Meet Toto La Momposina: A Colombian Music Icon

She’s the first lady of traditional Colombian sounds and, more than 50 years after she started making music, Toto La […]

She’s the first lady of traditional Colombian sounds and, more than 50 years after she started making music, Toto La Momposina’s influence is as great as ever. The artist’s latest album, Tambolero, has garnered her critical success across the globe. Here’s everything you need to know about Colombia’s favorite folk heroine:

Who’s Toto La Momposina?

Toto La Momposina is really Sonia Bazanta Vides, a Colombian singer of African and indigenous descent. Known for her powerful voice and irresistible dancing, which  brings every audience to its feet, Toto grew up in Talaigua, a small village near Mompos on the Magdalena River. That’s how she got her nickname.

Why is she so beloved?

Toto was born into a family of musicians that spans five generations, so it’s no surprise she has been singing and dancing ever since she was a child. The key to her success, beyond her hard work and dedication, is probably the close ties between her music and the story of Colombia itself. Toto is influenced by the music and dance of the Colombian Caribbean, which in turn was influenced by the African slaves, European conquerors and indigenous tribes.

What’s her sound?

Toto brings a range of rhythms to the stage, from cumbia, bullerengue and mapale to guaracha, rumba and bolero and bowls the audience over with her emphasis on percussion and instruments including the gaita (an indigenous wind instrument) and tiple (a small guitar) Toto herself says percussion is at the “heart” of her music.

So Toto learned from her roots?

Yes and no. Toto’s father was a drummer and her mother a dancer and singer and, as a child, she travelled the villages of the Colombian Caribbean. She learned their sounds and rhythms and the role of the cantadoras (female singers) who dispense advice and help keep spirits high as the villagers pound corn and scrub clothes. Many of the songs Toto performs were originally sung by the villagers going about their day. But Toto is also classically trained. She studied the history of dance at the Sorbonne in Paris and spent time in Cuba too, studying the bolero.

How did she make it big?

Toto formed her own group in the late 1960s and began performing in Latin America, Europe and the US in the 1970s. She even accompanied Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Stockholm, performing at his Nobel Prize ceremony in 1982. But her big break came in 1992 when she recorded La Candela Viva for New World Records. She has since performed all over the world and received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. Her latest album, Tambolero, was released earlier this year to critical acclaim.

“La Candela Viva”

What’s next?

Toto continues to enthrall her audiences and has seen her music sampled by artists as diverse as French rocker Manu Chao and US rappers Timbaland and Rich Boy. Her reign as Queen of Colombian folk music is secure.

When it comes to music making waves across the world, the answer is Colombia. If you liked this article please feel free to share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any of your social networks.

You may also enjoy:

The Sound of Music: Traditional Colombian Instruments

Colombia: Land of a Thousand Rhythms

Everything you need to know about Cumbia

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