Along the dusky streets which appear as if illuminated permanently through a sepia filter the telltale chords of vallenato music so beloved of the costeño people has been replaced. To the right, colonial plaster-work disintegrates under the slightest touch, the dank is claustrophobic, the town’s humidity stifling and bats swoop down low as if cutting a path through the syrupy nighttime air. To the left, the Brazo de Mompox, a branch of the Magdalena River, Colombia’s most iconic waterway swirls and sashays with fluid legends of a time past of indigenous lore and mystery.
Diomedes and Silvestre are consigned to an otherworldly silence as homemade sound systems are briefly extinguished during this one weekend in October. The night-tripper has spoken and his swagger has given way to a different and altogether more comfortable tempo. Jazz has taken ahold of Mompox. The streets now echo a syncopated and improvised rhythm befitting of the airless parallel colonial streets deep in the Depresion Momposina.
This neo-Andalus town thrust upon the New World in the 17th century is likened in the guidebooks to a Colombian version of New Orleans. The heat and the wetlands are presumably similar, but there, the comparisons end. This was the case until 2012 when Governor Juan Carlos Gossain – himself resembling a slick yet proud maître d’- made the Jazz Festival a reality in this forgotten outpost of southern Bolivar. And where better to recline in the cinnamon breeze, cocktail in hand and combat the closeness and the soporific heat with Miles Davis’ record from 1960, Sketches of Spain?
What kind of swamp music or off-hand take on Miles Davis that the University of Tennessee Big Band Troubadours will be bringing to Mompox remains to be seen but for those along for the ride, perhaps the Chocoano beats of ChocQuibTown – who will be closing the event – is more to your liking? Only the rough growth mataraton and enormous Suán trees can claim to have observed Mompós through all of her evolutions from indigenous settlement to bustling colonial port and now tourism and jazz destination but surely this is a new cultural beginning for Mompox.
Our town feels exclusive, so much so that to stumble upon her is to gain entry to a unique jazz club with Dr. John at the piano. There’s no doubting it, drink of the water and listen to jazz in Mompós and you too will be struck under the hoodoo moon.
II Jazz Mompox Festival: Oct 4th and 5th.
Santa Cruz de Mompox.