I wanted to say that to qualify for our list of Songs-Most-Colombians-Will-Recognize, the song and artist have to be from Colombia. There are songs by non-Colombians that, as we will see, also qualify. There is also a subset of songs most Colombians will be embarrassed to recognize, and we will get to those as well.
For now, today's song begins like this:
“I'm going to tell you, brother, a little piece of our history, of our black history gentelman, and it goes. . . .”
Then, Chelito de Castro on piano starts that unforgettable short riddle. After the first eight piano strokes every Colombian sings “ooh” with Joe Arroyo, as they either grab their dance partners or simply sit there waiting for the goose bumps to clear.
The song is Rebelión, by Joe Arroyo
This is a love story of sorts set in perfect Cartagena. It is about a slave couple in the 1600s. One day the man sees their Spanish master mistreating his wife. He can't take it anymore and yells something which, as Joe puts it, “even today is heard around the land”--- “Hey, don't beat my woman!”
He actually calls her “mi negra”, “don't mistreat my negra”. Negra is a beautiful term of endearment among many Colombians, especially along the coasts, which are largely populated by Afrodescendants. It is not uncommon to hear husbands, dads, and brothers refer to their wife, daughter, or sister as “la negra”, or “la negrita”. In fact, some people use it even when the girl they are referring to is not even black. My brother who lived in Cartagena for a while and who is an honorary Costeño (he still has the accent, although we grew up one thousand miles away. Inland.) came back home once and started calling my sister “la negra”. She wasn't offended, it is, as I said, a term of endearment. My parents, on the other hand, kept wondering if she was spending too much time in the sun.
But back to the song. It was released to instant success in 1986 . By this time, Joe Arroyo, a native of Cartagena, had already become an icon of Colombian music. His voice, singing style and the way he dances speak volumes about Afro-Colombian culture. There will be more posts about him in the future. For now I will add that while affected by diabetes, he still records and performs, and that a Colombian TV channel is preparing to release a telenovela based on his life this year. Can't wait for the DVD!
Turn up the volume and click to listen to the song and watch the video: