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Demonizing Cumbia: The Skin and Flesh of Radamel 666's Version of “Yo me llamo cumbia” (“My Name is Cumbia”)

Published onMar 21, 2024
Demonizing Cumbia: The Skin and Flesh of Radamel 666's Version of “Yo me llamo cumbia” (“My Name is Cumbia”)

José E. Muñoz characterizes punk rock as a genre that produces “a certain kind of encounter (… ) where matter, sound, and people collide.”1 In this paper, I intend to write about a specific encounter I perceive in the punk version of “Yo me llamo cumbia” (“My Name is Cumbia”) by the trans* band Radamel 666 from Bogotá, Colombia.2 My aim is to write about the encounter between the band—composed of three non-binary white people, Gatito Puente, Alvatrón, and Princesar, and two white trans* women named Ambiente Familiar and KatPink—and what I identify as the sonorous body of the cumbia originally written by Mario Gareña in 1969.3 “My Name is Cumbia” is considered one of the "anthems of Colombian folklore," an anthem that, I claim, illustrates and represents the machismo and racism of the country.4 At the time of performing the cover of this song, I consider that Radamel “collides” with the sonorous body of the original song. In a country at war like Colombia, where different armies constantly attack the lives of trans* and non-binary people, I argue that the method with which Radamel confronts “My Name is Cumbia” symbolically defies this military practice. I contend that in their cover, Radamel, instead of parodying or annihilating this sonorous body, enjoys and relishes the encounter. The encounter, thus, is not brutal but pleasurable. I suggest it is a sexual encounter.

The audacity of comparing Radamel’s version with military practices stems from accepting an unspoken invitation made by the band itself. In the video of the cover uploaded to YouTube, there are several images of soldiers. In particular, clips of armies training start and end the video. Paramilitaries, guerrillas, and the national army have largely held power in Colombia during the last 60 years of civil war (1960-present).5 All three, despite their ideological differences and distinctive practices, have violently and specifically targeted queer and black populations.6 A 2022 report from Comisión para el Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la No Repetición (Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Reconciliation, and Non-Repetition) stated that the Afro-Colombian population specifically has experienced the highest levels of violence, persecution, and internal displacement during the country’s civil war.7 Likewise, queer sexuality has been constantly denied or repressed during the last decades. Armies have imposed heteronormativity, especially in rural areas, through threats, physical violence, collective assassinations, disappearances, forced displacement, and rape.8 Queer and trans* bodies, particularly but not exclusively if they are black, have been stripped and beaten in public spaces, shaved, or directly mutilated. Regardless of being systemic, this “social cleansing,” as the armies phrased it, was often not acknowledged by state agents who denigrated the victims, harassed them, and considered them “undesirable.”9 In several cases, even families and neighbors have conspired with the armies.10

The armies have allowed and maintained a country in which there are people who deserve to cease to exist. I include these practices of the military within the more widespread social practice of ninguneo, the act of turning somebody into a nobody.11 While queer and black populations are among the most vulnerable, anyone can fall into this category. In colloquial language, ninguneo means to ignore; the word comes from the adjective ninguno, which expresses the non-existence of something.12 Ningunear is, as a social practice, the act by which someone is rendered to a condition below existing. This can be practiced, for example, with words, urban designs, or everyday gestures. Still, armies take this practice to its most brutal and physical shape: they literally annihilate bodies they do not wish to see. By restricting queer sexuality and regulating black bodies, the soldiers divide the world into somebodies and nobodies. They, who have imposed their white heterosexuality, become somebodies: beings with agency and power. This need for annihilation illustrates that what is important within the practice of ninguneo is not only the creation of nobodies, but also the imposition of oneself as a somebody. There are no nobodies without somebodies. Thus, the soldiers’ work is to constantly reaffirm themselves as somebodies through violence.

