In July 1810, the people of Colombia took to the streets to protest Spanish rule in a movement that would eventually lead to permanent independence. Officially, the South American nation celebrates their break from imperialism July 20, even though the struggle lasted nearly a decade. One hundred seventy years later, a smaller, different sort of revolution occurred, this time culturally, with the formation of Grupo Niche in 1980 and the emergence of a genre that would shape the musical landscape for years to come: salsa.
This Saturday, MegaRumba, Miami's premier Colombian Independence Day festival, looks to celebrate both milestones with an all-day party at Tamiami Park. It's a celebration that comes at a crucial time for Colombians living in either of the Americas because it has been something of inconstant year for the country.
Although the eyes and minds of many Hispanics and Latinos in the Western Hemisphere were fixed on the Copa América Centenario — with plenty of Colombian hearts crumbling at the sight of their national team losing to eventual tournament winner, Chile — something more pressing was occurring in Bogotá. Last week, the government and the rebels from FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, reached a historic cease-fire. A final peace deal is expected, fittingly, by July 20.
In this spirit of celebration, New Times spoke with two of the main singers from Grupo Niche — Elvis Magno and Yuri Torres — as they prepared for a series of shows in the United States. The legendary outfit is in the midst of celebrating its 35th anniversary with a new greatest hits record titled 35 Aniversario, a feat of which they couldn't be prouder.
"My favorite part of a party with Grupo Niche," Torres says, "is everything. From the beginning to the end, the music of Grupo Niche is excellent, and the greatest hits are music that people recognize. Now we're really enjoying ourselves because we're sharing with the world a beautiful album, 35 Aniversario."
The Cali, Colombia-based group was founded by Jairo Varela and Alexis Lozano in 1978. Until his death in 2012, Varela — the primary songwriter, producer, and vocalist — was the powerhouse that drove the band forward. His spirit and the music he left behind are still guiding lights for Grupo Niche. The lead track for the new LP, "Niche Como Yo," is a song penned by Varela. He took great labors to ensure his work would live on, leaving instructions for his children to take the reins after he passed away.
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"The most important thing that Maestro Varela left behind was a grand legacy and 35 years of music," Torres says.
As for a party such as MegaRumba, Grupo Nicho is both excited and humbled. Now more than ever, in a city with the second-largest population of Colombians outside of the homeland itself, the event will mean so much and provide an outlet for national pride and joy.
"We, thank God, have the possibility of creating something special when we do our shows and even more so when we have an event this big, celebrating something so important for our country," Magno says. "This group has the opportunity to be at a festival where we can celebrate all Latin Americans — the independence of Peru, the independence of Guatemala, etc. Thank God, Latinos everywhere have blessed this group, and we are delighted to participate in something as important as what's happening on July 16."
MegaRumba Colombia with Grupo Niche, Locos Por Juana, Reykon l el Lider, and others. Noon Saturday, July 16, at Tamiami Park, 11201 Coral Way, Miami; 305-461-2700; megarumbacolombia.com. Tickets cost $10 to $150 plus fees via megarumbacolombia.com.