“A Universal Jam”, Teto Ocampo

Ernesto ‘Teto’ Ocampo. Photo credit: Carlos Solano.

Ernesto “Teto” Ocampo. In memoriam (1969-2023)

Interview and comments © Sara Ríos and Juan G. Sánchez M.

Translated from Spanish © Jocelyn Montalban

If you prefer to read this post as a PDF, please click HERE

The crickets and cicadas awake in the night, the rattle follows the rhythm of the jungle, and suddenly a sweet flute, a human blow vibrating within a reed; music born from the longing to follow the vibration of the earth, the percussion of the Amazonian forest. These are some of the images that traverse those who listen for the first time to “La llamada” (The Call), the first track of the album “Copoazú” by Hombre de barro (Mud Man), by the Colombian musicians Ernesto “Teto” Ocampo, Urián Sarmiento, and Juan Manuel Toro. There is no sheet music to follow this paleo-futuristic rhythm, only improvisation, whistling, intermittence, and blowing.

The Hombre de barro album was what led us to interview Teto, at his home in La Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá in mid-June 2015. Our intention at that time was to publish the interview the same year along with a review of the album, but we never sat down to organize the material. Perhaps, we did not fully understand the ideas that Teto was sharing with us. Years passed, and Teto passed away in 2023. Today, we recover the recording of the interview and share and comment on some excerpts in this tribute by Siwar Mayu to Teto Ocampo and Hombre de barro.

Teto was a composer, arranger, guitarist, and sharu flute improviser. Whether for the reader who is just discovering Teto Ocampo’s work or for those who have been enjoying his projects for years, in the end, it is his music that best explains who this musician from Río de Oro, César (Colombia), was; from the Colombian folk music of “La Tierra del Olvido” (The Land of Forgetfulness) by Carlos Vives to the paleo futuristic jazz of Hombre de Barro and Mucho Indio, passing through the tropical rock of Bloque de Búsqueda and the electronic cumbia of Sidestepper.

↳ “Farewell Teto” is a tribute from Carlos Vives to his friend.

Teto Ocampo was also, or above all, an improviser, as he emphasized in our interview: “When one improvises, one can only play what one plays, what one knows how to play.” For Teto, in the art of improvisation, the sound is free, it connects with the moment as if a voice were dictating to the musician what comes next. Teto improvised, as he explained to us, not only on notes but also on musical modes and phrases; he improvised as if being carried away by a river, “playing music,” not “touching music” (from the Spanish “tocar música”.)

It is precisely improvisation that inspires the album “Copoazú” by Hombre de Barro: “Basically, we are a group of friends who are musicians,” Teto told us, “good musicians who enjoy playing together (…) We are musicians of music. We are improvisers. That comes in large part from jazz.” In 2013, Ernesto “Teto” Ocampo, Urián Sarmiento, and Juan Manuel Toro gathered to play together in the Amazonian forest: “We went for a week, we stayed in a Maloca [ceremonial house], that’s like the civilization (…) Then we went to the middle of the forest where there is nothing, and we set up a camp there with a solar-powered studio, so we could record and we recorded many takes of many things, many hours, every day, for a week.”

↳ HERE you can listen to the album “Copoazú” by Hombre de Barro

The album was recorded with the assistance of Wuapapura Music Stream Earth, who have a solar-powered mobile studio for recording in natural spaces, and with the Fundación Raíces Vivas –a project that works with Indigenous communities in the Amazonian region– who facilitated the intercultural dialogue and the permits for the meeting with the Tikuna community of Puerto Nariño (Amazonas, Colombia). Reflecting on the result, Teto remarked: “We are surprised by what sounds there. We do not even remember playing that. Many were improvisations, let’s say, inspired by the surrounding (…) More than an exchange, it is the musicians finding themselves with the forest (…) The fact of being there and playing was a spiritual performance.”

