Strummer Meets Landero: A Musical Bridge Between Colombian Cumbia and London Punk

International Clash Day
Albina Cabrera

Lee la versión en español de este artículo aquí.

This year's International Clash Day celebrates a whole conceptual and musical work by the British band, but will specifically echo words uttered by Joe Strummer in 1976 that continue to resonate today, and will undoubtedly continue to do so tomorrow:

“We’re anti-fascist, we’re anti-violence, we’re anti-racist, and we’re pro-creative. We’re against ignorance.” 

The fine-tuning between The Clash's explicitly anti-fascist ideology and future Latin American punk artists feels natural. It can be heard in the several references to Latin America in lyrics such as "Washington bullets", their entire Sandinista album –whose title evokes the Nicaraguan Sandinista National Liberation Front – as well as the musical and political influence that The Clash had on the young generation of the late '70s and '80s in the region. Punk in Latin America lived the course of dictatorships supported by the most fascist and extreme right-wing expressions, giving punk and rock a common enemy to fight. 

Through these aspects of The Clash, we have the political and cultural route – to which we add a sound map that is embedded in parallel and with complete meaning. A musical route that crosses Colombia, the Caribbean, Jamaica, and London. 

What connected the musical and ideological work of The Clash with the music of a young man born in the Caribbean province of San Jacinto, Colombia, determined to become a benchmark for the Sabanero accordion? What sonorous path connects the independence of Jamaica, the skinheads of London, the Colombian sicariato, and El Rey de la Cumbia? Well, many things. This is the story of Joe Strummer and Andres Landero.

This connection occurs within a “predisposed space” made available thanks to the “taste of the mod and punk subculture of London for the sounds of the Caribbean through its connection with Jamaicans”, explains Mario Galeano, Colombian journalist and leader of the bands Los Pirañas, Ondatrópica y Frente Cumbiero. Galeano is a musician and composer, as well as a die-hard fan of Landero and Strummer, who also studied and talked to everyone about this inevitable connection of destiny. 

In 1962, Jamaica broke free from England. This further spurred the wave of young Jamaicans who, as early as the '50s, had traveled to London following promises of better work, bringing their music with them. The '60s and '70s saw reggae and ska grow hand in hand, with the subculture mod, skinhead, and later punk.

Galeano explains it more in-depth, saying that "one thing that characterized the mods, that precede the punk and skinhead movements, is that he was someone who had an already formed taste in relation to Caribbean music. He understood them, liked them, enjoyed them with rocksteady, with ska, with reggae. If that hadn't existed in the equation, I think the encounter and consequent merging between Colombia and London would have been much more delayed." 

"Also, the music of Jamaica and the music of the Colombian coast have very similar characteristics and musical structure," Galeano continues. "This is because we are all involved in that same miscegenation between the arrival of the Africans, the arrival of the Europeans, and the native indigenous culture. Although the same happened in Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Panama, the relationship between Colombia and Jamaica is a little stronger since it is related (musically) to the role of the bass and to the role of off-beats. Basically one can say that the ska and the Colombian gaita or orchestral gaita, are almost the same genre."

Andres Landero was born in the '30s in the Caribbean area of ​​San Jacinto, Colombia. He was the son of the musician and pipe player Andrés Guerra. At age 17, Landero left his predestined home to become a key piece in the construction of Colombian popular music. He managed to merge the rural narrative, the musical tradition of the paseo, cumbia, merengue and the gaita; along with a great compositional audacity around indigenous and African music from the Caribbean coast. He was baptized the "King of the cumbia", "King sabanero", "The King" and "King of the accordion".


For Galeano, the arrival to punk came when he was 13, hand in hand with the local Colombian scene of Medellín that told the violent stories around drug trafficking and the hitmen of that time, contrasting with the reality of other cities. Punk arrived in Latin America at the end of the '70s and '80s with a delay, in compilations without accurate information and almost in secret, consumed as the only source of hope for those young people who did not find musical contention in North American glam rock or in the deep censorship applied in local media.

Galeano, a longtime Landero fan, came across Strummer's radio program on the BBC where he passed the "Accordion King" and called himself a "fucking cumbia expert."

“I couldn't imagine that these world rock icons had a relationship with Colombia," explains Galeano. "So I began to obsessively search for information about Joe and Landero or Joe talking about cumbia or Andrés.”

We already saw that there was a pre-inclined musical territory between the Colombian Caribbean and London, and this relationship was crowned with the trip of the English DJ and journalist Jason Mayall to a pivotal festival of the 80s, The Caribbean Music Festival in Cartagena. Galeano explains:

“Cartagena, Barranquilla, and the coastal cities of Colombia in the Caribbean are places with an exaggerated melomania. There is a very strong sense of worship, and the respective musical scenes from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba are all very well known. In addition, there is one thing that is very unique to Colombia, which is the connection with Africa, which has to do with Highlife, Afrobeat, Soukous. The Cartagena Music Festival brought musicians from the Congo, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico in 85 ', 86'. There, Jason meets another street culture from Picó similar to that of the Colombian Sound system, a very strong identity in Cartagena and Barranquilla and that, obviously, has a direct twinning with the Jamaican sound system. In other words, the Colombian picó and the sound system are part of the same sound culture. The Mexican sonidero is another example. So, Jason got a lot of Colombian records, took them to London, and began this process of introducing his friends to what he found".

One of those friends was Joe Strummer. 

Jason Mayall, better known as DJ Cumbia Kid, is also an organizer at the Japanese festival Fuji Rock that has confirmed its 2021 edition for the month of August. He was responsible for a musical crossover that continues to this day but was historically, politically, and musically predestined decades before. A story that seems written and that finds in artists like Galeano, the perfect synthesis between musical tradition, punk attitude, and anti-fascism.

This was the investigation that the Colombian public radio, RADIONICA, carried out within the framework of the 2018 International Clash Day:

Follow the on-air programming of International Clash Day to find the testimonies and musical sets of five Latin American radio stations that explain the relationship between The Clash and their countries, while recommending anti-racist and anti-fascist songs. Our allies for 2021 are Pasaje Nocturno from Radio Universidad de Chile, Súbela Radio from Chile, Radionica from Colombia, Nacional Rock 93.7 from Argentina, and Reactor FM 105.9 from Mexico.

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