Abelardo Carbonó, the godfather of champeta, was born in 1948 in Ciénaga, a small town between Santa Marta and Cartagena, Colombia. He started to play the guitar when he was eight or nine as he simply played along with his father.
His family moved to Barranquilla in 1959. Upon his arrival, he quickly went on to become a police cadet as it was pretty much all the city had to offer him in terms of employment. At the turn of the ’80s, Abelardo had been in the police force for almost two decades, a job he “wasn’t very good at”. With his brothers Jafeth (bass) and Abel (solo guitar), he progressively formed what was to become the nucleus of the bands to come, developing their signature: a sharp guitar, a strong bass, and a choir.
The tropical pop sound, the groaning voice, the drum kit, the mix of rock and tropical guitar that one would hear later in Abelardo’s work, were already visible in his personal way of playing Caribbean music, such as on “A otro perro con ese hueso”. The vallenato cajón drum, a traditional feature one would rarely consider beyond vallenato circles, was used here and would be used extensively by Abelardo in various contexts. With its childish voices drowned in reverb, the swinging electric bass contrasting with the acoustic guitar, and the funny lyrics about a man who promises a lot as the choir rejects his affirmations, the tune stood out on a 12-song compilation released by Sonolux and gained Abelardo’s band attention from the music industry.
Other tracks like “Quiero a mi gente” and “Schallcarri” seem to testify once again that Fela Kuti’s Shakara had a huge impact on the musicians from the coast. In fact, the most decisive influence was the African and Afro Caribbean one: it ranged from the Super Negro Bantous to South African music, the 45s from Kenya, and of course, Congolese and Haitian music. Funk and pop were also important, as were vallenato, cumbia and porro. For several years, Abelardo enjoyed the savoir faire and experience of the best studios around and worked with producers such as the great Eduardo Dávila, some sort of costeño Lee Perry, out of which came memorable sessions with collaborations by legends such as Michi Sarmiento and several artists from the Dolcey Gutiérrez Orchestra. On his albums for Felito, Abelardo recorded such gems as “Negra Kulenge,” “Palenque,” and “Carolina,” magnified by a great sound and a unique mix. The rest of the world is finally about to discover the talent of this kind of Colombian Tom Zé — a man that represents the psychedelic yet groovy side of the Caribbean musical world, and one of the best-kept secrets of Colombian music.