Nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the Rio Magdalena, lies the city of Barranquilla. Hailed by its locals as Colombia's 'Puerto de Oro' (Golden Gate), Barranquilla has served as a gateway for 'Caribbean Tropical Sounds' for almost a century. Home to the country's biggest cultural celebration, El Carnaval, and the birthplace of Colombia's radio and recording industry, Barranquilla has always been a city deeply rooted in musical traditions. Its port-city status has allowed its citizens to remain up-to-date with the latest grooves coming out of the Caribbean basin. With scores of LPs arriving from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States, the city also soon became a bastion for musicians and vinyl enthusiasts from all over the world. Nobody embodies Barranquilla's rich musical heritage more than the master accordionist Anibal Velasquez. Known affectionately by his fans as 'El Mago' (the Magician), Anibal has been one of the most prolific musicians of Colombia's Musica Tropical movement.
Anibal was born into a musical family in Barranquilla in 1936. His father was an accomplished musician but his biggest influence was his older brother Juan who first introduced him to the secrets of the accordion. Anibal remembers: 'I knew already how to handle the clarinet, the Guacharaca and other instruments, that's a talent I must have received from my father. In those days music was everywhere - people would come together and dance to cumbias and mapales … it was all very spontaneous. Barranquilla has always been a musical city, but when I started to play the accordion, the instrument was not very popular, it had not become part of Costeno (Colombian Caribbean coast) culture as it was considered a second-class instrument, a bit foreign and awkward, used primarily by campesinos (peasants) in rural towns off the banks of the Rio Magdalena - but we've changed that. One of the turning points was a chance encounter with Robertico Roman, a musician from Cartagena. We both had a deep love for Cuban music and he would often come to my place where we jammed. It was with Robertico Roman that I formed my first band called Los Vallenatos de Magdalena. I made my first recording with that band in 1952. Four songs were recorded including a track called 'La Gallina', which became a huge hit and really spread the costal sound toward the interior of the country.'