In this paper, I wish to depict the way in which Radamel 666 actively enjoys their version of “My Name is Cumbia” and how this cover conveys a refusal to both become somebody, and, to turn the other into a nobody. The encounter occurs primarily through the style in which Ambiente Familiar and KatPink sing but also through their music video. Similarly, I propose that the sexual encounter between Radamel and “My Name is Cumbia” engenders changes in both bodies. Put differently, just as Radamel modifies “My Name is Cumbia,” the song also transforms the band. Radamel reanimates a repressed sexuality in cumbia and, in turn, the song alters the white bodies of the musicians in such a way that they can enact the first black version of “My Name is Cumbia.” In addition, because the lyrics of the song compare cumbia with Colombia, the shifts provoked by Radamel also admit the possibility to regard the country, and specifically its military, through a trans* and black lens.13

In their cover, Radamel explores the repressed sexuality and blackness in the original version of “My Name is Cumbia” and in cumbia as a genre. This is not a scientific exploration. Radamel’s aim is not to investigate, understand, or classify the sexuality or race of the sonorous body of the song. For the band, sexuality and blackness are not passive objects to be studied but to be performed. As I hope to demonstrate in this paper, the exploration is a bidirectional and active embodiment. The song and the band embody a sexuality and a race that the Colombian armies seek to annihilate. The embodiment reasserts the black and, arguably, trans* origin of cumbia and allows for the black and trans* lens through which Colombia is beheld. To depict this exploration, I will divide the paper into three sections. In the first one, I will explain the context and give a historical account of how sexuality and blackness in cumbia were repressed through musical or sonorous blanqueamiento (whitening) in Colombia. Based on Hortense Spillers’ conceptualization of “dubious” sexual encounters, I will equally outline how the country's military still represses queer and black people. In the next section, I will define what I understand as the methodology of pleasure with which Radamel performs and sexually encounters the sonorous body of “My Name is Cumbia.” For this, I will use queer theory, especially about an anti-capitalist and anti-productive time. Finally, and drawing on Jean Laplanche's and Sigmund Freud's theories about the “sexual,” the “demonic," and the “perverse,” I will describe the sexual encounter between Radamel and “My Name is Cumbia,” how the mutual exploration enables them to embody transsexuality and blackness, and how this opens the possibility of rethinking the country under another perspective.

My descriptions of the encounter between the song and the band are based on what I hear, feel, and intuit after hours of listening to this song. Therefore, I sometimes move away from academic jargon and perhaps come closer to a literary or personal (hopefully erotic) one. I will display how these descriptions might sound. For me, the sexual encounter can be perceived in the singing of Ambiente Familiar and KatPink. When they sing, it gives the impression that they are inhaling the lyrics (fig. 1). It seems as if they were ingesting them. This happens mainly with the repetition of the first part of the chorus, “cumbia, cumbia, cumbia.” And it differs from when they regurgitate its last part: “yo me llamo cumbia” (“my name is cumbia”).14 There, they seem to exhale. It is not possible to watch the vocalists’ gestures in the song's video. Still, I imagine that to say “yo me llamo cumbia,” they protrude their lips, but to ingest the “cumbia, cumbia, cumbia,” they contract them, they bring them inward. Their low and high falsettos sound like they are contorting the words and relishing the experience. Especially when inhaling the chorus, the vocalists savor the words. A pulsation runs through the song: something goes in and then out; it is ingested and regurgitated. This pulsation grows in intensity. The last shouts of the vocalists could very well pass for moans. Radamel is fixated on the song. They are not simply singing the lyrics; they do not eat them either because they do not swallow them. They, instead of singing, are sucking the lyrics.

Figure 1: Ambiente Familiar singing the lyrics of a different Radamel song: Tremenda selección. Radamel 666, still from Tremenda selección (En vivo) (music video), June 8, 2019. Still courtesy of artists.