When one listens to “Copoazú,” one is left with many questions, such as how the decision to undertake this project was made, or what the motivations of the musicians were. This is what Teto shared with us: “It is interesting to go and make music with the jaguar. To make music with the guacharaca and all those birds and insects. It was beautiful. When we entered into a trance with them, it was incredible. At night it was difficult.” The immersion in the Amazon was precisely an encounter with the music that is part of the daily life of the jungle communities. In addition to the flapping of wings or the friction of cicada legs, some songs from “Copoazú” feature the counterpoint of Tikuna songs, performed by Doña Alba Lucía, specifically related to the harvest of the chontaduro (when it is sought out, when it is cut, when it is prepared), and with the seed of the huito, from which body paint is extracted.

As seen in the video prepared by Wuapapura (see below), before venturing into the forest, the musicians worked all night shredding the huito. With its juice, the Tikuna elder painted their bodies and gave them their clans. “It’s like smearing on a mango,” Teto said, laughing. Teto’s clan was the ant, he told us. As the day passes, the paint becomes darker, until it’s “black black” at night: “This is done to enter the jungle. This is done to protect yourself from pests, and so the jungle recognizes you. If one does not have a spiritual attitude and respect, the forest can kill you, spit you out…”

↳ This video was produced by Wuapapura, and gathers some images during the recording of Copoazú in Puerto Nariño.

How does life change after a week in the middle of the Amazonian forest? What remains, what images, what sounds, what thoughts? This is what Teto told us:

“Life changes… all that’s left is gratitude. To be nothing, just an ant in that green sea. Here [in Bogotá] everything is so independent, wandering alone, not caring about friends. But no, not there, if you get lost, you are left alone, no…, there the best thing is to be able to be with your friends. Fire, for example, becomes very important. Many lessons learned.” 

Teto Ocampo

“Was there any existing concept before recording?” was another question we asked, to which Teto clarified that the music we hear on the album is the product of what emerged along with the soundscape of the forest. Some songs were born there, and others were built with arrangements and notes brought from the city. In both cases, the sounds of “Copoazú” seem to mimic the sounds of the forest or, at least, to enter the same rhythm. This is how Teto explained it:

“That was the exercise we were going to do. We are aware that the universe is making music all the time. Every minute there is music, and one can catch it. Music is passing through here, through life, through everything, a man hammering, the church bell, the dog that passed by. Some things are louder than others, the hammer is louder, the dog has pads on its feet and walks on them, but it’s also making sound, it’s just that one does not hear it all at once, but the dog has a rhythm it needs because there’s something over there, another person has a rhythm he needs because who knows what is calling him there, here the minibus stopped and then the guy on the other side honked, and just like this everything is connected. And besides that, it is not just the sound, it’s everything, it’s peace, love, light, tranquility, insecurity, they are cosmic waves that are not only on earth, right? And that is a tremendous power of healing if one manages to enter this rhythm. Music is that capability of healing oneself and of healing others. And that’s the way, making it possible for oneself to enter, and for people to enter into that universal jam.”

Teto Ocampo

The day we interviewed Teto, he received the remastered file of the second album of Mucho Indio, another of his collective projects. At the end of the interview, he left us with his music; and now that we think about it, perhaps we were some of the first ones to listen to the album. It is inspired by the ancestral music of the Ikv, Wayuu, and Nasa peoples, accompanied by paleo futuristic notes and scriptures, which was the methodology Teto used. This is what he shared with us in 2015:

“I have a group called Mucho Indio. (…) (…) Here in Mucho Indio, I’m searching for the spirituality of this music, and I am not so much jazz-oriented, it is more minimalist, much more simple harmonically, less complex. I am looking for the brightness, that does not lose the brightness, because that is music that makes you glow. So there are no solos, very few improvisation solos because that is full of ego, right? It does not have to be like that, but it bothered me, in the end, I ended up discarding the solos.”

