Music Business

How Cumbia’s contagious Beats are taking over Latin America & The World!

Over over reggaeton, trap, and even corridos tumbados. The many varied sounds of Columbia’s infectious cumbia music are taking over Latin America, and soon, the world!

by Felipe Garrido of Chartmetric Blog

When thinking about Latin American music, the first trendy genres that come to mind might be reggaeton, trap, and lately, corridos tumbados. Nevertheless, cumbia has been the most ubiquitous, unifying, and characteristic genre throughout Latin America for nearly a century. Whether you are in Monterrey, Buenos Aires’ Almagro neighborhood, the center of Lima, or East L.A., you are likely to hear some cumbia in the air.  

Cumbia originated in Colombia around the end of the 19th century and has since spread across the continent. It’s characterized by its distinctive rhythm, which often features a combination of percussion instruments like drums and maracas, aligned in a 2/4 beat, along with an accordion and other traditional instruments. Cumbia music frequently involves elements of indigenous, African, and European musical traditions, resulting in a lively and rhythmic sound that is closely associated with dancing and celebrations.

Selena, Carlos Vives, La Sonora Dinamita, Kumbia Kings, and Thalía are some artists who brought cumbia to the mainstream worldwide. Nevertheless, there are countless cumbia strands and artists with local and international followings that continue to define Latin American culture.

Many cumbia songs have become massive hits, thanks to internet virality. Tracks like “Como Te Voy A Olvidar” by Los Angeles Azules, “La Cumbia Buena” by Grupo La Cumbia (which even Madonna has danced to), “Comerte Toda” by Nene Malo, and “Cariñito Sin Mí” by Pastor Lopez are omnipresent in the form of dance challenges and memes on TikTok and Instagram. During the pandemic, “Cumbia de la Vacunación” and “La Cumbia del Coronavirus” were huge hits on social media, reflecting the versatility and popularity of the genre.

In this context, several styles of cumbia are evolving in different ways. Some of them are slowly becoming mainstream and harvesting fans across the globe, while others are building niche audiences and creating spaces for innovative new sounds within the community.

Mexican Cumbia Sonidera and Cumbia Rebajada

The arrival of Colombian cumbia to Mexico in the 1940s gave birth to a new style of cumbia that made use of accordions, trumpets, guitarrones, and bajo sextos, inspired by norteño and regional music. Several artists and styles emerged from this fusion, becoming a standard in northeastern Mexico. With the emphasis on the guacharaca, an instrument with scraped ridges to make a percussive sound, as well as the organ and electronic sounds, cumbia sonidera quickly became a cultural phenomenon.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, many Mexican ensembles positioned themselves as the leading representatives of cumbia sonidera. Los Ángeles Azules, who have been around for over 40 years, are the most successful of these bands. In recent years, the group has exploded in popularity and amassed an audience of young people who love cumbia. Today, Los Ángeles Azules rank as the top cumbia artist globally, according to their Chartmetric score, and are classified as an Established Superstar with 15.8 million Spotify monthly listeners.

Los Ángeles Azules’ ‘90s hits like “Como Te Voy a Olvidar” and “El Listón de Tu Pelo” respectively boast 317 million and 273 million streams on Spotify, and are as relevant as ever as they are featured in hundreds of thousands of posts online.

The band is also resonating with younger listeners, as they strategically collaborated with some of the top current artists like Natalia Lafourcade, Nicki Nicole, Belinda, and Maria Becerra. Perhaps this is why their audience is so young: just over a third are between 18 and 24 years old, while another 40% are between 25 and 34. Even with their global recognition, Mexico still represents the plurality of their overall audience with 38%, followed by the US (20%) and Argentina (16%).

Similarly, other ’80s bands like Los Temerarios and Los Ángeles de Charly have maintained a steady growth of Spotify monthly listeners over the last five years, demonstrating their relevance in the current music market.

A subculture of cumbia was born in Monterrey in the early ’90s as a byproduct of cumbia’s popularity. “Cumbia rebajada,” meaning slowed-down cumbia, was a subgenre created by accident when famous sonidero (dj), Gabriel Dueñez, was playing cumbia records and the erosion of the soundsystem’s engine caused the record player to slow down. Over 20 years later, this genre is more than just a style of slowed down cumbia, but an actual culture with specific ways of hairstyling, dressing, and talking within a region referred to as the “Colombia Chiquita” (Little Colombia) in Monterrey. 

Amidst this phenomenon, new adopters of this subculture bring back to life the fame of old artists like Celso Piña, Rayito Colombiano, and La Tropa Vallenata, who sparked the birth of this scene with records that were the most slow-remixed by the sonideros. Even though they have not achieved the mainstream status of Los Ángeles Azules, these artists’ remixed songs are featured in every cumbia sonidera and cumbia rebajada playlist, maintaining importance within the niche of Monterrey’s culture.

