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Artist Profiles: Totó La Momposina

Totó La Momposina

Sonia Bazanta Vides, better known as Totó La Momposina, is a remarkable singer and dancer. She has earned respect and admiration in many parts of the world for the power and spontaneity of her performance. Drawing on the music and dance of the Colombian Caribbean, her work is rooted and inspired by a rich cultural mix that combines elements from African, indigenous and Spanish traditions.

On stage, Totó’s dynamic set of songs and dances is accompanied by a range of traditional instruments, but she also performs with three generations of her own family, her daughter Eurídice, and her granddaughter, María del Marpero, both of whom also since and dance. Totó presents rhythms from Colombia’s Caribbean coast alongside Cuban son, guaracha, rumba and bolero.

Totó La Momposina was born in the small village of Talaigua, on the island of Mompos, in Colombia’s Atlantic coast, off the Great Magdalene River. This island was at one time a sanctuary to fugitive African slaves from Cuba. As a result, Totó La Momposina’s music, like most of the music from the Caribbean, is heavily influenced by African music in addition to its European and indigenous roots. Born into a family of musicians spanning 5 generations, Totó learned to sing and dance as a child. She used to sing a cappella at parties and festivities in Colombia.

As a young woman, Totó traveled from village to village researching the lore of her people. She became a cantadora. A cantadora (singer) is more than someone who sings songs. It means she has a certain social position of responsibility. Traditionally cantadoras grow yucca, plantain and pumpkins on their land. They supply marital advice and herbal medicine, prepare authentic foods and drinks and participate and sing traditional music in its original form at public functions.

Totó has been performing cumbia music professionally for over thirty years. The music is the result of the fused influences of her culture. It is music to be appreciated, but also, as she is quick to remind her audiences, it is music which should be danced.

Totó La Momposina

Her performances are a living catalog of the traditional music and dances found in the Caribbean. Totó La Momposina and her ensemble Sus Tambores, (her drummers) perform more than 10 styles of Caribbean music. During the course of their show, elements of cumbia, gaita, porro, bullerenge, garabato, mapale and chalupa are performed.

On stage she performs the songs the villagers sing to accompany them while they perform their chores. Her song Pilandera for example is a song with a rhythm that is used to pace the pounding of corn. Another song contains lyrics which are meant to break the monotony of scrubbing cloths in the river.

Rapidly gaining a reputation for her impressive voice and presence she began to appear outside Colombia in the 1970s touring everywhere with her 12-piece band in a conscious effort to preserve her people’s music. “I feel a brotherhood with the drums from Senegal and Cuba,” she says. “They play a universal language with which Colombians are well acquainted.” In 1991 WOMAD took her to Europe and she performed at their festival. Since that period, she is still performing all other the world.

In 2011 she received the National Life and Work Award from the Ministry of Culture of Colombia. In 2013, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Grammy.

Discography:

Cantadora (MTM, 1983)
Colombia – Totó La Momposina y sus Tambores (Auvidis 4513, 1989)
La Candela Viva (Realworld Records, 1992)
Carmelina (MTM, 1995)
Pacantó (MTM/Europe:Nuevos Medios/USA: World Village, 2000)
Evolución: 20 Años de Toto La Momposina (Astar Artes, 2009), anthology
La Bodega (Astar Artes, 2009)
El Asunto (Sony Music, 2014)
Tambolero (Real World Records, 2015)

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WOMEX Announces 2006 Winner: Totó La Momposina

Totó la Momposina
Totó la Momposina

Berlin, Germany – This year’s WOMEX Award goes to Totó La Momposina. The Colombian singer’s entire life, has been dedicated to representing the music of her roots, while never shrinking from finding innovative ways of bringing it forward into the modern age.

Through teaching the Afro-Colombian traditions in the Caribbean, through composition, dance and performance, Totó’s artistry manifests the fertile meeting ground of richly varied Colombian cultures: the African, the indigenous Indian and the Spanish. And in her, that music has found not only a treasured champion, but its greatest interpreter.

Totó La Momposina is one of those remarkable artists who brought Caribbean musical styles to the world even before the world-music market had been established. One could say that she was actually one of those who has helped to make it happen!

Although her first European album was released in 1985, it was the 1991 WOMAD tour which brought her to worldwide attention and led to her groundbreaking debut album for Real World, La Candela Viva. Since then I believe there is no concert or festival promoter who hasn’t had a wish to present her to their local audience. This looks set to continue as there are few artists who give so much passion, spontaneity and performance technique (which includes first class dancing) on stage.

Totó always claims that she presents traditional music of Colombia and it’s true that the listener gets an incredible variety of rhythms such as cumbia, bullerengue, chalupa, malupa, but there also elements of Cuban son, guaracha, rumba and bolero which can all be heard on the Colombian Atlantic coast. Pacanto, her release from 1998, is a beautiful example of how this one artist can connect to so many local styles and make them global inside 70 minutes.

Totó La Momposina is an artist with incredible talent but she also knows that talent is not enough for a lifelong music career. That is why she has always worked hard to improve her voice technique whenever she could. She was already respected enough to be asked to accompany Gabriel Garcia Marquez when he received the Nobel prize in 1982, but there was always more to come. With her never-ending wish for improvement alongside her honesty, personal charm and warmth, Totó’s music becomes greater than ever and so does her contribution to the legacy of Colombian, Latin and World music.”[laudation by Bogdan Benigar (WOMEX 2006 Jury Member)]

Since its introduction in 1999, the WOMEX Award has been honoring quality, creativity and success in World Music on the international level. Open to all proposals, and curated by the 7 Samurai of the WOMEX Jury, it pays homage to all kinds of achievement in the field: musical excellence, social effectiveness, commercial success, cultural or political impact, and lifetime achievement.

So far, WOMEX has honored Juan de Marcos and Nick Gold (1999), Mahotella Queens (2000), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (2001) and Jivan Gasparyan> (2002). Since 2003, WOMEX took two steps further. In 2003 it honored Freemuse – The World Forum on Music and Censorship, for the first time an institution rather than an individual. Followed by the sixth WOMEX Award in 2004 which was dedicated to Marc Hollander
and Crammed Discs for 25 years of pioneering label work in the field of world music. Last year’s Award was given to the almost hundred-years-old energetic Taarab singer Bi Kidude from Zanzibar.

Buy Totó’s CDs: Pacanto, La Candela Viva, and Carmelina.

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