The music of Latin America has long captivated North Americans. The mambo and the bossa nova are about as American as the jitterbug(ph) and the twist. Now some Colombian musicians in the U.S. are rediscovering the sounds of their grandparents. They insist it can be just as alluring as the beats of Cuba and Brazil.

Colombia's geography ranges from the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the hot plains of the Amazon River basin. Every region has its own distinct musical tradition. And NPR's Felix Contreras reports that these days you can hear them in New York City.

FELIX CONTRERAS: On a rainy Sunday evening in New York's SoHo district, the crowd inside the nightclub Sounds of Brazil, or S.O.B., are in it for the long haul. The people here are mostly Colombian, with a smattering of New York hipsters and world music fans. They are here for the fourth annual Encuentro, a gathering of Colombian musicians, which will offer 15 bands over the span of seven hours.

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CONTRERAS: Backstage, the 12 members of the group, La Cumbiamba eNeYe, are waiting for their turn to perform. In addition to doing guitars, saxophones and trumpets, they are also preparing bombos, alegre drums and a gaita - a long flute with a mouthpiece made from a glop of black beeswax.

Mr. MARTIN VEJARANO (Leader, La Cumbiamba eNeYe): Beeswax, charcoal powder, this is a feather quill from a duck. And this is a - a cactus from a cactus tree called cardon. This is (unintelligible).

CONTRERAS: La Cumbiamba eNeYe leader Martin Vejarano demonstrates the gaita by blowing across the feathered quill mounted in the beeswax.

(Soundbite of gaita sound)

CONTRERAS: Vejarano's gaita is from a very small town on the country's Pacific coast. A town so isolated that to get there, he says, he flew to Bogota, then drove eight hours by car, then got in a boat for another 12 hours to get to the musical elder who taught him how to play and make the ancient instrument. But Vejarano says when he ran out of the quills he brought back, he put a New York City spin on tradition.

Mr. VEJARANO: I go a lot to the Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. And I figured I could use those feathers from the Canadian geese for my flutes here in New York. I took the tombac(ph) to my master in San Jacinto(ph), which in two weeks he had used them all.

CONTRERAS: The unofficial ringleader of this Colombian renaissance is Pablo Mayor.

Mr. PABLO MAYOR (Colombian Artist): (Speaking foreign language) Carribean-influenced song, "Calabes(ph)"

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CONTRERAS: The 42-year-old pianist came here to play jazz in 1989, but instead began a musical self-examination that took him back to Colombia and its musical tradition, a mix of indigenous and African cultures.

He says the music being made by this class of ex-patriot musicians is also a statement about their home - a country where just about everyone has been deeply affected by the violence of the drug trade or civil war.

Mayor says the music reinforces what all Colombians have in common.

Mr. MAYOR: Colombians should be listening to this music every morning as a meditation time before they do anything. And Colombians don't think that their music could do a lot of healing.

CONTRERAS: Colombian music isn't entirely unknown in the U.S. High-profile Colombian artists like Carlos Vives, Juanes, even Shakira, have put Colombia on the musical map here. In fact, Carlos Vives' popularity in the 1990s sparked a mini-revival of a folk style called vallenato.

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CONTRERAS: But Verajano says the success of Vives made Colombians proud, even though purists considered it watered down, something similar to the Dixie Chicks and their popular brand of American country music.

Mr. VEJARANO: Carlos took it to a - gave it a different look and a different sound that was more appealing to city people, for people from the city. And then he hit the mainstream and boom, instead of listening to Dominican merengue and Puerto Rican salsa, we are listening to Colombian vallenato pop, performed with flutes, with maracas, accordion, caja vallenata, (unintelligible), you name it.

CONTRERAS: Vejarano says there is now a vibrant musical exchange between New York and Colombia, which is helping to preserve authentic traditions back home.

Mr. VEJARANO: I'm trying to, pretty much, bring to you guys, to all over the world, as pure-as-I-can type of idea of what traditional music is.

(Soundbite of music)

CONTRERAS: Twenty-five-year-old Javier Gutierrez(ph) is a pianist. But on this night, he's backstage warming up on a Colombian marimba a chonta(ph).

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JAVIER GUTIERREZ (25-year-old Colombian Pianist): (Speaking foreign language)

CONTRERAS: He's saying he thinks it's a very interesting interaction. Every time someone from here travels to any part of Colombia to go to concerts or festivals, they take a bit of the music they're making here and it influences musicians over there as well.

(Soundbite of music)

CONTRERAS: Onstage at S.O.B., La Cumbiamba eNeYe is rocking the place with their taste of home for Colombians like Consuelo Jimenez(ph) from Bogota.

Ms. CONSUELO JIMENEZ (Colombian): (Through translator) I feel very proud because our folklore is being advanced and supported by a new generation of Colombians because they're mixing it with jazz and other forms of music.

(Soundbite of music)

CONTRERAS: As the evening winds down, the musicians exchange CDs, phone numbers and musical ideas. Pablo Mayor stands up and thanked the musicians for their time and music with a friendly embrace and a commitment from them for next year's event.

He says, each year, the Encuentro attracts more musicians, a large and more diverse audience and more promise. And he says he hopes the music Colombians make here will serve as a mirror.

Mr. PABLO: A very long mirror, you know, to be able to see themselves from a mirror from New York. That's fine.

CONTRERAS: Felix Contreras, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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