Grupo Rebolú is the preeminent Afro-Colombian ensemble in the United States, playing the rich, rhythmic, and undeniably danceable music of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Founded by singer, composer, and gaitero Ronald Polo together with master percussionist Morris Cañate, the ensemble weaves indigenous and contemporary instruments into a vibrant expression of Afro-Colombian culture. It’s no surprise that the group’s recordings are titled Abriendo Caminos (Opening Roads) and Next Stop, as Rebolú remains true to its cultural roots while simultaneously forging new paths.
Cañate and Polo first met as schoolboys at the Escuela de Música in the northern Colombian coastal city of Barranquilla. Morris Cañate was following family tradition, as he came from a family of musicians including the legendary Afro-Colombian percussionist Batata (Paulino Salgado Valdez). Cañate’s family hails from Palenque de San Basilio, the first town in the Americas to be founded by runaway slaves, and a focal point for Afro-Colombian culture. The two friends found a shared calling in performance, first winning dance competitions at Carnival and then, as teenagers, touring worldwide as musicians with a traditional music and dance company. The company’s repertoire included many of Ronald Polo’s early musical arrangements, foreshadowing his subsequent emergence as a master composer of Afro-Latin traditional music. After moving to New York City, the friends reunited to form Grupo Rebolú in 2008. Vocalist and cuatro player Johanna Castañeda later joined them as a key member of the band. Beloved in New York and among fans across the U.S., Rebolú is now building an international reputation after a show stopping overseas debut and closing set at the 2016 Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Along Colombia’s Caribbean coast people of African, Spanish, and indigenous heritage have been intermixing for centuries, resulting in a wide spread blending of cultures—from cuisine and language to traditional music, instruments, and dance forms. Reflecting this, Grupo Rebolú sings in Spanish and performs on a mix of indigenous, African, and Western instruments. The band’s instrumentation includes gaita, a native flute made of a hollowed-out cactus stem; maracas; a llamador, a small drum native to the Caribbean coast of Colombia which plays the upbeat; an alegre, a hand drum similar to an African djembe; and a tambora drum. Erika Parra on drums completes Rebolú’s longstanding membership, with additional contributions from Ramiro Marziana on guitar, Arturo Valdez on bass, a horn section of Alex Ramirez on sax and Fernando Ferrarone on trumpet, and backing vocals from Ronny Polo, Ronald’s oldest son. Together the ensemble plays multiple traditional forms, including cumbia, gaita, tambora, chalupa, and bullerengue, all sure to produce an irresistible urge to get up and dance.