Introducing La Perla: “We sing about the raw violence that we’ve lived in this country” | Songlines
Thursday, February 2, 2023

Introducing La Perla: “We sing about the raw violence that we’ve lived in this country”

By Gonçalo Frota

Meet the Colombian trio who are using the rhythms and vernacular of their traditional culture to transmit a message of defiance

Laperla Paris 06 22 59 By Kapturing

La Perla (photo: Kapturing)

Diana Sanmiguel, Karen Forero and Giovanna Mogollón first stumbled upon each other in Bogotá’s ruedas – informal gatherings of musicians playing traditional music in the capital’s streets. Acknowledging their common love for gaitas (a traditional Colombian flute) and drums, Forero challenged her two new friends to try their luck at Ovejas’ Festival Nacional de Gaitas in 2014. At the time, it was both a musical novelty and a feminist stand for an all-female group to play at such a male-dominated event.

“That first year wasn’t brilliant,” they confess. “But we went back the following year and won the amateur category, which led to a great deal of recognition and it prompted us to start carving our own path. That meant not only playing traditional music, but also taking a shot at songwriting.” Since there is no shortage of female groups in Bogotá working with traditional music as their creative basis, they started to reflect on how they could put together a sound that would make them unique in the city. “And once we asked ourselves what could differentiate us,” Mogollón says, “we thought that being bogotanos from Colombian Caribe where all this folk music comes from, we should lend a ‘Bogotá touch’ to the music we were going to make.”

Musically speaking, this ‘Bogotá touch’ means being porous to rock and hip-hop influences, as well as other countries’ music traditions, such as merengue or rumba. When all this effortlessly gelled together, La Perla was truly born. But their uniqueness doesn’t end there. Apart from the instrumental output, with a somewhat punk attitude applied to regional rhythms, Forero believes that their lyrics “stress the difference” between their music and any tradition that was passed along to them. “While traditional lyrics always narrate a rural environment, these urban city lyrics speak of themes that are closer to our lives.”

La Perla (photo: Kapturing)

La Perla (photo: Kapturing)

Sanmiguel explains that they don’t shy away from singing about “the harsh labour that often goes unrecognised of those who work the fields” (as heard on ‘El Sol’), “Amazonia’s bleeding devastation” (on the track ‘Selva’), or the mistreated Indigenous culture (listen to ‘Chicharachera’). Nor are they silent on the assassination of ecological and social leaders fighting for justice and equal rights. In short: “We sing about the raw violence that we’ve lived in this country and, still, we get to sing about la fiesta.”

All these songs are part of Callejera, the Colombians’ long awaited debut that follows their 2021 collaboration with UK jazz sensation Nubya Garcia. The album features an array of rhythms from the Gran Caribe, from cumbia and merengue to rumba, champeta and bullerengue. While sounding these different rhythms, the members of La Perla sing, point fingers and celebrate life and nature. Named after the music they heard growing up in the streets (calles), Callejera’s tropical drums are a roaring echo that travels through time, sounding a thunderous traditional resistance to contemporary violence. At the same time, La Perla claim, the drums act as a reminder of the continuous struggle for identity.

Read the review: Callejera

This interview originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Songlines. Life is better with great music in it – subscribe today

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