The Kennedy Center

Sexteto Tabala



Biography

Sexteto Tabalá are seven artisans of the ancestral Afro-Columbian son; continuing the legacy born of San Basio de Palenque. They are the living embodiment of Afro-Colombian music with their unique mixture of traditional and contemporary sones of yesterday and today. The sextet itself is a musical equation, a science of the soul. Sexteto Tabalá seeks to preserve its original format while also delivering and releasing new compositions. All the while, the heart if Sexteto Tabalá still beats with their endless musical heritage.

The story of the sexteto in Colombian tradition begins in the sugar mills sometime in the 1930s. Fulfilling needs for labor, plantation managers imported Cuban workers to Colombian mills, and with them came not only their skill in the field, but their mastery of the son, a style of music originally played with the Spanish vocals and guitar matched by African rhythms. Given time and various inherited influences, the Cuban son would evolve into the modern salsa. In Colombia, however, it became something much more rurally-based, adding traditional instruments eventually totaling seven.

The Spanish word “son” literally translates in English as “sound.” This is something the original Colombian soneros preserved even as they modified and adapted the original Cuban musical style. The Northern Colombian village of San Basilio de Palenque, a village with a heritage as the only surviving refugee for escaped slaves in the 17th Century, became the cultural center for Afro-Colombian sexteto soneros. The music that developed there is rich in Afro-Columbian rhythms, and the native Palanquero language is thought to be the only Spanish-based Creole language in Latin America. The music of the sexteto combines the Cuban son with African/Caribbean incarnations like the bullerengue, baile cantoa, porro, and funeral chants of lumbalú, the Bantu religion of the Palenqueros. To the Palenqueros, the sexteto son is more than music, it’s a spiritual expression linked to ancestral as well as daily existence.

Sexteto Tabalá is one of the most representative musical expressions of the African communities in Colombia. It is a compendium of all musical genres of San Basilio de Palenque, and revivalist in spirit. 15 years ago the sexteto was a relegated and forgotten genre, today its cadence personifies the deepest part of Afro-Colombian identity. From the 1930s and toward the modern age, the Palenquero sextet traveled and spread through various Colombian regions including Magdalena, Bolivar, Sucre, Córdoba, Antioquia, and Choco along the Pacific coast.

Many of the original songs were composed by Colombian sugar mill workers in the time of the first Palenquero Sexteto – Sexteto Habanero. Theses soneros were members of the Central Colombia, a sugar cane factory near the village; among them were Eustiquio Arrieta, Martín (Hombrón) Cassiani, and Pantaleón Salgado, known as the fathers of rhythm. Sexteto music was kept alive by the Sexteto Habanero for nearly two generations until it found its contemporary manifestation in Sexteto Tabalá. The group follows the leadership of Rafael Cassiani Cassiani, who has provided lyrics and vocals for nearly 30 years. His songs, such as “El Toche y La Cotorra” and “Jose Manuel”, exemplify a strong relationship to the Colombian/Caribbean music of the 40s and 50s. Today, Tabalá and the Afro-Colombian Sextetos are a global exception: they are the only groups who play a true Colombian son, without guitars, tres or bass, and with the great emotive power of the marimbula, the lamellophone instrument of African origin that lends its sound to much of Caribbean music. The sextet is complete with the accompaniment of claves, guacharaca, maracas, tumbadora and bongo playing in the style of the Palenque percussion, while vocals fill in the melody.

Sexteto Tabalá recorded their first album in 1996. Since then, the group has acquired notoriety and national folklore. This has helped greatly to raise awareness of this musical genre, which was previously unknown to the vast majority. Today, the sextet has many followers worldwide.

Sexteto Tabalá are the cultural heartbeat of Palenque, guardians of Afro-Latin musical history who can swing like a salsa band, groove like a fuji orchestra and serenade you with a son, all at the same time.
Sexteto Tabala