This is an interesting question—I’m going to take “old versus new” as a request for two separate lists of four, one hewing to old cumbia sounds, and the other to hybrids or otherwise modernized versions cumbia. Which is tough! Especially so given that I’m far from an expert on cumbia, and the term can refer to a pretty diverse array of sounds, depending on the geography. However, I do like a lot of this music, so I’m going to try and do these two lists to the best of my ability (the line I’m drawing between old and new here is pretty shaky, as I listen to very little traditional folk cumbia; also, apologies to Mexico. I don’t know your cumbia very well.):
1. Anibal Velasquez y su Conjunto: “Triguena” There’s nothing at all about these selections that should be taken as some sort of representative sample—it’s just stuff I like. And I really like this. Velasquez was from Baranquilla, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and he ran a hot band. Love the sound of that accordion.
2. Luis E. Martinez y su Conjunto: “Cumbia Sampuesana” I don’t know the year this was recorded, but it was likely the late 40s, and it has some really odd accordion playing on it, which helps give it this sort of broken vibe that’s strangely intoxicating.
3. Lucho Bermudez: "Colombia Tierra Querida" This is a terrific cumbia jazz tune. I wish I knew the name of the woman singing on it—she’s fantastic. [edit: now I do know who the singer is—her name is Matilde Diaz). Bermudez would have been 100 in January.
4. La Sonora de Baru: “Negra Linda” Another Colombian group (all the “vieja” selections are—that’s where the music originally comes from), and I another I know little about, these guys deliver a nice, mellow cumbia here, with trombone taking the lead during the instrumental passages.
1. Los Mirlos: “Sonido Amazonico” Los Mirlos were part of Peru’s chicha music scene, which took Colombian cumbia as a starting point and added surf and psychedelia to the mix. This instrumental takes us deep into the jungle primeval.
2. Gaston Rubio y Los Cinco Ases con Ricardo Loor: “Conejo Blanco” Gaston Rubio was from Ecuador, and his update of cumbia includes generous doses of bright garage rock organ. This song moves at a crazy clip and constantly introduces unexpected new elements.
3. Lito Barrientos y su Orquesta: “Cumbia en do Menor” Cumbia from El Salvador. This song has a majestic, crashing big band arrangement and some really heavy percussion, not to mention some great clarinet playing and amusing vocal interjections.
4. Los Satelites: “Ocaso Marino” This is a great Colombian big-band cumbia laced with some nicely acerbic electric guitar, probably from the early 60s or late 50s.
This is also probably a good place to mention that, while it doesn’t particularly speak to me, the modern electronic cumbia sound of Argentina is interesting, and I encourage people to check out Chancha Via Circuito and decide for themselves.