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Toto La Momposina Y Sus Tambores

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TOTO LA MOMPOSINA Y SUS TAMBORES

Cumbia is Colombia's most popular musical export, but the accordion-driven strain that's so popular in Mexico these days is a far cry from the enchanting music performed by Toto la Momposina y Sus Tambores, a troupe of musicians and dancers based in Bogota. Toto (who takes her stage name from her birthplace, the Magdalena river island of Mompos) doesn't play pure cumbia either--but like most Latin musics, it wasn't pure to begin with. When the Spanish came to South America in the 16th century, the indigenous Colombians fled deep into the jungle, but eventually they returned and mixed with the Spaniards and their African slaves, musically and otherwise. Toto's version of the fusion that evolved--a seductive bed of percussion and chanted call-and-response vocals--employs a mishmash of instruments including the tambor, a drum covered in calf- or goatskin; the bombo, a deep two-headed drum played with sticks; the marimbula, a bass thumb piano descended from the African mbira; the gaita, a shrill native wooden flute; and Spanish guitar. But she also draws on sexteto, a rarely heard style derived from Cuban son, which was brought to the northern coast of Colombia by African slaves escaping from Cuba; and on her most recent album, Carmelina (Yard High), she invites upright bass and brass to the party as well. Her group's infectious rhythms can match the propulsive jolt of any contemporary Cuban group, and in her singing Toto herself rivals Celia Cruz in both power and charm. Although the Tambores have been around for more than 30 years, these gigs--part of the Old Town School of Folk Music's tiny but well-programmed Festival of Latin Music--is their Chicago debut. Also slated are Armonia Huasteca, a trio from the mountains of central Mexico that plays ranchera music with violin and lovely three-part harmonies; Edwin Colon Zayas y Su Taller Campesino, a superb Puerto Rican jibaro outfit led by a virtuoso of the cuatro, a small guitar with ten strings; and Irene Farrera, a Venezuelan-born singer-songwriter who now lives in Eugene, Oregon. All four acts play both Friday and Saturday, starting at 7 PM, at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. Peter Margasak

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