With their melodic blend of African drums, guitars, saxophone, trumpet and vocals that will make you sway, the band Mulato Bantú has added a new sound to the Caribbean and World music scene. Displaying a self-described ‘New Folklore’, they majestically interlock the rhythms of the African ancestors of many in the Caribbean Colombian region with contemporary Latin-Caribbean melodies and Jazz. The result is Caribbean magic.
Consisting of seven musicians from the Atlántico department in the Caribbean region of Colombia, the group was born in the halls of the Bellas Artes (Fine Arts) faculty of the University of Atlántico in Barranquilla in 2010.
It was initially a collective brought together to research the African origins of the Colombian sounds in the region and by extension those of the entire Caribbean. But this quickly evolved into a convergence of musical talent and they decided to focus on spreading their passion for the African roots of the Caribbean through their music. Thus they began giving live performances at various venues in Barranquilla. However, at inception they went by the name Caribbean Sounds and were in search of a more original name.
The inspiration for the first part of such a name struck them after one of their first shows: in a conversation with an audience member it was casually remarked to some of the band members “Ustedes son como unos mulatos” (“You are, like, ‘mulatos’”), a socially acceptable term in Latin America for people of mixed European and African descent.
The incident stuck with lead singer Randy Zimmerman and the word hung around in his head as he was reading “Changó, El Gran Putas” (“Changó, The Biggest Badass), a novel by the legendary and highly influential Colombian doctor, anthropologist, writer, and life-long advocate for the civil rights of Afro-Colombians, Manuel Zapata Olivella.
In this novel, one of Olivella’s most celebrated works, Zimmerman came across the word ‘Bantú’, which is the term for a group of African ethnicities who speak Bantu languages and also a word used originally to refer to brave men in the Kikongo language spoken by the enslaved Africans from that same group who were brought to Colombia during the age of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. And thus he was inspired to propose to the group the use of this word in the group title to pay homage to those ancestors. Hence the name Mulato Bantú came to be.
Though the group puts its focus on the African ancestry of the Antilles, it also represents its diversity, boasting black, indigenous, mestizo and white members. They all came together to produce mesmerizing music that appeals to both the dancing crowd and the contemplative listener. This is all evident in their 2014 production “Caribe Negroide”.
Whether it is the energetic and wildly entertaining “Espuma Del Mar”, or mid-tempo gems like “La Tierra Reclama Su Canto” and “Palengue Ndi Kolao”, or the wonderfully delicate and gripping numbers “De La Flor y El Colibri”, “Mar Adentro” and “Mulata de Arena”, or the beautifully nostalgic “En el Momente Me Crie”, their sound is brimming with culture and a profound statement about identity.
The story behind the creation of “Palengue Ndi Koloa” in particular deserves special mention. During the creation of “Caribe Negroide” they met with inhabitants of the village San Basilio de Palenque, which lies southeast of Cartagena. This village was founded by escaped African slaves sometime in the 16th century and went on to become the first village in the Americas decreed free from colonial ties. These escaped slaves created their own Creole language in that village called Palenque, also known as Palenquero, which survives there to this day.
In a conversation with one of its inhabitants they received the lyrics for the song “Palengue Ndi Kolao”, a song sung entirely in Palenque and the content of which is an ode to the language itself. The driving force behind the production of this tune was to bring awareness to the existence of the language and its sizeable speakership.
Through their music they aim to reflect the “idiosyncrasy of the Caribbean Colombian people”; the way they behave, the flavor of their food, the heat in their air, the passion in their rhythms. They have been praised at several prestigious festivals in Barranquilla such as the Shock Festival and the Ultraloide Festival and they have plans to cross over into other cities and borders in the near future. Considering their refreshing appeal, this feat will be achieved with aplomb.