Album Review: Totó la Momposina – Oye Manita [Astar Music; September 2018]

From Colombia, one of the most musically rich countries in the world, comes a new album by Totó la Momposina, the Queen of Cumbia. A prolific year for the star, this album, Oye Manita (released by Astar Music), presents a range of songs spanning over 30 years of Totó’s career, from her time in Paris in the 1980s to the present day.

The album opens with one of Totó’s most famous tracks, ‘La Verdolaga’, in which her beautiful and at times haunting voice evokes the world from which this music originates in the villages of Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

After growing up amongst a family of musicians, Totó spent many years travelling from village to village researching the rhythms and dances of her African and Indian ancestors, whose unique cultures melded to produce this traditional style of cumbia. The influence dominates the album, with most tracks consisting of complex percussive rhythms alongside call and response vocals. Despite the simplicity of the songs, there is something hypnotic and visceral about the music. As Totó herself says, “the music of the drums makes your body vibrate and react in an instinctive, spontaneous way…You forget everything around you. You are you”.

Although this traditional, Colombian folk music dominates the album, ‘Ven Pronto’ and ‘Mojana Lo Enamoré’ offer different styles of Colombian music. Both contain distinctive African rhythmic and melodic influences, alongside expressive, Spanish-sounding brass interjections in the former, and soft female vocals in the latter.

More classic cumbia lovers won’t be disappointed either. ‘Oye Manita’ and ‘Yo Me Llamo Cumbia’ especially provide that unmistakable Latin groove that makes you want to leap up and dance your heart out. Totó’s passion for this music is palpable and infectious – audible, not just through her incredible voice, but also through the lyrics about her love for her “tierra hermosa”.

Last but not least comes ‘María de la Paz’ – an exquisite, all-female, acapella track. In contrast to the rest of the more upbeat, percussive music, this last song presents a calm, spiritual, if melancholy, finale to an album that flawlessly explains the ongoing international popularity of Colombian music.