Rafael Espinel was born in Belgium, but his Colombian parents took the family back to Colombia when he was eight months old. Ever since he was a kid, he dreamt of returning to Brussels, to discover the place where his immigrant parents had once settled.
So he did just that after high school, going to Brussels to study comic book design. There, Espinel met other Colombian immigrants at the university and together they formed a band named La Chiva Gantiva, which has its foundation in Colombian folklore.
A chiva is a colorful bus originally used in rural areas of Colombia. Gantiva is percussionist Natalia's last name, which has its origins in indigenous Chipcha culture and means "guardian of the mountain." The band La Chiva Gantiva, just like its members, is all about a multiplicity of identities and roots. It's a seven piece-ensemble with an explosive mix of highly danceable, percussion-heavy sounds that feel as if Manu Chao had gotten on a bus around Colombia -- instead of a train -- and picked up cumbia, funk and afrobeat along the way.
Like Manu Chao before them, La Chiva Gantiva members sing about immigrant experiences and their multicultural, globe-trotting realities (band members are French, Belgian, Colombian, and Vietnamese).
Before going back home to Brussels, La Chiva Gantiva is playing in New York City's Nublu tonight, finishing off a U.S. tour that included gigs in Dallas, Austin, and Chicago. We sure hope La Chiva comes back to the States this summer to play at big festivals, a setting where the band will surely thrive because of its party atmosphere and diverse appeal.
Watch our video with Rafael Espinel, Natalia Gantiva and Felipe Deckers as they talk about some of the instruments they play with La Chiva Gantiva. We interviewed them before one of their sets at SXSW in Austin last week.