After 10 years, one-man band decides to branch out

FOR 10 years, Baterimba has been a one man’s band. That man is Carlos Fernando Balanta. He performed with feet kicking the hihat and bass drums, right hand playing the marimba and left hand playing the bass guitar. And, he sang or rapped sometimes.

It’s a great challenge for any musician. But Balanta’s love and passion carried him through, flowing in the melody. His intention is simple — to bring the sound of Colombia to the world.

Baterimba is the combination of “bacteria” and “marimba,” a traditional percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars, whose name means song made by hitting planks. It was developed first in Zimbabwe and now widely used in pacific music.

“I want to give Colombian folk music a contemporary sound by incorporating various forms of music into it, and by playing it with different instruments,” says Balanta, who was recently in Shanghai performing at an event organized by Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “So when I go to a new place when on a tour, I always try to mix the local elements into folk songs, and the results are often amazing.”

But no matter how many music styles he takes in, the roots of Colombian music has always been the soul of his music, and it has the power to make people dance along. That’s what happened when Balanta entered “Colombia’s Got Talent” in 2012. He worked on the audience well, had the whole crowd grooving and eventually the three judges couldn’t resist anymore.

The free style of Baterimba worked its way on Chinese audience, too. On the first show in Shanghai on May 6, Baterimba had everyone up dancing.

“We were in Beijing and Guangzhou before coming to Shanghai, and every show has been a success. Chinese people are wonderfully good at dancing actually,” says Balanta. “I admit, I didn’t expect that. I was supposed to warm the party up with four songs.

“But the Chinese audience took over the dance floor when I played the first note. They swing for three hours and asked for encore, unwilling to let the night end. It truly has been a joy.

“And as usual, I blend Chinese elements into Colombian folk music,” he says.

What could be impossible — blending two opposite styles — is easy for Balanta.

“Chinese music has always been a part of Colombian music,” says Balanta. “I don’t know why. It’s said that Chinese came to the land of Colombia even before the Spanish.

“There were some photos showing habitants sharing same facial features with Chinese. One branch of folk music called Indian folk music sounds just like traditional Chinese music.”

And Colombian folk music isn’t what people presumed to be — dominated by dancing beats. It has many sweet and quiet melodies, mostly originating from legends and local tales.

And it would be hard to name a mainstream music form as it changes within time. For example, salsa isn’t as big a trend as before.

It’s not a surprise that Colombia has been christened “the land of thousands of rhythms.” Its music is diverse and it shares borders with Brazil, Panama and Costa Rica, with hundreds of miles of coast along the Caribbean.

Balanta first had the idea to bring these sound to different places in 2006, after teaching for many years. And as he achieved greater fame, he’s not alone any more. In 2015, Juan Enrique Balanta Cano, Balanta’s nephew, and his student Jeffery Cuesta joined the band.

Coming from a family of musicians, Juan showed talent at a young age using bowls and spoons as his drums. And Cuesta got famous at eight years old for playing the guitar, one year after he educated himself by watching how other people played the instrument.

Although extremely talented, they are still very young. Cuesta is completing his last year in university.

“We have a mission, which is to carry Colombian music all over the world,” Balanta says. “I watched these two men grow up together, so I know them well. They’re born for music.

“With their help on professional techniques and our understanding of folk music, I believe Baterimba will be heard by more people,” he concludes.