Colombia’s vallenato started as a type of romantic cowboy music that provided a commentary on the lives of ranchers and campesinos cut off from the urban centers. It was played primarily in the countryside until it received radio commercialization in the 1940’s.
Since both vallenato and cumbia use similar instruments, the easiest way to distinguish vallenato is by the use of the accordion.
Vallenato has always been popular in the countryside, but it gained urban popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Two of today’s stars of traditional vallenato are Diomedes Diaz and Jorge Onate.
Vallenato has recently seen an explosion in its popularity with the music of one-time soap opera star, Carlos Vives. Vives assembled a group of older folkloric players with some of the best coastal musicians around his home town of Bogota, creating a rock / vallenato style that has made the form popular with younger Colombians as well as bringing this music into Latin music’s mainstream.
If you’d like to hear Vives’ distinctive sound of modern rock / vallenato, try his 1999 album El Amor de mi Tierra or 2001’s Dejame Entrar , both released by EMI.