History of Mexican Cumbia Music
“Cumbia puts me in a good mood, always.”
By Artemio Jiménez
Have you ever wondered what that music is playing in the kitchen of that favorite place of yours to pick up some food or fresh baked goods? There's a rich history connected to that. At Gjusta, you can feel the beat of the Cumbias starting at 2am. One of the oldest genres in Latin music, Cumbia developed in the 1800s in Colombia. According to Jasmine Gard of NPR music, Luis Carlos Meyer was one of the first artists to immigrate to Mexico and record the first Cumbia outside of Colombia.
Los Borachos Son Ustedes by Los Xochimilcas, photo by Trip Davis
When I, Artemio Jiménez, am not at Gjusta, I am a musician. Latin music has many subgenres, such as Cumbia, Banda, Mariachi, and Norteñas. Even though I’m involved in Banda, I play the alto horn and congas. We play many covers that involve Cumbias in our own style because people love the lyrics and dancing to them. It’s a stress reliever.
Every morning at Gjusta, I clock in at 5am and identify myself with Cumbia because not only is it upbeat, but because it also reminds me of my roots. As a child growing up in Oaxaca, Mexico, I would travel from my town San Francisco Yatee to Oaxaca City, and the bus drivers would play songs such as Los Caminos de la Vida by La Tropa Vallenata; there’s no way you would think of sleep while listening to Cumbia. The song speaks about understanding that life doesn’t always go the way you plan. Everyone can relate to it and take interest in it because the lyrics speak about love, life, money, and struggles. It’s a motivation to continue looking forward, knowing that everything is going to be alright.
Many of my coworkers can similarly relate because they would travel to get to work, and some grew up here in the U.S. listening to Cumbia because of their parents. Gustavo Santiago, one of my coworkers, declares, “Cumbia puts me in a good mood, always.”
Gonzalo Cardenas Ramirez, a server at Gjelina, shares “Cumbia reminds me of my upbringing - all those birthdays and weddings when Cumbia was playing. It reminds me of friends and family. It is my history. It is the music of celebration. It is easy to dance to, and everybody can move to its rhythm. There aren’t really any rules on how to dance to it either.”
Executive Chef Juan Hernandez observes, “I don’t really listen to Cumbia but every time I do, it is actually because someone is playing it in our kitchen at Gjelina. For me, Cumbia is happiness and its beat fills me with energy, motivation, and makes me want to dance every time.”
Gjelina General Manager Benny Bohm remarks, “Cumbia is a great example of how music is a language everybody understands. We used to play Cumbia when we would set up the pop-up in Santa Monica Canyon. It was the perfect way to build a connection with the chefs. I always play it at Gjelina when I open before guests arrive.” He continues, “When you start with Cumbia, the day will go just fine.”