Many travel to the Caribbean to rejuvenate by lying inert on their backs on the beach. My psyche was renewed with a different approach—heart-pumping, hip-swaying, arm-waving, smile-until-your-cheeks-hurt Tumba.
Curacao's Tumba Festival is held annually in conjunction with Carnival festivities; the first festival took place in 1971. In late January, I joined a massive throng at the Curacao Festival Center to cheer on the contenders for the title of Tumba King. While the songs are sung in Papiamentu, the language of the “ABC Islands” of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, and the lyrics often deal with local topical events, I needed no translation for the feel-good flavor of this annual event.
Tumba is of African in origin; it was introduced on the island in the 17th century when Curaçao was the center of the distribution of slaves. Today the music reflects Latin and Jazz influences, and a spirit of freedom and fun. Everything about the occasion exudes an aura of celebration—the vibrant colors of people’s clothes, the exhilarating upbeat tempo of the percussion and horns at top decibels, the energetic dancing onstage and off.