To understand why Radamel explores the sexuality and blackness of “My Name is Cumbia,” it will be helpful to be familiar with the history of cumbia. Cumbia is the most widespread traditional music genre in Colombia. There are doubts about its conception, although the indigenous, African, and Spanish blood are evident in the instruments and dance.15 However, what is certain is that it appeared in the Colombian Atlantic region in the nineteenth century, that it has more African than indigenous influence, and that in order to achieve its expansion and acceptance in the center of the country (that is, in the capital), the genre had to be “whitened.”16 Peter Wade describes this sonorous or musical blanqueamiento (whitening) in his book Música, raza y nación: Música tropical en Colombia (Music, Race and Nation: Música Tropical en Colombia) as the “eradication of the black and the indigenous in favor of the white.”17 Musically, this process is done by suppressing instruments that are associated with certain cultures.18

Óscar Hernández Salgar, in his article “Colonialidad y poscolonialidad musical en Colombia” (“Musical Coloniality and Postcoloniality in Colombia”), explains that musical whitening can be traced back since the nineteenth century, after the Independence and the creation of Colombia as a nation.19 For him, whitening operates through two imaginaries: a religious point of view, which condemned certain musics as “immoral and/or overtly sexual,” and a consolidation of a “musical science,” which differentiated “complex” harmonies and rhythms from other non-European ones, which were considered “primitive.”20 The ultimate goal of this process was to suggest Colombia and its people could claim a type of cultural proximity to Europeans. As Santiago Castro-Gómez explains: "Being white [in Latin America] had less to do with skin color than with the staging of a cultural imaginary."21

Cumbia’s commercialization between the 1940s and 1960s and its conversion into Colombian national music entailed the elimination of all the African-derived instruments so that the mestizo and white middle-class Andean inhabitants could aesthetically appreciate and socially accept this music.22 The process began in the 1940s with the appearance of big bands that played music from the Atlantic coast in Medellín and Bogotá. Nevertheless, as Wade explains, the blackness of cumbia was never completely eliminated, since a “hegemonic” idea of nation needs hierarchies, a “heterogeneity” that can be denied.23 Rather, cumbia’s black origins were "relocated" and "stylistically diluted."24 To illustrate this whitening, Wade discusses the legacy of Luis Eduardo "Lucho" Bermúdez, perhaps the most well-known director of Colombian big bands of the era.25 It was said of Bermúdez that he took the music of the black Colombian coast and "dressed it in tailcoats": he made it respectable and therefore white.26

During the 1940s and 1950s, Colombia experienced one of the most brutal periods of violence in its history. There was a civil war between the liberal and conservative parties, which was so bloody that it is referred to as La Violencia (1948-58).27 Political leaders in rural areas or the inhabitants of the villages considered themselves affiliated to one party or the other and created independent armies that attacked populations they considered to be on the opposite side. The first left-wing guerrilla groups were also formed at that time. A large part of the civilian population was at war and it was difficult to differentiate the official army from the other combatants.28 Indeed, central power was held by the conservative party. Thus, the national army was very permissive with the conservative paramilitary cells that obliterated liberal towns all over the country.29 During this turbulent period the Colombian nation was in the process of a political and cultural reconfiguration. As part of this reconfiguration, the central elites began to adopt different traditions as their own, including listening to and dancing cumbia. Radamel’s music video draws a parallel between the country’s elite adopting a whitened cumbia as a national tradition, to the Colombian army of today that continues to violently regulate and suppress black and queer bodies. There are moments in the video when images of these Colombian soldiers overlap with images of a couple dancing cumbia and Moisés Angulo, an openly white Christian singer who popularized orchestrated cumbias in the 1990s (fig. 2).

Figure 2: Radamel 666, gif from Yo Me Llamo Cumbia (music video), November 15, 2018. Gif courtesy of artists.

Since the aim was not to completely eradicate blackness, the big orchestras arranged the rhythm to keep it “hot” and “sexy.”30 Yet, the suppression of African-derived instruments entailed a sexual restriction. The genre, “whitened,” became docile. “My Name is Cumbia” exemplifies the outcome of this procedure. Its lyrics, in first person, personify cumbia as a flirting and dancing woman, “the queen wherever I go,” a woman whose beauty can only be compared to the beauty of the country, and, who is brown-skinned—a typification of the accepted mestizo.31 According to the song, the feminine mestiza of cumbia dances to be admired and to arouse, but not to enact her sexuality. As the "flirtatious female," she performs happily while the violin, saxophone, piano, and clarinet, playing the part of contentious males, court her.32 They make her fall in love, but she herself does not fall in love. Cumbia, as the song portrays, is provocative but lacks sexual agency. The lyrics imply a correspondence between the woman who personifies the rhythm and Colombia. The song’s title could well be “My Name is Colombia.” As such, the country is similarly seen as a docile woman without agency; in a decade (1950s) when Colombia was opening up to the modern Western capitalist markets through violence, the song offers it as a land that can be exploited.33

