Cumbia is definitely working class music, full of energy and joyful release. It is the up-beat rhythm, and the combination of instruments (image: Guiro) and voice that distinguish Cumbia for me. This is dance music. Or ginding, booty-shaking sounds, depending on your preference. Originally folk dancers used Cumbia in courtship dances, formalized encounters with eligible males and females enticing each other; making eye-contact; and touching in the proscribed, well-known movements of the dance. A wonderful tradition that continues today.
Now, Cumbia is danced in clubs and at parties where North and South Americans with hot Latin blood (or their partners) gather. At house parties in San Diego, Sacramento, Santiago, San Martin and San Antonio.
From its Afro-Columbian origins, Cumbia has developed dialects, and regional variations. In contemporary Columbia, Celso Pina is the acknowledged Cumbia King. Check out Celso in this video. In Argentina, groups like Damas Gratis define the street sound of Cumbia. In Chile, Cumbia is enjoyed by the upper middle-class and the wealthy. And Peruvians have their own take on the style. I am most familiar with Mexican versions, performed by artists like Lila Downs. From Puebla, on the great Mexican plateau, Cumbia has spread throughout the country, to the US, and now to my iPod.