Argentinian Modern Cumbia

Inspired by Colombian and Peruvian cumbia brought by immigrants, Argentina had it’s own revolution of cumbia in the ‘60s. From cumbia santafesina to cumbia cheta to cumbia villera to cumbia pop, the country adopted the genre as its own by incorporating elements from synthesizers, keytars, and trumpets. Some of the biggest names in Argentinian cumbia are Rafaga, Los Palmera, and Los Wawancó, among others.

Given the exposure of new generations to cumbia, bands from the ’90s like Rafaga and Los Palmera are ranking amongst the most listened to cumbia artists globally, and labeled as having explosive growth by Chartmetric. Additionally, songs by Rafaga and Los Palmera have been featured in over 675k TikTok posts. 


Después de mil intentos, lo logramos JAJAJAJAJAJAJ #mentirosachallenge #fyp #dance

♬ Mentirosa – Ráfaga

Today, one of Argentina’s most innovative takes on cumbia comes from the hit-makers behind the group Ke Personajes. Along with veteran band Damas Gratis, Ke Personajes is leading the next-gen cumbia villera renaissance with trap and reggaeton elements such as autotune and electronic percussion.

Currently, Ke Personajes are ranked third highest among all cumbia artists based on their Chartmetric score, and their music is featured in around a million TikTok posts.

Ke Personajes’ listenership exploded by the end of 2022 thanks to their collaboration with Luck Ra and La K’onga on “Ya No Vuelvas (Versión Cuarteto),” a song that has received over 227 million Spotify streams. However, their biggest hit came in 2023 with “Un Finde,” a megahit that saw them team up with Big One and FMK. It’s been streamed nearly 340 million times on Spotify and used in over 700k TikTok posts.

The success of the new cumbia villera sounds of Ke Personajes and Damas Gratis resonates with a mainly young audience, with 18 to 24 years old representing almost half of the overall audience for the former. Even so, this is a mostly local audience, with a slight majority of fans of Ke Personajes based in Argentina, and nearly all the rest residing in other Latin American countries. 

Argentinian cumbia continues to develop as it becomes part of the Latin Urbano music canon. Artists like L-Gante, with his Cumbia 420 style, incorporate cumbia rhythms with reggaeton rapping and trap production. Likewise, Tiago PZK, Emilia, María Becerra, and Nicki Nicole embrace cumbia as part of their repertoire, with many of their hit songs having cumbia elements.

Peruvian Psychedelic Cumbia (aka “Chicha”)

This strand of cumbia originated in the oil-drilling Amazonian regions of Peru during the early 1970s. It blends together African rhythms, indigenous Amazonian crooning, and Western electric surf guitars to create a unique and vibrant sound. 

In the following years, chicha evolved into a plethora of styles like Peruvian techno-cumbia and modern Peruvian chicha, led by notorious artists like Los Pakines, Chacalón, Grupo Celeste, and Los Shapis, among others. Many different regional variants of chicha emerged in the ‘90s and 2000s, with some achieving mainstream status over the past two decades. Currently, the most successful Peruvian cumbia artists are Grupo 5, Agua Marina, and Armonía 10.

Released in 2007, the compilation album “The Roots of Chicha – Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru” served as an introductory summary to the sounds of the psychedelic Amazonian cumbias. Featuring the original artists who sparked this movement, namely Los Mirlos, Juaneco y Su Combo, Los Hijos del Sol, and Los Destellos, it ignited appeal for the traditional sound of Peruvian cumbia.

A brief revival of the traditional psychedelic cumbia during the late 2000s and early 2010s, as well as successful releases like “Cumbias Chichadélicas” in 2014, also paved the way for the subgenre to regain popularity with new listeners who became fans of the old-school Peruvian cumbia musicians in recent years.

Los Mirlos are a great example of this. During their 40-year career, most of their following was concentrated in Peru, but it has been becoming more global as they tour across Mexico, Spain, and the United States. They were also featured in the KEXP sessions, showcasing the appeal of psychedelic cumbia to new audiences, which has been reflected in a consistent increase in their Spotify monthly listeners.

Even though other modern Peruvian cumbia ensembles may have more listeners today, Los Mirlos have had much more success in diversifying their audience internationally.

Additionally, famous Los Mirlos tracks are gaining popularity: their top song “La Danza de los Mirlos” has nearly 35 million Spotify streams across two uploads.

Other representatives of the primordial psychedelic cumbia groups from Peru in the early ’70s have also seen their hits reach new heights of popularity due to international interest in the original psychedelic cumbia.

As of today, the psychedelic chicha classics have become a staple of Peruvian music and an elemental part of every cumbia DJ’s repertoire worldwide. 

Cumbia endures and evolves as the backbone of Latin American music. New approaches emerge, classics regain popularity, and new generations discover the genre’s unique Latin heritage that unifies an entire region.

Visualizations by Sarah Kloboves and cover image by Crasianne Tirado. Data as of April 10, 2024.

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