The repression of black bodies by Colombian armies today is, as stated in the introduction, far from over. I believe that this repression is always sexual. Hortense Spillers explores in her essay “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” the violence inflicted on black female slaves. The captive black woman, following Spillers’ text, descends to a “zero degree of social conceptualization” by becoming the “source” of an “irresistible” and “destructive” sexuality. At the same time, her body is reduced to a "thing." Because her sexuality gives a sense of “otherness” and passivity, her body can be translated “into a potential pornotroping.”34 Powerless, she can be brutalized by her captor. Losing the agency of her sexuality entails for the captive black woman the loss of her subjectivity. Sexuality, in this sense, is a source of power.

The Colombian soldiers who attack black populations are not the white captors who feel racially superior to the black slaves. On the contrary, in many cases, these soldiers are considered as racially inferior as their victims. Drawing on the works of Aníbal Quijano, Oyeronke Oyewumi, and Paula Gunn Allen, María Lugones demonstrates in “The Coloniality of Gender” that gender inequalities cannot exist without the colonial notion of race. Gender and race are ideological fictions. Still, when Lugones examines why (heterosexual) men, “who have been racialized as inferior, exhibit [indifference] to the systemic violences inflicted upon women of color” and upon, I must add, queer and trans* folks of color, the answer lies in how the colonial system in which these communities live influences their capital-labor relations. Living within the colonial and capitalist value system implies that it is always necessary to prove that one is a somebody in order to get social recognition and earn enough money to survive.35 In a country like Colombia, where races are not always so easily demarcated and most of the inhabitants consider themselves mestizos, ninguneo enables the creation of hierarchies within the population even when these cannot be made evident by the color of the skin or the gender of the other person. What Lugones calls the “colonial/modern gender system” is born from a racial classification that divided the population into “superior and inferior, rational and irrational, primitive and civilized, traditional and modern.”36

In the Colombian case, queerness is also doing the work of racialization. As Marquis Bey asserts in “Notes on (Trans)Gender,” blackness has always been trans* or, instead, transness has always been black.37 Following Bey’s conceptualization and understanding that black sexuality is also felt as a threat in the country, it is possible to relate the experiences of the captive black women with queer and trans* folks in the Colombian civil war. The fatal encounters between armies and queer bodies are sexual: they imply corporeal desires. As stated by a 2019 report of the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica de Colombia (Colombian National Center for Historical Memory), non-binary populations are both considered "incorrect" and "available subjects": "An undesirable subject, who should not be, but who at the same time is desired."38 Still, the sexuality of these encounters is “dubious,” as Spillers remarks, because between the “irresistible” and the “destructive,” or between the “incorrect” and the “available,” the Colombian armies and the white captors pursue to suppress any creative possibility of the encounter.39 Soldiers can only see “otherness” and passivity in queer and black bodies. By denying them the agency on their sexuality, soldiers invalidate the power of black and queer populations in the social realm; they reduce them towards a "zero degree of social conceptualization." They become nobodies.

A Methodology of Pleasure

The methodology of pleasure used by Radamel 666 resembles the theory of attraction sketched by Freud in the 1905 edition of his Three Essays. To explain and, in a way, to dispute what he called “sexual aberrations,” he introduces two terms: the “sexual object,” which is the source of attraction, and the “sexual aim,” which is the action impelled by the drive towards the first.40 Freud uses this theory as a way to explain and de-moralize sexual acts without genital union or acts that linger on the path to the final "sexual aim." These are “perversions”: sexual acts without reproductive purposes. To define them, he lists “sexual objects,” like same-sex bodies, kids, animals, mouths, and oral orifices, as well as “sexual aims,” like kissing, touching, looking, or the inflection of pain. After dwelling on each sexual act, he concludes that there is no “sexual aim” without “perversion” and that, actually, the word is “a term of reproach.”41

