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Cumbia Confab 

El Tambó is ready to teach ya about chicha

click to enlarge Cumbia band Frontera Bugalu

Courtesy photo

Cumbia band Frontera Bugalu

The festivals simply don't stop in Tucson. So much so that we have festivals inside of other festivals. Situated in the midst of the Agave Heritage Festival, El Tambó is a smaller, independent festival with enough fanfare to rival its subsumer.

El Tambó is a two-day, two-stage music and culture festival held on two consecutive Fridays at Hotel Congress. The first Friday, April 27, is Cumbia night and the second Friday, May 4, is DJ night.

"Though we've been organizing and playing El Tambó for over five years, this is by far the largest and deepest we've ever taken our concept," said Logan Phillips, founder and organizer for the festival. "Some people don't realize how similar the cultures of north and south of the border are in the southwest. Even with the border in the middle, there's a regional identity."

Both nights' events are hosted by Phillips (AKA DJ Dirtyverbs), and the DJ collective Sonido El Tambó. The performing artists hail from Tucson, the Tohono O'odham Nation, Mexico, San Antonio, New York and even the Dominican Republic.

Beyond the rowdy and funky Latino music (which is certainly enough for a normal festival), there will be panel discussions with the musicians to add context to the performances. Cumbia music and El Tambó fest offer a representation and celebration of the unique borderlands region Tucson is situated in.

Both nights at 6 p.m., the artists and performers will hold panels discussing the context and inspiration for their music. The first night's panel documents "Ancestral Latin American Rhythm and the 21st Century Border Sound." The second night tackles "Young, Brown and in the Club: The Next Wave of Latinx Culture."

"This event allows us to look at the commonalities from Arizona to Sonoran Mexico, all the way down to Argentina," Phillips said.

So what exactly are we talking about here? Definition time: Cumbia is a long-existing style of rhythm and dance stemming from Colombian and Caribbean indigenous cultures. In more recent years, off-shoot scenes have crept up in dance scenes of Peru, Argentina and Mexico. The drums, maracas and whistles involved make it easily danceable, and being fused with modern electronics, the genre has taken over Latin America. As for "El Tambó," the names comes from the Latin drum "tambour." It's essentially a slanged, Caribbean accent way of referring to many of the drums used in Cumbia music.

"In the past few years, cumbia music has really come into its own," Phillips said.

And to add to the dancing, a special mezcal happy hour happens both nights at 7 p.m., featuring spirits from Casa Amigos and Don Julio, plus plenty of other drinks from the Hotel Congress bar.

El Tambó fest not only showcases art and artists, but represents the communities where they are active cultural installations and change-makers. It celebrates the new wave of tropical and Latino movements in the Southwestern borderlands, focusing on the critical contributions of women, queer artists and people of color.

"I definitely see El Tambó as a catalyst for cultural justice and equity," Phillips said. "Coming together on the dancefloor allows for coming together is other ways as well."

More by Jeff Gardner

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