Gaitero music, which has been played for centuries in the Caribbean coast region of Colombia, is the original, folkloric form of cumbia, and the root of all modern cumbia, one of the most popular musical expressions of Latin America today.
Gaitero music dates back at least to the time of Simón Bolivar. It is a fusion of indigenous and African influences, played on two flutes (gaitas), and a maraca, both of indigenous origin, and drums of African origin, from the descendants of the many African slaves who passed through this coast. The haunting melodies of the two gaitas, still heard today among the Cuna and Kogi Indians, are played in counterpoint to each other, and are combined with the steady, hypnotic beat of the small drum, the high-spirited and skillful improvisation of the other two drums, and the elaborate rhythms of the maraca.
In the past, there were many gaiteros playing cumbia. Over the years, the music evolved and became orchestrated. Until recently, it seemed as though the folkloric tradition was destined for extinction as older gaiteros died, and young people in San Jacinto seemed more interested in modern music. There has been a resurgence of interest in this folkloric tradition, and more young people have taken up the gaitas, maraca, and drums, but there are still many people who are unaware of the roots of cumbia.