November 28, 2023
Chantal Flores meets the vinyl collectors and sellers of Monterrey, Mexico.
On Saturday evening, Jorge Constancio sits on the edge of the bed in front of the record player and mixes soap and water in a spray bottle. At his feet is one of the many plastic boxes in which he stores his collection of 1,000 records. He has been collecting Colombian music, such as cumbia, paseo, and vallenato, since 1989.
“On Saturdays, after playing softball and having dinner with my children, I sit with my records. I play one, I clean it, I play another, I clean it, and so on,” 52-year-old Constancio says.
Constancio works six days a week as a mechanical engineer in the city of Monterrey, in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León. Some weekends he works as a sonidero, playing music and emceeing parties. At the bailes, he knows the crowd wants to dance cumbia, vallenato, and porro. In the warmth of his home, he enjoys the sounds of the guitar of Colombian artists Gildardo Montoya, and Joaquín and Agustín Bedoya, pioneers of the music parrandera.
Constancio is one of the many record collectors in Nuevo León who specializes in Colombian music. Cumbia Colombiana, and its local subgenre cumbia rebajada (a slowed-down version), are deeply rooted in Monterrey’s musical landscape and have become a haven for many workers in this industrial city.
However, with the resurgence of vinyl records and the global spread of cumbia music, the hunt for specific cumbia colombiana records has become a search in a haystack.
For 30 years, Jorge Solís and his store Discos Viniles LP’s have been the go-to place for collectors in Monterrey. Located in the desolate Mercado Díaz Ordaz in the neighbourhood of La Independencia, Discos Viniles offers a wide range of genres, from norteñas and cumbias colombiana to rock and disco. It is also one of the few places to have survived the economic downturn, the advent of the Internet, and a pandemic.
Although Solís has been collecting records for years, today he only sees himself as a seller. But in the back corner of his small store, Solís hides a pile of records under a shelf. It looks like his special collection.
Every day he takes a record from there to listen to while he waits for customers. Even if these records are for sale, he looks after them until a buyer who appreciates them comes along. “This morning I actually sold one from this stock for 1,000 pesos [46 pounds],” he says, laughing.
Solís takes the album Recordando un amor by Los Vallenatos de la Cumbia—one of the first groups from Monterrey to achieve success playing Colombian cumbia—out of the pile. The orange-coloured cover is adorned with handwritten messages in graffiti fonts. “[Cumbia] vinyl records are mistreated a lot here. They ruin them, damage them, scratch them. They put the beer on top; crumbs fall on them. So for those records to get here in good condition is very difficult. That’s precisely why they are more expensive,” explains Solís.
Aarón Eivet, aka “Randy Salazar”, sonidero and visual artist, started his collection of 400 records in 2004. He explains that the popularity of cumbia continues unabated thanks to its dissemination through interviews, documentaries, and films such as I’m No Longer Here, shortlisted for Best International Feature Film at the 2021 Oscars.
“On the one hand, cumbia records were undervalued so the people who managed to collect them are people who are very passionate about them,” says Eivet about the condition of old cumbia records. “And they are records that are sometimes played more than the mañanitas [Mexico’s birthday song].”
Over the years, Constancio recalls, there were more collectors and more people coming from other states looking for these vinyl records. Later, the Internet increased the demand for them. “A lot of music was lost here in Monterrey,” says Constancio. “As the years went by, we couldn’t find the LPs. Nowadays it is more difficult to find certain discs of cumbia Colombiana.”
The low wages in the country and the high cost of living in Monterrey forced many of these collectors to sell their most valuable records. After the birth of his first child, Solís lost his job. He had to sell his entire collection to support his family, but this made him realize that he could also be a salesman. He found a new job as a construction worker and spent part of his salary building up a new collection to sell.
The first record Solís bought at the age of 13 was “Y Volveré” from the Chilean ballad band, Los Ángeles Negros. He started working as a bricklayer’s helper when he was 11. For years, he didn’t listen to the records he bought. It was until 10 years later, when he had a collection of 300 records, that he bought a Panasonic turntable. He started with the Los Ángeles Negros record and followed the order in which he bought them. “Afterwards, I didn’t even know what to play since there were so many,” he says, still with a surprised tone.
Solís knew he couldn’t keep any of the records. This time, he included all kinds of genres. “The problem is that I started collecting records for myself again and this doesn’t go with the sale. They would ask me about a record and I told them I didn’t have it, but I actually had it stored,” says Solís.
Although many come to Discos Viniles looking for cumbia, Patty Valero, one of the few longtime female collectors in town, comes for the disco records. Under the disco ball hanging from the ceiling in the centre of her living room, Valero remembers the first time she heard about the flea market 20 years ago at the Puente del Papa, a bridge outside the Mercado Díaz Ordaz that crosses the usually dry Santa Catarina river.
Her parents had died, and she wanted to return to this passion from her childhood. “I didn’t know any collector here in Monterrey. Imagine! First of all, I am a woman. No good! Because the majority of collectors are men,” Valero says between laughs.
The flea market at the Puente del Papa was the first place where Solís sold his records before moving inside the market. It was also one of the first places where most collectors found their first records until a hurricane put an end to the market in 2010.
Despite the shift to digital music and MP3 players, Valero still wanted to see the records spin. “The music I wanted to have didn’t exist on the platforms yet, and the music I wanted everyone saw it as out of fashion. So I bought it super cheap.”
For Eivet, it was important to create new spaces to preserve the vinyl record. In 2013, he began La Pulga del Disco, an itinerant flea market that offers rare and hard-to-find records. “Ten years ago la Pulga was not as valued as it is today,” says Eivet. “It wasn’t so much to trade, it was more about helping collectors to find a specific record.”
Collecting cumbia colombianas is about building and maintaining a cultural heritage that has shaped not only the city’s music landscape but also the life processes of the people who feel embraced by it, especially the working class. While Eivet honours the cumbia rebajada through his musical projects, Constancio keeps it alive every weekend in celebrations. Even Valero, also known as DJ Diva Disco, has a few cumbia records in her collection.
“We’ve spent years discovering Colombian music and its cumbias,” says Constancio in awe. “And we still have a long way to go.”
Words by Chantal Flores. Photos by Daniel García.