Indeed, Freud asserts that the connection between a “sexual aim” and a “sexual object” is not as close as imagined, and both are “merely soldered together.”42 Both are independent and not essentially unified. They are, thus, permissible for queer recombinations. With this in mind, my endeavor to open even more the relationship between a “sexual aim” and a “sexual object” and contend that Freud’s theorization can be translated into a methodology for research and artistic creation. If this is the case, academic and artistic practices can be fantasized as a process of fixation between a subject and an object in which, instead of being separated by objectivity, they can look at, touch, penetrate, suck, or even masturbate each other.43 In this sense, I must add, neither of them is passive. Neither is the encounter between Radamel and the sonorous body of “My Name is Cumbia.

The cover is a perversion. There is some laziness in the interpretation of the original song. This draws on the trans* artists’ practice of using laziness, which Afriti Bankwalla studies and advocates as a form of resistance to the productive capitalist world and a response to the exhaustion of being disregarded by society all the time.44 For example, Radamel’s cover invokes laziness both in its performance by the band, and in its reception by the audience. Radamel’s music video (somewhat ironically) inserts archival clips to reference the more conventional form of dancing to cumbia, which involves disciplined, elaborated, and mindful foot and hip movements.45 However, their cover uses a punk beat, which dissuades its listeners from undertaking the labor of dancing cumbia. Instead, it lures them into moshing. While moshing is certainly energetic, the jumps and punches can be read as a lazy opposition to the traditional dance.

This laziness can also be read as a different way of reading time. Nguyen Tan Hoang's statement about queer “belatedness” could well apply to Radamel's laziness. According to Hoang, “belatedness,” rather than being considered as an indication of “arrested development or lack of responsibility,” can be conceptualized “as a spatial movement out of the mainstream/into the margins.” The cover would be part of what the Vietnamese scholar calls "a homonormative time line.”46 Radamel shortens the song's original version, which lasts more than three minutes, to about a minute and a half, by repeating fragments of the lyrics.

Radamel’s song unfolds in queer time. For Jack Halberstam, queer time is “...the perverse turn away from the narrative coherence of adolescence - early adulthood - marriage - reproduction - child rearing - retirement - death.”47 In the same vein, Lee Edelman assumes queerness as a position that stands against what he calls “reproductive futurism”: it is the refusal and rejection of the primary reproductive act of capitalist society, the formation of families and the rearing of children.48 By embracing these non-(re)productive perspectives, it is possible to understand Radamel's assertions that they do not want the band to be considered an LGBTQIA+ band but rather an excuse “to test substances and have hangovers the day after rehearsal.”49 Accordingly, if their lyrics were explicit about sexual intolerance in Colombia and if they turned the band into an LGBTQIA+ manifesto, their exposure as a musical group would be very different. Instead, Radamel merely performs in specialized bars or at specific demonstrations. “My Name is Cumbia”’s video has barely eight hundred views on YouTube, and I believe I have contributed to the last one hundred.50

Consequently, queer and trans* practices can become, as Bankwalla and Joshua Lubin-Levy explain, “aimless” and “useless.”51 Lubin-Levy is referring to the work of the gay American underground filmmaker Jack Smith. For Lubin-Levy, Smith’s art is constituted around the “useless” in contraposition to “an economy that sees the world only in use and exchange”—and in the number of views or likes a video has garnered.52 Accordingly, Radamel’s “aimlessness” is, in its own punk and trans* way, a political stance. Off the stage, Ambiente Familiar and KatPink are known as Daniela Maldonado and Katalina Ángel, leaders of the 10-year-old Red Comunitaria Trans de Bogotá (Trans Community Network of Bogotá). According to their website, they use art “as a strategy for dissemination and political and social denunciation,” and, through the audiovisual format, they look for “different ways to narrate and tell about the situation of transgender folks in Colombia.”53 Among their main projects is Travestiteca, a virtual platform where they archive the community's creations.

