Hety and Zambo: Dancehall with a Different Flavor


[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] The original title of this article by Sally Flores (Radio Nacional de Colombia San Andrés) is “Dancehall retains the sweetness of reggae, but it has its own swing.” It focuses on the new brand of dancehall in San Andrés, Colombia, which has given way to Mode Up style.

From the arrival of dancehall to San Andrés in the 80s, urban music started acquiring its own hue, by gradually mixing these sounds from Jamaica with those from other Afro-Caribbean genres.

“Since I was little I got in touch with dancehall, because it was the music that my parents listened to along with other Caribbean genres. This is a rhythm that retains the sweetness of reggae, but it has a swing of its own,” says Relys Arigan, professionally known as Zambo. The artist, who today is part of Hety and Zambo, a group considered one of the most important alternative dancehall in Colombia and Latin America, learned how to move to the rhythm of these sounds since childhood. “My father told me that the main thing was to feel the beat of the song and keep a mental count.”

Dancehall is an urban genre, which owes its name to the dance halls in Jamaica, which started in different neighborhoods of Kingston during the 1940s, and which began to be known around the world towards the end of 1970. It is a rhythm that, since its beginnings, has been linked to strong lyrics and that led to a certain type of dance, which has been censored by many. “These movements are part of the Jamaican culture and go beyond the erotic. Dancehall dancing has evolved and today around the world, there are more than 40 thousand dancers who perform professional choreography,” says Obert Pomare, an artist known as Obie P and who has also been captivated by these sounds.

“This music was introduced to San Andrés through islanders who bought the LP’s on boats,” says Obie, who came into contact with this music during the eighties, when he was 11 years old. The energetic sounds of dancehall took hold of him to such an extent that he decided very early on that this would be the vehicle to transmit his lyrics to the public.

Like Obie P and Zambo, many artists and producers of San Andrés were seduced by dancehall. Over the years, this music began to merge with other genres, to create their own sound.

For producer Wayne Hooker, known as Dj Wahm, the dancehall that is produced in San Andrés differs from the Jamaican, because it retains the characteristic sound of the nineties, but fused with other genres. “What it’s about is making it sound different, also taking elements of calypso, zouk, reggaeton and zoukus.”

This particular sound originated in San Andrés, thanks to the fusions of Afro and Caribbean music, has been identified by many artists and local producers as Mode UP, although for others, more than a rhythm, this is a trend. “More than a musical genre, it is a movement that is still not defined as rhythm, since these sounds are based on the dancehall, and the producers who are identified as creators of Mode Up, previously did a lot of reggaeton,” says Zambo.

Obie P refers to Mode Up as a culture or a way of life, where music has its own style. “What is done in San Andrés was not invented on the island, but it does have a characteristic flavor,” he says.

Around the first decade of 2000, and before conceiving the term Mode Up, genres such as rap, reggaetón, and hip-hop were part of the urban music scene in San Andrés. For Zambo, artists from the island such as Rayo & Toby are on the list of best exponents of these musical currents, whose style known as sexy trip.

“Hip hop, although no longer produced as before, has been very well represented by Jiggy Drama, who marked the history of that genre in Colombia,” adds Zambo.

Currently, in the musical field, there is little expression through rhythms such as rap, except for some young people who timidly defend the genre and who keep as reference artists like Jiggy Drama. This is the case of Nicolás Duque. “I am part of a group; we usually improvise, we do not go out to show it, but we share among ourselves, we are 8 friends,” he says. Nicolás recognizes that the genre is not strong on the island; nevertheless, he does not miss the opportunity to write, sing, and create with his friends, even when they do not have the approval of others. “Sometimes there are people who do not like it; we are in a Caribbean environment and that must be understood.”

Urban music has also started to permeate other artistic production on the island. Lingich Dance Crew is a dance group that has been taking to the streets and local outdoor events. Daniela Ramos is a young woman who leaned towards hip-hop since childhood and is part of this group of young people; she started dancing alone at home. “On the island we mix dance styles, the younger ones are very interested in African music and dancehall; these rhythms have their basic steps and we fuse them with styles like hip hop,” says Daniela.

Nowadays, both in music production and dance, the dancehall genre, either in its pure form or through various fusions, continues on the islands as one of the urban sounds with which people from San Andrés [sanadresanos] identify the most.

Article translated by Ivette Romero. For the original (in Spanish), see https://www.radionacional.co/actualidad/dancehall-san-andres

For more information on Hety and Zambo, see http://hetyandzambo.net/kings_of_creole/index.html and https://www.facebook.com/HETYANDZAMBO.

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