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Sample Track 1:
"Fiesta Vieja" from La Bodega
Sample Track 2:
"Yo Me Llamo Cumbia" from La Bodega
Sample Track 3:
"Margarita" from La Bodega
Layer 2

More About Totó La Momposina

A magnificent singer and dancer, Totó La Momposina has earned respect and admiration in many parts of the world for the power and spontaneity of her performance. Drawing on the music and dance of the Colombian Caribbean, her work is informed and inspired by a rich cultural mix that combines elements from African, Native Indian and Spanish traditions. This an expression of a culture that has its origins in Africa (via the slaves brought to work in the Americas), Spain (through the influence of the invading colonists) and South America (from the indigenous Indian population).

On stage Totó’s dynamic repertoire is accompanied by a range of traditional drums, gaitas, brass, tiple, bass, guitar, percussion and chorus. She presents rhythms such as the cumbia, bullerenge, chalupa, garabato and mapale from Colombia’s Caribbean coast alongside the Cuban son, guaracha, rumba and bolero son that arrived in Colombia via the village of San Basilio de Palenque.

Totó hails - as did her ancestors - from the village of Talaigua, at the heart of an island in the great Magdalena river, called Mompos (hence ‘la Momposina’). The river, which rises high in the Andes, stretches over a thousand miles to the Caribbean. In the sixteenth century Spanish invasions forced the Indians - the original inhabitants of Mompos - to flee into the island’s dense forests. In later years, runaway slaves intermarried with them. ‘The music I play’, explains Totó, ‘has its roots in a mixed race; being African and Indian, the heart of the music is completely percussive.’ The cumbia is one of the better known rhythms and dances of Colombia. This rhythm is powerfully hypnotic and, along with the dance and its costume, a fine example of the mixture of Indian, Spanish and African influences: The dance originated as a courting dance between African men and Indian women at the time when the two communities began to intermarry. In this gentle, sensual dance the women hold up lit candles as the pairs weave in and out. 

Born into a family of musicians spanning five generations, Totó learned to sing and dance as a child. Her father was a drummer, her mother a singerand dancer; their household lived with the musical traditions of ‘la costa’. As a young woman, she travelled from village to village researching their various rhythms and dances and studying the art of the cantadora. Traditionally the cantadoras are peasants, women who grow yucca, plantain and pumpkins in the patches of land behind their huts. These women play a central role in the village culture. In Talaigua Ramona Ruiz, a fine cantadora now in her eighties who tutored the teenage Toto, continues to keep this tradition alive. In this community of peasant farmers and fishermen Ramona dispenses everything from marital advice to herbal medicine and as a vivacious and inspired chande (fiesta and also a rhthym of Talaigua) leader, is able to rustle up a full compliment of drummers, singers and dancers at a moment’s notice. The songs that the villagers sing to accompany their daily tasks are performed by Totó on stage, such as rhythmic chants to pace the pounding of the corn, and suggestive lyrics which add spice to the monotony of scrubbing the clothes in the river. The drums are played by the men, boat-builders who hollow out tree trunks with their axes, fishermen, net-menders and cigar-makers.

Gradually, Totó’s voice and performance technique matured, until in 1968 she formed her own group and began to pursue a professional career, though still delighting in playing at family fiestas, street parties and other roles enacted by ‘la cantadora del pueblo’. Rapidly gaining a reputation for her impressive voice and presence she began to appear outside Colombia in the 1970s touring in Latin America, Western and Eastern Europe and the United States. In 1982 she accompanied Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Stockholm to perform at his Nobel prize ceremony.

Totó based herself in France for four years, studying the history of dance for a year at the Sorbonne and performing extensively in Europe, though most frequently in France and Germany. She recorded her first album during this period in Paris, ‘Totó La Momposina’ for Auvidisc and contributed to the Colombian compilation ‘La Ceiba’ for ASPIC. In 1987 she returned to Colombia and continued to perform both at home and further afield in Latin America and the Caribbean. She also spent time in Cuba where she studied the bolero. In 1991 WOMAD brought her back to Europe and she performed at their festivals in Japan, Canada, England, Germany, Spain and Finland. She recorded ‘La Candela Viva’ in 1992 for Real World Records and ‘Carmelina’ for MTM in 1995, followed by ‘Pacanto’ in 1998. Over the last decade she has also performed in Spain, England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Holland, Belgium, Slovenia, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Korea, USA, Mexico, Cuba and on seven other Caribbean islands.