In 2015, local producer and DJ Eric Hymez launched Sonidero Saturdays at Salsera Deep Ellum’s Cafe. It quickly became a hit.
Jaimes, who is known in Dallas for his crunk cumbia, or cumbia mixed with hip-hop and trap, has a theory as to why it was such a success. “At that time, there were not many places where they played cumbia, and if there were, they were very far from anyone wanting to go on a trip,” he said.
Cumbia, with its heavy percussive sound and various variants, is considered in Latin America to be both party music and a symbol of the Latinoid, or Latin identity. It plays through speakers at quinceañeras, weddings, and backyard gatherings as people dance in pairs or in a circle.
In Dallas, cumbia music used to play in Latin American clubs and restaurants, but now it can be heard in Deep Ellum and Oak Cliff thanks to underground artists who not only support it, but also make it their own.
This new wave of cumbia both breaks down and pays homage to traditions that can get anyone moving—even those who don’t live in Hispanic communities. Cover bands honor cumbia legends, local DJs mix cumbia rhythms with other tracks, and cumbia bands fuel the genre.
It became popular for many reasons. On the one hand, it is catchy and danceable. In addition, social networking sites made it possible to learn more about new bands and new sounds. Due to the wave of cumbia, young Hispanics are increasingly in touch with their identity.
“I feel like any Hispanic kid can identify with this genre, mostly kids from Mexico,” Jaimez said. “Every part of Mexico plays Los Angeles Azules, they play Celso Piña and all these classic songs they know and when they come [to a show] they can recognize it and feel at home.”
Cumbia originated as a mating dance of enslaved Africans on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The traditional cumbia used drums and flutes such as gouache and gaita, but over the years the cumbia has added horns, accordions and guitars. Modern cumbia groups can have up to 10 members.
Sabor Puro, a cover band from Dallas, plays regularly for Latin American audiences at La Pesca Market in Oak Cliff and Traders Village in Grand Prairie. Vocalist Silvia Ortiz, known by her stage name Paola, said that the performance at Revelers Hall at Bishop Arts last year was one of the first performances for the general public.
Firefighters showed up at Revelers Hall in December–performance, but the crowd continued to dance, ignoring the pleas of the band’s music director, Christian Ortiz, who is married to Paola, to stop. The marshals found no reason to close it, and music from Kaifanes to Los Angeles Azules played.
Looking back at that show, Paola said she felt like “all of Dallas was there”.
“My goal as a performer is to bring people together, especially during times of oppression and unrest in the area,” she said. “Music is like a universal connector and the fact that we can do that with cumbia is kind of a blessing. I not only share my culture, but also share it with other cultures.”
Previously, Paola was the vocalist of the cover band La Sonora Dinamita. She got this performance after a waiter heard her sing “Las Mañanitas”, a traditional Mexican birthday song, while she was working as a waitress at Mi Cocina. According to her, she formed Sabor Puro in 2017 with the goal of making every performance feel like a family gathering.
Reminiscent of techno queen Selena Quintanilla, Paola twirls on stage and dances with the audience as she sings classic cumbia songs. Sometimes she even sings from patio tables.
“I wanted to become an opera singer, but the cumbia won my heart,” said Paola, who graduated from the High School of Performing and Visual Arts. Booker T. Washington and the University of North Texas, and now a music teacher.
Cumbia bands in Dallas play modern cumbia styles, combining elements of traditional cumbia with their own twists to create something that represents themselves. Los Gran Reyes, formed in 2006 by brothers Agustin and Cristian Granados, uses an urban and electric sound, while Cayuga All-Stars, formed in 2021 by punk rock and metal musicians, draws influences from its Mexican roots in barrio and psychedelic music.
“We have different attitudes about the sound and what a cumbia can be,” said Agustín Granados. “We experiment and express ourselves in our music.”
In 2021, DJs Eternos and Alaska have taken the same idea and transformed Desafio, a weekly vaquero gothic DJ party into Cheapsteaks.
“I think a lot more Hispanics in Dallas are starting to embrace the culture more,” said DJ Alaska, whose real name is Alaska Quiñones. “People use their identity more and are proud, and that Latino pride just makes you happy and wants to dance.”
They mix cumbia rhythms with their favorite emo and new wave tracks from bands like My Chemical Romance and New Order. Blending two very different sounds is their way of blending two worlds: one they grew up listening to cumbia and the other they discovered as a teenager.
“I play Latin, but it filters through all my life experiences and all the weird music I’m into,” said DJ Eternos, whose real name is José Hernandez. “[Cumbia] was here, he was just introduced to another public.”