Given the violence plaguing Colombia, this global cantadora thinks her work is even more important today. “What happens is that one finds the truth when men are sick,” she says. Totó believes traditional music holds the wisdom of the ancestors that will allow people who live today to know who they are. “Colombia is sick,” she observes, “and this illness begins with identity.” The singer believes that traditional music can heal not just the people in her hometown or even in her homeland, but people everywhere. “If I am live on the mountain, I have to sing like the little birds. I have to dance like the animals,” she says. “That doesn't mean that those in the Amazon don't understand or those in the plains don't understand.” The drums bind us, she claims. “We carry percussion in our heartbeats, in the way we walk, in the digestion, in the circulation of blood,” she points out, “and all of us have a heart; all of us have circulation. We share everything that has to do with rhythm.”
The final encore in the last show of her first U.S. tour seemed to prove the point. The drummers had already returned to the dressing room, but Totó granted the request of an autograph seeker that she sing a cappella. The audience, already on its feet after giving her a standing ovation, crowded in a hush at the foot of the stage. Her voice filled the vast open space of the bandshell like a river, tossing the sustained tones that open the traditional cumbia,“La Piragua” like the rowboat in the song's title. Caught in the spiritual flow, the listeners raised their arms in adoration.