

  • Cumbia history & cumbia dance
  • Popular cumbia artists & cumbia songs
  • Fun cumbia facts that will make you a certified trivia expert on the subject matter!
  • To help with your Spanish listening skills, we have attached a cumbia playlist for you to embrace the diversity of sound of Latin America.

Before we get started, cumbia is the type of music that makes you want to move, whether you like it or not!  Don’t believe me? Pop on this classic cumbia song while you read and see if you can resist.

What is Cumbia Music? A Quick Overview of Cumbia!

In this section, we go over where cumbia got its start and dip into a bit more of the history!


Colombia, Argentina, México, Chile

Iconic cumbia artists:

Sonora Dinamita (Colombia), Pastor López, Ráfaga (Argentina)

Origins of Cumbia Music

Cumbia is the prodigal child of Colombia. Although cumbia’s origin is somewhat shrouded in folkloric mystery, it is said to originate from a traditional indigenous courtship dance on the coast of Colombia. Despite its original reputation as working-class populist music, cumbia slowly permeated all levels of society and became one of the most popular genres in the “land of a thousand rhythms”.

Today, cumbia is an international ballroom sensation and a fusion of African drums, indigenous wind instruments, and European melodies. This fusion formed throughout the 1800s and was largely popularized throughout Colombia and internationally by the mid-1950s.

So what countries produce cumbia today? And how are they different?

Fun Cumbia Fact: Did you know that Colombia is said to have 1,025 different folk rhythms? Read more about Colombian music and cumbia here!


Types of Cumbia: Colombia v. Argentina v. Mexico

In this section, we cover the basic differences between Colombian, Argentine, and Mexican cumbia and why they have so much influence.

Origins of Cumbia


Mexican Cumbia Puts Its Own Spin On a Colombian Classic  

Mexican cumbia an adapted version of Colombian cumbia, bringing its own instruments and sounds to the mix. The settings of the songs are more in the country and reminiscent of Mexican ranchera music. The Mexican cumbia is danced in couples with a 2/2 beat.

When Colombian singer Luis Castandet immigrated to Mexico in the 1940’s, he started collaborating with local artists and the music took off, reaching its peak in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. Selena, Mexican-American pop princess, adopted cumbia into her Latin pop style and carried it all the way into the thousands. Mexicans were hooked on cumbia!

Argentine Cumbia


Argentina Electrifies Cumbia with Electronic Instruments and Raunchy Lyrics

In Argentina, the cumbia is almost unrecognizable and sounds akin to hip-hop, with sometimes less than tasteful lyrics and booty bumpin’ beats of reggaeton. Why is that?

Cumbia was well-known in Argentina for some time but gained wild popularity in the main urban areas around the 1990s. Argentines started adding synthesized sounds and electronic keyboards, in-line with their reputation of being forever nostalgic for the 80’s.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that Argentines do not dance en la vida cotidiana (in their everyday lives) like Mexicans or Colombians. They consider themselves the Europeans of South America, a populace that does not incorporate as much dance in everyday culture compared to those with stronger African ties. This means their blood is less caliente (hot), and consequently, so is their music.

Argentine influence is significant in the southern half of South America, seeing as it has by far the largest population of the Spanish speaking countries south of La Gran Colombia (Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela). Their electric version of cumbia spilled over into Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile. The music still makes top pop charts today!

Fun Fact: An important tip to keep in mind while learning about Latin culture is geopolitics. Argentina is a huge country with immense influence – neighboring countries like Uruguay and Chile consume much of the content produced in Argentina.

Whereas Mexico is the multimedia “Hollywood” of the Caribbean countries and Central America, Argentina is the cultural king of the south. They have their own history, sense of humor, and music.

Why Does Cumbia Matter to Latin America?

Cumbia music is a great example of the cultural integration of different ethnicities in Latin America.

Unlike many U.S. music genres that developed separately, Latin music shows us time and time again the sensational success you can reap by embracing diversity. This made cumbia a genre for everyone and aided in its rapid spread across Latin America.

Basic Cumbia Dance Steps


  • Origin: Cumbia is originally Colombian, and is danced in pairs.
  • Where Can I Hear It: Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Peru.
  • Fun Fact: Argentinians LOVE cumbia, and usually DO NOT listen to salsa, bachata or merengue.
  • Fun Fact: Countries like Chile and Uruguay also produce cumbia, but the most popular artists today are from Argentina, hands down.

Cumbia Music Playlist For Your Next Party!

 Check out this Pimsleur’s Guide to Cumbia Playlist, filled with cumbia classics from all over Latin America picked especially for you!


  1. Las Caleñas- Pastor Lopez
  2. Tabaco y Ron- Rodolfo Aicardi
  3. Mil Horas- La Sonora Dinamita (check out the Argentine version of Mil Horas cumbia here so you can compare the sounds!)


  1. Amor a la Mexicana- Thalia
  2. El Negrito de la Salsa- Édgar Gonzalón
  3. Amor Prohibido- Selena (this song represents how Mexican cumbia caught on in the pop world!)


  1. Una Cerveza- Ráfaga
  2. Loquita- Marama
  3. Como Me Gusta La Noche- Nene Malo


  1. Yo también- Rombai

Special Offer for Latin Music Lovers

Brush up on your Spanish and sing along to your favorite Cumbia hits – Use code BLOG at checkout for a caliente discount!

4 Comments for "Cumbia – Pimsleur’s Guide to Latin Music"

  1. Is there any way you could possibly email me to discuss a few questions I have about cumbia. I’m doing a presentation for school and would love to ask you a few questions on the topic. Thank you!

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