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A heady cultural mix brings out the best in Colombia’s arts, music and food

Article - July 29, 2011
It is difficult to encompass all of what Colombian culture is, as the culture is as diverse as its ethnic populations
Colombia’s diverse cultural influences include those from Amerindian, African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European roots which reflect heavily on the diversity in Colombian art, music, literature and food. Most would agree that this makes the Colombian cultural sectors all the more interesting to explore.

Over the years, Colombia has made great efforts to increase the diffusion of various cultural areas throughout the country. This effort began by means of radio more than half a century ago. H.J.C.K., The World in Bogota, F.M. Stereo was one of the first radio channels in Colombia. The station was founded on September 15, 1950 with the aim of raising the cultural level of the Colombian radio. This has since become a reality, thanks to the management of Alvaro Castaño Castillo and his wife Gloria Valencia. Mr. Castaño, a man with one of the most remarkable memories of the country, has been a pioneer in carrying out collections of recordings of the great poets and famous people of Colombia, immortalizing the treasures of Colombian culture. One of the famous figures to be on the station was Argentine writer, essayist and poet, Jorge Luis Borges. Like Mr. Borges, dozens of poets, writers, musicians and entrepreneurs have been in front of the microphones of the H.J.C.K The World in Bogota.

Colombia has a culture rich with literature and has been the cradle of great writers like Novelist and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Novelist Alvaro Mutis Jaramillo. The literature of the country has had influences from the Catholic religion, its rocky colonial history, and even from traditional folk tales and oral legends.

A big part of Colombian oral culture can be seen in its music. Colombian music consists of many music genres and in general, music is a part of the common Colombian’s everyday life. In Colombia there are many prominent music styles in every region. Every part of Colombia has its own genre of music, with different dances and histories behind each variety. Bambuco, which is the national dance of Colombia, is very well known among the people as well as other Latin rhythms like vallenato, cumbia, and even salsa. More modern genres include hip-hop, pop, and rock music. Colombians even celebrate rock music with a yearly festival, Rock al Parque, which apart from celebrating the genre, dedicates its cause to environmental sustainability. Many Colombian musicians have risen to international fame in recent years with groups like ChocQuibTown and Bomba Estereo, and artists like Shakira, Juanes and Carlos Vives.

If you want to see real artistic craftsmanship, beauty and history, Colombia holds endless possibilities. Colombia holds a long tradition of the performing arts in the country with the bi-annual Iberoamerican Theater Festival, which is the biggest and most important theater festival in the world. There are also numerous museums where you can view sculptures and paintings from famous Colombian artists like Fernando Botero and Alejandro Obregon.

Not to be outdone, one of the most anticipated aspects of Colombian culture is the Colombian food and dining experience. The food varies across the different natural regions of Colombia, due to the different ethnic influences.

Colombian food has gained worldwide acclaim, as figures like Leo Katz, Harry Sasson and Andres Jaramillo have helped jumpstart the Colombian culinary industry, highlighting the quality food people will find in this very unique country.

Colombians can boast a truly diverse culture of many influences. At present, one can see that it is a combination of tradition, history and modernity. Colombians have developed in each of its cultural sectors, having thrived due to their effectiveness, sophistication, and abundant resources. Up to this point, Colombian artisans of all natures have really begun to export their talents and events worldwide, leading to the successful spread of Colombian culture in both the national and international arena.

Colombia’s museums are true treasures in themselves, while holding an important part of this country’s heritage. Colombia’s Botero Museum is considered one of the most important museums in the country with 85 works on display from representative artists like Picasso, Renoir, Dali, Matisse, Monet and Degas, to name a few. The founding artist, Fernando Botero, famous for his ‘fat people’ series of and a satirical rendition of the Mona Lisa, gave his own collection of artistic works to the city of Bogota, which resulted in the formation of this museum. The Gold Museum is one of the most important museums in the world, as it preserves Colombian culture in 20,000 stones and in more than 34,000 pieces of this valuable element. Just a stone’s throw away from the Gold Museum is the Emerald Museum, where one can see some of the finest quality emeralds in the world. As Colombia is the world’s largest emerald producer, producing about 60% of all emeralds, one can see the science and value behind Colombian emeralds, which are said to possess a bluish tinge in addition to the usual green color. One of Colombia’s oldest museums is the National Museum, holding one of the best collections in Colombia. It boasts 17 exhibition rooms, 20,000 pieces ranging from 10,000 B.C. to the 20th century. Lastly, one cannot overlook the Salt Cathedral, an architectural wonder built 650 feet inside a mountain in Zipaquira, about 30 miles north of Bogota.

Colombian-born author and journalist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or “Gabo”, as he is warmly referred to by his readers, is believed to be one of the world’s greatest writers. He won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature and was one of the leading figures of the literary boom in Latin America. He’s the author of the world-famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which has sold millions of copies and has been translated into many languages. He has gripped the literary world with his rich and imaginative storytelling, and with his masterpiece, he has established himself as a major Latin American writer of 20th century literature.

In light of his own great achievements, Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes his close friend and fellow Colombian novelist, poet, and essayist Alvaro Mutis Jaramillo as “one of the greatest writers of our time.” Mr. Mutis has received numerous literary awards for writing the compendium The Adventures and Misadventures of Magroll.

Every two years, the city of Bogota hosts the Iberoamerican Theater Festival (FITB), which is acknowledged as the biggest and most important theater festival in the world. For 17 days, the city celebrates all genres of the performing arts. Renowned artists and over 200 companies from all over the globe are welcomed and presented in disciplines such as theater, dance, circus, music, puppetry, pantomime, multimedia and performance art. FITB even provides workshops, courses, seminars and forums by dramatists, producers, directors, actors and theater professionals, allowing for reflection and exchange among the artistic community.

Colombia has benefitted greatly from the FITB over the past 18 years, as its sector of performing arts has developed and become an important part of life in Bogota. For the duration of the festival, the city and all of its performance venues are utilized to give space for artistic expression, drawing in audiences ranging between 4,000 and 8,000 people per show.

Colombian cuisine is as varied as its regions, from Creole fusions on the coastal areas to innovative restaurants like El Cielo opening up. This 21st century restaurant in Bogota is sure to surprise its visitors by using chocolatherapy and other unique fusions. Plus, Leo Katz, also known as King Midas for his knack for turning his restaurateur projects to gold, has successfully created restaurants like Cafe Renault and Club Colombia with fellow famed restaurateur Harry Sasson, serving the best food of every region.

ChocQuibTown, a Colombian music group, has used funk, hip-hop, Jamaican ragga, and electro music together with Colombia’s traditional sounds to become an international success. Newer groups like Bomba Estereo have also been very successful, nationally and internationally, receiving rave reviews from The New York Times and even being named ‘The Best New Band in the World’ by MTV. Numerous musicians have put Colombia on the map, like Juanes who has earned many major international awards by mixing folklore, rock, pop and guitar. In addition to mesmerizing the crowds with amazing dance moves, Shakira has reached out to her audiences in both Spanish and English with her music and compassion. The star is an ambassador for UNICEF and dedicates much of her time to Fundacion Pies Descalzos, promoting education and helping children who are victims of violence. A fellow Colombian philanthropic musician, Carlos Vives, has used his celebrity to raise money for the Herbalife Family Foundation that provides nutrition programs for at-risk children. Bogota will soon host Rock al Parque, the largest free open-air festival in Latin America, which will also promote environmental sustainability.