African drum in Cumbia
African drum

Cumbia Dance: A Lost African Heritage

Do you know that the popular cumbia dance started in Africa? Do you take my word for it, or are you in doubt? Follow me and let’s explore together.

As a dance enthusiast and explorer of African culture, I make it my obligation to search and study the meaning of a dance movement and how it evolves.

In my quest, I have found quite a handful of dance styles of African origin. Cumbia dance, Salsa and Tango are but a few of the dance genres that have their basis in Africa.

Dance to me is more than steps put together. It expresses the inner feelings that only I can understand. Written definitions/ articles are not enough to describe the wave of emotions I feel when dancing.

So much I can tell about dance. Nonetheless, what is the relationship between dance and African society? Dancing with Africans is an untamable spirit. It is like a wildfire in the soul. Because of our nature, no matter where we are, we can find comfort in this art.

This is why we can sing and dance even in chains. The only property we can use day and night. Dance and music. This is the origin of our lost heritage and the birth of the cumbia dance.

Cumbia Dance

African cumbia dance
Cumbia dancers


This is a variation of Latin American music rhythms and local dance traditions. These combined arts gave birth to the term cumbia. It is also a dance style in different countries, but it is more popular in Colombia.

Cumbia dance/music includes three main cultures. African, indigenous and a little Spanish. The relationship between Africa, Colombia and other countries can be traced back to colonial rule.

The earliest recorded record of cumbia dance dates back to 1840. This is a dance performed by slaves during our Lady Candlemas feast. Female dancers carry candles to illuminate the area and prevent men from approaching.

For Africans, it began with the arrival of black slaves on the coast of Colombia. Cumbia is an African courtship dance. The black man performed this dance.

There are several courtship dances in Africa. For example, Mwoboko from Kenya is a dance about freedom. Several traditional dances in Africa also tell people’s customs and habits.

South African traditional dance tells the essence of community dance, and Nigerian traditional dance shows the diversity of Nigerian culture. Traditional dance in Ghana also gives insight into the life of the people.

Over the years, this black courtship dance has evolved. It was transformed with the infusion of Colombian folk dances and musical instruments.

Did you know that Colombian dance is the national dance of Colombia?

List Of Dancing Countries Cumbia

1. Argentina cumbia

Argentina cumbia
Argentina Cumbia dancers


 Cumbia dance has always been recognized and enjoyed in Argentina. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, the dance gained more prominence. It became popular in Rio de la Plata among the lower class people. I need not tell you that Rio is one of the main cities.

Argentina cumbia embodies various activities inside the same traditions. Its unique style of music and dance towards the cumbia trend, earned the name Argentina cumbia.

The most successful bands that brought the music to the limelight are, Rafaga, La Nueva Luna, Azul, Amar and Gilda. For their musical instruments, they use more highly combined electronics like bells and keyboards.

2. Mexican Cumbia

Mexican African cumbia
Mexican dancer


Mexican cumbia is one of the most popular cumbia after Columbia. Columbia cumbia started in the 1800s while Mexican cumbia began in the 1940s. All thanks to a Columbian who migrated to Mexico.

Luis Carlos Meyer Castandet, a Colombian singer, is the pioneer of Mexican cumbia. When he arrived in Mexico, he worked with a musical conductor named Rafael de Paz. In the 1950s he made his first album entitled “La Cumbia Cienaguera”.

Luis’s song is believed to be the first cumbia recording outside of Colombia. Aniceto Molina, Rigo Tovar are also great influences in Mexican cumbia. Rigo infuses balled and rock into cumbia. Creating a completely new trend in the world of cumbia.

Other versions of cumbia are the Bolivian cumbia, the Costa Rican cumbia, the Peruvian cumbia, the Salvadoran cumbia, and the Venezuelan cumbia.

Original Cumbia Instruments

Cumbia instrument
Cumbia Instruments


There are five major instruments used in playing cumbia. Some can exist without the other but the combination of all five is a banquet of harmony.

  • caña de millo/ Flute

All my life I have always believe the origin of the flute is from Africa. It is so shocking to realise that the world does not even recognise Africa among the founders of the flute.

Is it because there are few or no written documents about it? No pictures or findings? Well, I’ll leave that for another day.

Studies prove that the flute is one of the earliest musical instruments.  A few of them date back to about 43, 000 and 35,000 years ago. They were found in Swabian Jura – present-day Germany.

Some were also found in Asia and India. Images of the bamboo flute were seen with the Indian god Krishna. History also revealed that the bamboo flute was used during the Zhou dynasty. It again appears in artworks and folkloric tales.

