Hailing from Bogotá, Colombia, Tribu Baharú is a champeta crew whose sound is rooted in the musical ethos of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, influenced in particular by the “pico” (sound system) culture of Barranquilla and Cartagena. The heart of champeta culture first beat in these two coastal cities, finding expression in communities at the margins of Colombian society. The sensual champeta dance has faced sharp resistance from cultural elites and politicians who claim it is to blame for teenage pregnancy and violence. But that hasn’t stopped the music (and dance) from becoming wildly popular across Colombia.
For the past century, coastal Afro-Colombian culture has derived its name from the champeta, a sharp, curved knife used by fishermen to scale their catches. Shaped by the culture of the champetúos, the urban poor of the region, the sound now known as “champeta” took shape in the 1970s when Congolese soukous and rumba began to find popularity in Colombian port towns. Unable to decipher the words to these sweet, high-energy, guitar-driven records, local artists started making up their own lyrics in Spanish.
A staple of the champeta scene are the colorfully decorated mobile sound systems known as picós that pop up at street dances and community celebrations. Picó DJs spin Central and South African sounds alongside zouk from the Antilles, reggae from Jamaica, American hip hop and R&B, soca and calypso from Trinidad, and the indigenous sounds of Colombia. It’s a blend called “creole therapy.” “This fusion of rhythms shaped a new, urban, musical culture in the Caribbean,” says Tribu Baharú guitarist Boris Nelson.
Tribu Baharú was formed in 2009 in inland Bogota’s hip music scene when six musicians sought to pay tribute to their Afro-Colombian heritage with a high-energy presentation and positive message. Their mission is capturing the vibe and energy of the picós using instruments instead of the picós’ pre-recorded discs. Nelson says the group was “inspired by the colors, the music, the power, the potency and the dancing generated by the picós.”
Tribu Baharú’s shows are fueled by lead singer Josue Moreno. Laying down the frenetic rhythms are bassist Ruder Pacheco, drummer Cesar Urueta Figueroa and percussionist Oscar Gamboa. In a nod to their ancestors, some of the band’s songs are sung in palenquero, a language created by escaped African slaves and indigenous Colombians in the 1600s, while others use the street dialect of the champetúos. Those lyrics, says Nelson, are “about dancing and spreading positive energy.”