The Roots of Digital Cumbia in Sound System Culture

Sonideros, Villeros, and the Transformation of Colombian Cumbia


  • Moses Iten Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology



digital cumbia, sound system, Latin America, sonideros, Cumbia Sampuesana


Digital cumbia was celebrated globally in the late 2000s as a new form of Latin American electronic dance music mixed with the Colombian folk music of cumbia. Celebrated by the media as a new phenomenon due to new computer software and internet access, this article instead establishes how cumbia had already become digital in the sonidera (“sound system”) culture of Mexican barrios (“ghettos”). The author is a DJ/producer with more than fifteen years of practice linked to cumbia, global electronic popular music, and sound system culture. The implications of this double-background as practitioner and researcher are reflected in a DJ-as-researcher approach to multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork and musical analysis. The theoretical framework is based on “sounding”, a model for understanding the interaction of corporeal, material and sociocultural elements in sound system culture. This reveals how Mexican sonideros (“sound system operators”) created cumbia sonidera (“sound system cumbia”) by slowing the tempo of the original Colombian recordings in response to the dancing public. To hear this transformation of cumbia, several examples of the seminal cumbia track ‘Cumbia Sampuesana’ are presented, from its origins in 1940s Colombia, to cumbia sonidera in 1990s Mexico, and cumbia villera (“ghetto cumbia”) in early 2000s Argentina.

Author Biography

Moses Iten, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

Moses Iten is a PhD candidate in the School of Media & Communication at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia. He is a researcher of cumbia music and sound system culture through fieldwork online and in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Bogota, and several Mexican cities. He has more than 15 years’ practice as a DJ/music producer, and with his Cumbia Cosmonauts project has toured every continent.


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How to Cite

Iten, M. (2021). The Roots of Digital Cumbia in Sound System Culture: Sonideros, Villeros, and the Transformation of Colombian Cumbia. Journal of World Popular Music, 8(1), 77–101.