Calafia Armada is a diverse collective of performers telling the story of the first and only warrior queen of California through the rhythms and melodies of the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Mexico.
The band emerged in February of 2016 when musicians from various local bands were drawn together by a mutual fascination of Cumbia and its cousin rhythms from around the Caribbean. The first members came from the La Ceiba and Puyakan music collectives, but the complex rhythms and the story of Calafia soon attracted some of most intrepid musicians in the Bay Area to fill out a lineup that includes two guitars, bass, trumpet, trombone, vocal harmonies, and over a dozen different percussion instruments such as the Tambora and the Quijada. Today the ten member band includes a dancer and plays regular shows in their hometown of Oakland as well as performing at concerts and educational events around California.
When the Spaniards reached the Island of Califaz, they found the land ruled by a warrior queen of African descent named Calafia who struck fear in their hearts. Our band pays homage to this hidden mythstory, sharing how our state was named for a strong woman who challenged European imperialism and came to embody the fierce spirit of the plants, animals, and people of California. Calafia Armada formed in large part with the purpose of studying the roots of Cumbia in Afro-Mexican and Afro-Colombian folk music, embedding the story of Queen Calafia in the rhythms and melodies that have been brought North to California in the last century.
Photos by Katie Reinman