Welcome To Colombia: A Musical Country

Editor's note: Alt.Latino is spending two weeks in Colombia with the PBS television program Music Voyager to document the country's vibrant music scene. Here is the first dispatch, with more stories, photos and music to come.

La Mojarra Electrica electrified audiences on the streets of downtown Bogota with an unannounced con

La Mojarra Electrica electrified audiences on the streets of downtown Bogota with an unannounced concert. Felix Contreeras/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Felix Contreeras/NPR

Nothing says "Welcome to Colombia" like a stop at Dunkin' Donuts!

Hear me out: During the first full day of Alt.Latino's music exploratory trip to Colombia, I took an early Sunday morning stroll along a peaceful Bogota avenue that was closed for joggers, skaters and leisurely coffee drinkers.

I walked by a Dunkin' Donuts and heard Colombia's hip-hop darlings Choc Quib Town wafting from inside. So I stopped to chat with the young folks serving coffee and donuts. They were aware of Choc Quib's recent successes in the Latin Grammys in the U.S., and were very proud that Colombian artists are making a strong showing in the Latin Alternative music scene around the world.

I heard that same pride in Colombian music a little later that day at a street market, where Alt.Latino co-host Jasmine Garsd and I were taping an impromptu street performance by local favorites La Mojarra Electrica. I ended up standing next to an older black woman who was whooping it up as the band blended obvious Afro-Colombian elements into their vibrant, eclectic mix. She told me she was also proud the "youngsters" were digging into Colombia’s rich musical heritage to reflect all of Colombian society.

A view from Bogota

A view from Bogota. Felix Contreras/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Felix Contreras/NPR

And after two days on the ground here, Jasmine and I are like kids in a candy store exploring Colombia’s music scene. We are travelling with a 5-person crew from the PBS/National Geographic show Music Voyager.  While the show and host Jacob Edgar cover a more complete span of Colombian music, Alt.Latino is focusing on Latin Alternative artists. We've already hung out with La Mojarra and techno wizards Sistema Solar. We're scheduled to interview members of Bomba Estereo and have lunch with Hector Buitrago and Andrea Echeverri of Latin Alternative pioneers Aterciopelados.

We'll also meet salseros, folk musicians and a music producer who has been instrumental in getting Colombian music heard beyond this mountainous country of more than 45 million people of all ethnic backgrounds.

Delicious fruit sold on every corner

One thing we love about Colombia so far--delicious fruit sold on every corner. Felix Contreras/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Felix Contreras/NPR

Even though it’s a well-planned 15-day itinerary, we hope to be surprised as we were when we stopped for lunch at a tiny local steak house in the capital city’s bustling downtown area. We encountered a 9-year-old singer belting out traditional songs in front of a four piece band featuring a Colombian harp. He was working the crowd, and the harpist was wailing on some intricate counterrhythms to the young girl laying down a serious groove on maracas.

As in so many Latin American cultures, music is everywhere and we find ourselves smiling at both planned and unplanned musical encounters. We'll have a report — with music — on our program this week and another when we return. Stand by for occasional updates including photos in this space!

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