Figure 3: Ambiente Familiar and KatPink dressing suggestively for their gigs. Radamel 666, Tremenda selección (En vivo) (music video), June 8, 2019. Image courtesy of artists.

Activism through art is not unfamiliar to Radamel's artists. Hence, the “aimlessness” of their music is a determination. If making and performing music is Radamel's excuse to get drunk, then their cumbia-punk is a “perverse” cumbia.54 It still has a “sexual aim,” but one that strives for the “highest degree of pleasure” without putting “itself at the services of the reproductive function.”55 Written and performed without (capitalist) productive or (economic) reproductive purposes, it is a cumbia grounded on pleasure. The “aimlessness,” which Gatito Puente, the drummer of Radamel, also names “nonsense,” yields a political effect. For Gatito Puente, the audience that goes to their gigs enjoys their music “because it shits on them all the same.”56 Shitting on everything and everybody “all the same” is a political stance. It sets, moreover, sexual and non-productive pleasures as the basis of social life. From this perspective, the encounter with “My Name is Cumbia” can only be sexual (fig. 3).

The Sexual Encounter: Demonizing Cumbia

In his article "Gimme Gimme Gimme This... Gimme Gimme Gimme That," Muñoz states that the aesthetics of punk rock are based on negativity: "...the kind of negativity that displaces simple oppositions between the positive and the negative and instead show us something else."57 As evidenced by the practice of the armies, trans* and black people are considered, in the Colombian context, as something negative. Hence, Radamel's trans* and black engagement with the cover is their way of using the “negative” to go against ninguneo and to “show us something else.” Radamel 666’s musicians refer to their process of negativity as “demonizing”: “...we like to merenguize the satanic or demonize merengue, I'm not sure what it is yet.”58 In this quote, I find resonances between Radamel's demonizing and the concept of the "demonic" as theorized by Freud and Laplanche.

For Freud, the “demonic” is a compulsion born from trauma that Laplanche then links to the “sexual.” The “demonic” is a force that jeopardizes the ego and obeys nothing but primitive and intuitive impulses, the “compulsions of fantasy.”59 Laplanche rearranges Freud’s opposition between the “life drive,” based on procreation and survival, and the “death drive,” based on self-destruction and aggression, and unites them both within the “sexual.” For Laplanche, the “sexual” is something broader than sex, gender, or sexuality. He explains that, during physical contact, infants cannot fully translate the messages that come from the unconscious of their caregivers. What is untranslated becomes repressed, and this unrepresented and unrepresentable “material” forms the unconscious of the infant, which for Laplanche is the “sexual.”60 This “sexual” is “polymorphous,” like infantile sexuality.61 Because the life and death drives coexist in the erotic, every sexual encounter can become life-threatening in the sense of challenging the coherence of the ego: “aggression and pleasure are immediately mixed together.” In every encounter, the “sexual life drive” and the “sexual death drive” are involved: “In the mirror, ‘you and I’ are one and the same thing, a statement which can also be expressed ‘either you or I.’”62

I argue that the sexual encounter between Radamel and “My Name is Cumbia” is a way to demonize the original song and cumbia as a genre.63 This demonizing entails digging into what has been repressed in the song and in cumbia: it opens the doors for the “sexual.” For the sonorous body of “My Name is Cumbia,” the repressed is also in the unconscious of the song. This song, in particular, had not been “whitened”: it was composed as already “white” and passive. But it does carry that repression. Their first version of the cover was called simply “Cumbia,” probably as a way of insinuating that the song was inspired by the rhythm and not just the song.64 Ambiente Familiar’s already quoted theorization, “...we like to merenguize the satanic or demonize merengue…,” acknowledges that this is a bidirectional act: not only do they demonize traditional genres, but they are vulnerable to the possibility of being transformed by them. Radamel 666, representing “the satanic,” can be “merenguized,” or “cumbialized,” as well.

