At the forefront of the emerging Cumbia scene in Long Beach is Cello Azul, a musician who is putting his own spin on the Latin music genre with the infectious rhythm of his signature blue electric cello.
The Cumbia artist has been playing cello since he was in grade school and has incorporated elements of his classical training to birth a new Latin dance movement. The cello is not traditionally used in Cumbia music, but Cello Azul has experimented with the instrument’s resonant tones and depth of emotion to create a sound that is both unique and pays homage to traditional Cumbia.
“This new Cumbia movement is super exciting because we are taking music that we grew up with and revitalizing it so that it can live on,” Cello Azul said. “Being able to take the music we’ve always listened to and put it into a different perspective is cool because it shows all the different elements of the cultures that raised us.”
Many of us in the Latinx community grew up listening to Cumbia at gatherings, quinceñeras, and on weekend mornings when it was time to clean the house. Cumbia is embedded in our culture; it connects us to our Latin heritage and contributes to our sense of identity. But many Latinx also grew up with American culture, and so we often draw elements from both backgrounds to form new ideas, identities, and of course music.
“We have this Latin and American music experience which includes Cumbia and Hip Hop and Pop. For me, I’m big into 80s music but I also love Rock en Español—all those grungy elements from those two genres I definitely fuse into the Cumbia music I make. And then on top of that, I’m expressing poetry through rap and just finding my own way of putting my messages out there.”
Apart from expressing culture, Cello Azul is also known for using his music as a platform to speak out about injustices. Musicians using their music as a form of protest is not uncommon, and we often see it in genres like rap, hip-hop, reggae, and punk.
“Lately when I go to Cumbia shows I’ll see people wearing jackets with patches on the back that say ‘Cumbia is the new punk!’ and I think that’s awesome. I think it’s very important to highlight injustices and present them in a way that is digestible. And music allows me to say ‘Hey this is not ok. How do we talk about it and how do we address it? How about we hear it while we are dancing and let it sink in a little bit.’”
Cello Azul expressed that the point of discussing social injustice through music is not solely to create uproar, but to unite the community in the fight for change, and what better way to unite people than through dance?
“I want the music I put out there to elevate us as a society and community. So I hope people are hearing the messages I’m saying, but I also hope they find joy. I hope that they express themselves and get to heal the traumas of injustice through this movement. Because that’s what music does, it brings out the quality of life for people and it heals.”