We drink a lot of coffee when we visit Huila, Colombia, which is really saying something. That’s because it’s served with almost every meal or snack and rightfully so! The Mujeres en Café behind Project Sunrise know great coffee, and they know great hospitality means sharing what you love with your new friends. But, while coffee is a delicious treat, it also serves another purpose—energy! So, when those extra cups of coffee had us highly caffeinated, we looked to our hosts and partners to learn what the people of Huila do with all of that extra energy and found that music and dance were the key. No pun intended.
In Huila, it’s not just humming while walking the dog, whistling while you work or turning up the radio while heading to a friend’s house; although, of course, they do those things as well. For them, music and dance are so much more. They’re culture and tradition, entertainment and storytelling, fashion and joy, reception and warmth. It’s a way of life.
At every stop along our journey, we’d hear the familiar rhythm of Bambuco, the popular folk genre of Colombia. Often, we’d find that following the tune would lead us to live music. In homes, in restaurants, cafes and corners, locals gather around to sing along with the guitar. And they dance. Oh, do they dance.
And when the people of Huila dance, it can range from a casual and familiar event to something much more lavish and costumed, specifically when Sanjuanero is involved. El Sanjuanero Tolimense is a traditional Colombian Bambuco song that is accompanied by a performance complete with sequins, embroidery, flowers, and a timeless visual cat and mouse love story. It’s romantic and elegant yet playful and coy. The male dancer does his best to woo the woman of his affection, first with little success but ultimately capturing her heart (along with the audience’s). Witnessing the locals lose themselves in the tradition of Sanjuanero was transformative. On our visits to Huila, we’ve leaned on our excellent translators, but the story that unfolds within the choreography of Sanjuanero spoke to us loud and clear.
And the rhythmic storytelling did not stop there. With an entirely new costume and tune, the Cumbia Colombiana emerges. This traditional dance originates at the meeting of three cultures: African, European and Colombian. The African influence is heard through the heavy percussive elements. The European style comes through in the costuming and choreography. And the whistles or flutes – which are called the gaita macho, gaita hembra, and the caña de millo – are indigenous to Colombia. Each of the moving parts work together to paint a beautiful visual of their history. We have been lucky enough to watch and learn from multiple performances of the Cumbia on our visits and, as the dance and music continue to evolve over its many years of existence, we’re looking forward to seeing new interpretations on our future trips.
The music and dance of Huila, Colombia, are truly a gift. Our hosts and partners shared their traditions with us to bring us closer to their community, to open their homes and hearts to us, and maybe to help us calm down from all of the coffee they’d also been sharing with us. It worked.