To explore the “sexual,” the “demonic” must jeopardize the ego because, according to Freud, the ego is the one who controls and domesticates sexual impulses.65 Radamel “shits on” the sonorous body of the song by deciding to suck “My Name is Cumbia” instead of singing it. This approach unsettles “My Name is Cumbia”’s ego. Certainly, the whole encounter is overwhelming. Without asking for forgiveness or permission, the band overpowers the sonorous body of the original song with its punk beat, covers it with its imposition of pleasure, and overcomes it with its (trans)sexuality. According to Avgi Saketopoulou, the “overwhelm” is a way to explore what has been repressed because it seeks to “threaten the ego's coherence.”66 Although there is no absolute truth about the repressed, the "overwhelm" lets people feel more in possession of it.67 This is not a possession of the ego. Contrary to an attitude of control, the "overwhelm" movement is based on asking for "more and more" in an encounter—more tension, more pain, more pleasure—and requires a kind of consent that Saketopoulou calls “limit consent,” which directs that the parties, with full trust, be willing to surrender to each other.68

The “overwhelm” in Radamel’s cover is embodied in the video's editing. The images appear blurred, without consistency, and merged together. It is not clear where one begins and the other ends. There are no hierarchies, no doubts, and no pauses. The images open up, intertwine, and intersect each other. This is the “limit consent” Saketopoulou advices. Each body surrenders to the other completely (fig. 4). Surrendered, the band and the song can explore themselves. This exploration is what I identify as demonizing. The demonizing in the video is done by “overwhelming” the clips, presumably taken from YouTube, with a night vision effect. This generates strong contrasts in the colors of the images, modifying the skin of those who appear. Whites and blacks are highlighted, with purples and greens added. The white skin of Moisés Angulo sometimes appears purple. At other times, it is so white that it becomes transparent and blends in with the background. The campesinos in patron saint festivals appear with a dark complexion, and the bodies of the soldiers at the end of the video are entirely white. The night vision effect pushes all these bodies to what Griffin Hansbury, in “The Masculine Vaginal,” calls “the transgender edge”: “a psychic space (…. ) that, when unpoliced, becomes porous, allowing outlaws to penetrate, sliding into a zone not easily defined”: the bodies in the video become “porous,” and everything around them can "slide" through them.69

Figure 4: Radamel 666, gif from Yo Me Llamo Cumbia, November 15, 2018. Gif provided by the artists.

With the doors of the “sexual” open in “My Name is Cumbia,” what has been repressed in cumbia—populations, heritages, sexualities—can slip from the “sexual” so the band can be in possession of them. In Radamel's version, then, demonizing equally implies bringing back what has been repressed in cumbia. In the singing of “My Name is Cumbia,” what slides through the exploration of the “sexual” is the sexuality and black heritage of the song. This exploration brings back the sexual agency that the genre lost. Pleased by the sucking, it is possible to hear in the cover how the lyrics of the song also grow a “sexual aim” and penetrate Radamel’s mouths.70 The ingesting of the lyrics means that the singers are fleshing out the original words, either solidifying or gelatinizing them. While Ambiente Familiar and KatPink suck them, the lyrics respond to the provocation. The singers inhale and exhale them, ingest and regurgitate them. Radamel’s demonizing is a re-sexualizing. Yet, re-sexualizing “My Name is Cumbia” cannot mean returning it to what the genre was in the nineteenth century.71 Radamel's demonizing involves taking things beyond the traditional: they impel for new translations of the messages with which the genre was initially developed. The band repeating "Cumbia, cumbia, cumbia: my name is Cumbia" makes one wonder who Cumbia is. Since the singers in Radamel, who repeat the chorus, are neither men nor women, the rhythm's gender is queered in this version of the song. In re-sexualizing cumbia, the feminine rhythm becomes trans*.

