From punk-rock to 60s big band music, here are some of the songs that represent Bogotá’s personality, stories, and moods.

Bogotá draws thousands of people from all over Colombia, and other countries, every year. The city’s loud blend of cultures and experiences has created one of the most vibrant music scenes in Latin America. This special musical sauce is defined by experimentation—crossing traditional cumbia rhythms, electronic music, and Afro-Caribbean styles with salsa, rock, and ska—and has made Bogotá a wellspring for music that has conquered the U.S. and the rest of the world. The city is is also one of the best staging grounds for emerging local artists to find an audience—and an identity—for their music. From punk-rock to 1960s big band music, here are some of the songs that represent Bogotá’s personality,  stories, and moods.

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Merecumbé en Bogotá by Pacho Galán 

Pacho Galán is one of the most well-known Colombian musicians of the mid-20th century. Born in Soledad, Atlántico, in the northern part of the country, his music is a staple of the golden age of Caribbean music in Colombia. He was also one of the pioneers of the big band genre, and the inventor of the merecumbé—a fusion of indigenous cumbia and merengue that is still played at almost every Colombian family party. Bogotá got its very own Pacho Galán merecumbé: “Merecumbé en Bogotá” is a throwback to what an orchestra party felt like in the 60s—and this is still the signature soundtrack to many a Colombian New Year’s Eve.

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Orden público alterado by Hora Local, 1991

Hora Local is Bogota’s most well-known punk-rock band, an essential part of the city’s underground scene since their founding in 1986. Their album Orden Público (1990), produced by Mani Moure––a member of Madrid’s famous band, Los Toreros Muertos––contains their best-known hits, such as “La chica de Chernobyl,” “Londres,” “Pasó de todo,” and “Orden público alterado.” The latter is a song about social protest, war, and police brutality—the latte how how riots tended to end in (badly) in Colombia’s capital.     

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Bolero Falaz by Aterciopelados, 1995 

Aterciopelados were one of the biggest Colombian rock bands of the 1990s. “Bolero Falaz” is an ode to downtown Bogotá—and to the 90s music-video aesthetic. The Colpatria Tower (until recently, the tallest building in Colombia), the well-known “busetas” (local buses that have been displaced by the new transportation system TransMilenio), and the scenes of daily life in the video—accompanied by singer Andrea Echeverri’s voice—capture the feeling of 90s Bogota perfectly.

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Esto no es Madrid by Orquesta Sinfónica de Chapinero, 1990

The Orquesta Sinfónica de Chapinero, named after the (now affluent but then middle-class) Chapinero neighborhood, was founded in 1989 by Eduardo Arias (a member of Hora Local) and Karl Troller (founder of the Chapinero magazine). They made Bogotá–and its everyday sounds—the protagonist of their first album, ¡Gaitanista! (after murdered presidential candidate Jorge Elíecer Gaitán, whose death sparked country-wide riots in 1948.) The album concept is that archaeologists find the remains of an ancient city called Bogotá, and with the help of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Chapinero, they rediscover the city though its sounds, even its most mundane—including busetas, the malls selling counterfeit goods (called sanandrecitos), cab drivers, and doormen.

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Ay, qué dolor by La Derecha, 1994

La Derecha was also an essential musical presence in Bogotá in the 1990s. This motorbike-themed video reveals some of the chaos of the city during that era, and tells a story about being young and ambitious. Since then, Bogotá has been the background of many other of La Derecha’s music videos, including songs such as “Ruido” and “Emociones” from their 2012 album Polvo Eres.

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 Gózalo by La 33, 2004

Quiebracanto, a bar in downtown Bogotá, witnessed the early days of La 33—a salsa band that was unusual for playing a style of music typically associated with the city of Cali, but made up of people from Bogotá, or “Rolos”. They rehearsed at Calle 33 (the street for which they are named) in the Teusaquillo neighborhood, and every Wednesday night, the band got together to get the party started at Quiebracanto, and local would try our some some dance moves (I say “try,” because we Rolos aren’t famous for our dancing skills).  Their song “Gózalo” starts each of their shows, getting people in the mood for more salsa nights downtown.

1Dejá by Sidestepper, 2006 

By taking Afro-Caribbean sounds and mixing them with electronic beats, Sidestepper was one of the vanguards of the boom in Colombian artists and music that went on the dominatate music festivals around the world. One of their biggest hits, “Dejá,” explores the neighborhoods of Chapinero and La Candelaria and recreates the feeling of a night out in Bogotá.

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Bogotá by Ondatrópica, 2017

Since the early 2000s, many bands in Bogotá have rediscovered traditional music from other Colombian regions (cumbia, currulao, porro, and champeta, among others), fusing these styles with funk, jazz, rap, and ska, to name a few.  In recent years, some Bogotano musicians from prestigious music programs in the city’s universities have collaborated with local music legends from the Pacific and the Caribbean coasts to make music. Ondatrópica is one of these projects—involving Bogotano Mario Galeano, of Frente Cumbiero, and the English producer Will Holland (also known as Quantic). Galeano and Holland team up with a long line-up of regional masters of Colombian music. The result: songs like “Bogotá”—a tribute to  the city’s openness to experimentation and collaboration.