Krishna playing the flute
The Indian god Krishna playing the flute


No matter these revelations, the flute is an indigenous instrument to the Columbia and African people. Its importance in African culture is undeniable.

Local flutes from Columbia are made from carrizo cane, palm, millet or similar stem. A flute is a woodwind musical instrument with open ends on both sides. Cut in the stem are four finger holes that allow the player to manipulate the tone.

  • African Drums 

African drum in Cumbia
African drum


There are various drums in Africa and they are used for different purposes. Each drum in Africa depicts a being or thing. Some are sacred while others are commercial. Whatever the reason, drums are heavily used for festivals and to make calls.

Drums are used in South African traditional dance, Ghana traditional dance, and Nigerian traditional dance. I can say for a fact that drums are significant cultural elements in all African countries.

In cumbia music, three fascinating African drums are used. One type of drum is called Djembe. It is placed between the legs and played with two hands or a stick. For the best result, play with your hands.

When you play the Djembe drum with your hands, you will feel every nerve in you. Sometimes, it stands as the mother drum. The other is two small separate drums tied together. This drum is played mostly with a stick.

Last but not least is a drum placed on the knee. It is played with one hand.

  • Maracas

This is an instrument made of wood. It belongs to the family of rattles. In Colombia, it is called rumba shaker or cha-cha. However, in Africa, it is called shekere. In addition, the maraca in Africa is slightly larger than those in Colombia.

It’s not that we don’t have smaller sizes of wooden shakers – we do. The ratio of those who use the smallest to the other is 1:10.

The rumber shaker is usually played as one piece of a set and shaken with the handle. The style of shaking is equally different in Africa. We hit it gently on our palms to create the desired effect.

Furthermore, the outside is often decorated with white glass beads.

  • Accordion

The Accordion is a later addition to cumbia. Its usage is also popular in Colombian music as it is the foundation for Colombian community music.

There is no evidence yet to trace the origins of accordion in Colombia. Nevertheless, according to oral tales, the accordion arrived in Colombia in the 1800s. A German ship was destroyed in the Magdelena river and among the items saved, was the accordion.

The people fell in love with it and it is used to this day.

How To Dance Cumbia

The movement is very subtle with a rhythm of 1 and 2. Women perform circular or zig-zag movements, while men try to woo them by following them. Replicating every move.

As the woman rocked her body and skirt, the man used his hat to fan/crown her. Also, at no particular time will the lady bring the light closer to the man’s face. The man will lean or walk away to avoid being burned.

In terms of costume, ladies wear a long colourful skirt and blouse. The style is from Spanish. Rumours have it that cumbia dance is popular because of the easy movements.

People also went further to say that cumbia music evolved because it has a simple basic tune. Anyone can modify it to fit his inspiration. It can also pass for open and close couple dances.

Dance In Brazil

Dance styles in Brazil are influenced by Africans and Portuguese. Due to the huge number of African slaves working in the plantations, it fitted the footing of the colonial economy. 

In Brazil, Africans influence on music and dance is dominant. Samba dance is Brazils national dance and it has its foundation in the state of Bahia. The Samba style was created by slaves and free Africans.

It involves circular moments with stand by dancers, musicians and spectators. Only one dancer at a time can enter the dance space. When dancing, dancers transfer weight between both legs creating sharp slides. The upper part of the body is usually still while below the waistline does most of the movements.

After the end of slavery in 1888, many workers moved to the hills near Rio de Janeiro. There the samba dance was born. People organize samba schools as neighbourhood guilds. In the 1940s, Samba gained popularity. He passed from the black community to other races. The transition was made possible by the activity of radio stations and record companies.

Several Samba styles emerged in the 20th century. Some of them are gafieira, samba-enredo, samba-reggae, samba de salão and samba de mulattas. 

Another notable group among the African Brazilian dance is the Filhos de Gandhy. The group started in the 1940s and they aim to increase brotherly ness, peace, love and a safe environment free from racial discrimination. Their foremost goal nonetheless is to have compassion on the community that is bias based on their race.


A lot of African heritage has been lost during the slave trade era. Cumbia dance, Tango, Salsa, Rumba are but a few of the dance genres created by Africans. 

Cumbia dance is Colombia national dance and so is Brazilian rumber. Black Africans may have been subjected to a derogatory stage, but we are refined like the Phoenix.

African instruments like drums and flute also played major roles in African traditions and others. It is sad though to see that only a line of the sentence is given to Africans when they talk about the cumbia/ cumbia dance. 

I wish to say, however, that Africa may not be where it wants to be among the world, but we are a people with a beautiful and diverse culture. Respect us as much as you would want us to respect you.

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