Similarly, Radamel 666 performs the first black version of “My Name is Cumbia.”72 Through the porosity of transness, the song’s black heritage also arises: demonizing, and re-sexualizing, as an antidote for the whitening is a de-whitening. As Bey asserts, transness is always black. The solidified or gelatinized lyrics stimulate a tension when Ambiente Familiar and KatPink sing, “My skin is as brown as the leather of my drum.”73 The lyrics cannot refer to the actual skin of the singers, which is white, nor to the leather of their drum set, which is plastic and white as well. The singers have to dress their skin elsewhere. If skin can be defined as what confines flesh and determines bodies, then their non-binary configuration function as their skin. But, instead of confining and determining, Radamel’s skin is difficult to catalog or label; quoting Paul Preciado's trans* lecture, it is a skin that “cannot yet be considered true in a predetermined regime of knowledge and power.”74 Hence, the lyrics stress and penetrate Radamel’s queerness as an undetermined, i.e., dark skin. The band has demonized cumbia, and they have been “cumbialized.”

Still, Radamel wants more. In the video, they also “shit on” elements that identify Colombia as a nation: its map, its military, its folk musicians, its traditional dances, and its popular festivals.75 If cumbia personifies Colombia in the song, Radamel also embodies the country as a transwoman and contests its patriarchy and its alleged European ethnicity. By demonizing “My Name is Cumbia,” they awaken the voice and presence, i.e., the demands for pleasure, of the queer and black populations that have been repressed in the country. In the video, the map of Colombia is completely black (fig. 5).

Figure 5: Radamel 666, still from Yo Me Llamo Cumbia (music video), November 15, 2018. Image courtesy of the artists.

This “perverse” and non-productive encounter between Radamel and “My Name is Cumbia” changes the logic of the captor and the armies: “My Name is Cumbia,” as a sonorous white and patriarchal body, is also “incorrect” and “available.” However, in the encounter between Radamel and the song, instead of denying the others' sexuality, they celebrate it. Instead of brutally turning off the encounter with the other, they heat it up. Following Laplanche’s mirror image, perhaps in the encounter between Radamel and the song, there was a moment when the “you and I” became an “either you or I.” Yet, neither the song nor the band wants to stop because, in this encounter, although there may be pain, as there is always in sucking or penetrating a body, pleasure is favored.

Approaching the song with pleasure means that Radamel focuses on the event, or the experience, rather than their ego. If the ego is the one who controls and domesticates, then the ego is a somebody. For this reason, encounters based on non-productive pleasure, as Radamel proposes, would be founded on enhancing the present communal (and erotic) experience instead of focusing on an individual good. Without the ego, i.e., by refusing the need to be somebody, Radamel creates a space in which ninguneo becomes irrelevant as a social practice: they dismount the distinction between nobodies and somebodies. Likewise, they disband the need for hierarchies and sexual restrictions: the foundations of the white heterosexual ego. In this sense, Radamel queer and black version of “My Name is Cumbia” is performed without essentializing race or gender. If these are myths and social constructions, the musicians incorporate transness and blackness in and beyond their bodies. By focusing on the event, Radamel also breaks Lugones’ “colonial/modern gender system.” Bringing back to “My Name is Cumbia” its sexual agency involves a reverse process of whitening and desexualization. Yet, this kind of detransition does not entail a binary result of white and black or male and female bodies. The non-productive event heightens, in Laplanche’s terms, the “polymorphism” of the “sexual.” Embracing the sexuality of the other, which in this case also means exploring and relishing it, implies diluting the ground on which the opposition of genders and races is sustained.


Radamel 666’s “My Name is Cumbia” ends with some sounds produced by the synthesizer or drums that resemble bells. As in many rites, the bells announce that the moment of trance or invocation is over. Radamel knows that the dissolution of the self cannot be infinite. The performers have to reassemble their ego after the song. In “My Name is Cumbia” and Radamel’s non-dubious and “perverse” sexual encounter, nobody is somebody, and, moreover, nobody is a no-body. After the encounter, all bodies survive the experience and keep their powers in society. Who knows how they have changed by the event, as they were “shit on,” “demonized,” and “cumbialized.” Still, the bodies are preserved and “perverted” for future encounters. The audience has witnessed, danced, moshed, and lived this experience. They probably now know that the pleasure of a (sexual) encounter arises when there is no need to impose oneself on the other.

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I am aware that there is something masturbatory in these claims. In my defense, I desire to believe that it is this version of the song that masturbates me.

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