Let’s Talk About the Colombian Guaracha

Guaracha BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Noti5.

As a music enthusiast, I like to learn about different cultures through music. This introduces you to other sonic elements, but it also immerses you into the country’s culture in a unique way. In this case, I’m talking about exploring the Colombian electronic subgenre called “guaracha,” that’s currently making its way into mainstream radio.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition for guaracha reads: “a lively Cuban dance tune in ⁶/₈ time.” In 2016, Vice described the subgenre as “a new type of ‘new tribal house.’” So putting the two together, I immediately think of another phenomenon, such as 3BallMTY’s “Intentalo,” which featured a modern type of electronic tribal music. And yes, upon first listen, it follows the same vein, sounding like a continuous club-ready rhythm that you can imagine coming from a loud DJ while partying all night long. Do you remember when that hit caused the tribal trend almost two decades ago?

But the musical term comes with a controversial history. 

Unfortunately, as innovative and culturally rich the genre may be, it comes with decades of negative correlations. TIDAL recently reported that DJ Marcela Reyes had rejected the criticism that the term “guaracha” has received on social media, where it was described as “a genre for a ‘vulgar’ audience living in the ‘poor’ neighborhoods of Medellín.” 

Now, I am not from Colombia myself, but this reminds me of instances when the term “urban” was (and still is) used to describe rock en español coming from outskirt Mexican neighborhoods. It’s a way of stereotyping and being discreetly racist towards a genre heard in low-income communities, presumably heavily populated by people of color.

Furthermore, what’s interesting is that this seems to be the ongoing case of subgenres from small neighborhoods. They are at first criticized, but once the genre sticks and makes money, every mainstream artist suddenly jumps on it. And poof! It’s no longer “vulgar.”

In fact, the journalist Jenzia Burgos who wrote the TIDAL piece, notes that this lowkey phenomenon is already hitting the mainstream airwaves. She comments: “A number of worldwide hits have emerged out of the nascent genre since, including Maluma’s 2020 single ‘Qué Chimba’ and Farruko’s 2021 song of the summer, ‘Pepas.’” 

When you first listen to a song like “Pepas,” you instantly categorize it as another EDM jam. But once you connect it with the culture it comes from, you start noticing that it was in some way appropriated and fleshed down to create what became a successful reggaeton pop hit. It’s a shame, however, that the culture is not seen through the same lenses.

With the Burgos’ VICE article in mind, it’s interesting to further think about the potential upcoming success of Colombian guaracha music. Will it remain a “vulgar” audience, or will it now be seen as the go-to music to play at the most prestigious clubs based on its potential success? 

We know that “Pepas” was a huge hit – so if other pop stars and DJs follow the same formula, it could be that 2022 will be full of these rhythms. Bueno, a ver qué pasa, and how the culture shifts their opinion – we’ve already seen it happen with reggaeton.