Teto Ocampo

↳ Listen HERE to the complete album from Mucho Indio

While we were listening to his music, we told Teto that some tracks by Hombre de Barro and Mucho Indio reminded us of India, and that perhaps there was wordplay precisely between “indio” (as Indigenous) and “India” (the country) to which he responded: “What Hombre de Barro or Mucho Indio have most in common with Indian music it is not the music, not the melody, not the rhythm, but the purpose, they resemble each other in purpose, which is not like Western music, whose purpose is blurrier, its purpose doesn’t seem to be spiritual (…) The songs of the Indians [Indigenous peoples] are for making invocations, not for playing just anything, so in that way they resemble each other.”

At this point of our interview, Teto told us that, in addition to his cumbia heritage, seventy percent of his personal archive consisted of music from Africa, India, Turkey, and Mongolia; non-Western sounds. And amidst all of this: jazz. For him, it was essential to emphasize that Bogotá was an avant-garde jazz city: “a lot of people making very unique music, something terrific is happening here and people do not know.” For him, Bogotá had a jazz scene far superior to what can be found in other jazz cities in the world: “Every time I give an interview I say that because I am interested in people knowing. There’s an education problem here.” Bogotá jazz musicians perform alchemy with their music through experimentation with Indigenous or folk songs, producing or “liberating” creative paths. In this urban crosscultural space, minimalism and spiritual quests serve as the bridge between diverse musical traditions. Beyond harmony, rhythms, styles, and genres, Hombre de Barro and Mucho Indio demand from the listener an experience that surpasses mere listening, a sensory experience that speaks to us of non-human languages. As Teto told us:

“The music of powerful plants, for example, that’s not in the books, that can only be created by making music and ingesting plants. I think there are many people who are making new music, incredible music here, that I believe are making that music because they have taken yagé, like Toro, Urián, Héctor Buitrago, people who are in the ceremony, who know what a ceremony is and why people are in the ceremony ingesting plants. One ingests plants to heal, and the music one makes after healing is to share that healing and heal others as well. So that’s the thing, at the end of the day, it is healing. That’s it. Music can heal, and if music can heal, music must heal. I mean, I do not want to make music that makes people sick, why would I want to… So I do my best to make music that heals.”

Teto Ocampo

Throughout the musical legacy that Ernesto “Teto” Ocampo left, we can travel around the world and perceive how everything is connected through sound. One of the musician’s pleasures was precisely to record the soundscapes he encountered on his travels: “Sunrise is great because the birds sing, and you realize the tremendous difference between one place and another.” Thus, through the music of life, we learn to perceive and recognize the territory we inhabit as humans; the pleasure lies in making music that resonates with these soundscapes.

From music to territory and identity, at the end of our interview, Teto gifted us a reflection beyond music, one that touches creativity in all its directions, as well as Colombian and Latin American identity in all its wounds and futurities. Speaking about the struggle of the Indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and how they have known how to resist, but also dialogue with the settler, he told us:

“…I committed myself about ten years ago to reclaiming the sacred territory, not only that of the Sierra, but now meditating on what sacred territory is. It is not just the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta and those farms. Sacred territory is music, it is sound, or not just sound, but what lies behind the sound, I mean that spiritual purpose. What is the spiritual purpose if we don’t know? Ah, well, it might restore many things, languages, concepts, weaving, food, medicine, natural law, rights, family, life in the community, the maloca, the mamo [the elder], and his political leadership. That’s where music was left with its fair share. So the music I make does that, because I am committed to that cause, which is political, philosophical, historical, and music is its language. So I make music that is political even though it does not have to speak. That politics is the new mestizaje. It is the reverse of the mestizaje. Here, there was a biological mestizaje, but there was no cultural mestizaje. The Spanish raped the Indigenous women, and they forced their children to live as Spaniards, but second-class Spaniards, they did not let them into their house, so I am creating the new mestizaje, based on respect, on the power of coming together, of bringing two things together…”

Teto Ocampo

We are left with that invitation, Teto, to reclaim the spiritual territory; to create music, fabrics, poems, films, and dialogues that help us remember who we are and who we can be. That is a great political act. Thank you, brother, and have a good journey towards the brightness.

For more about Teto Campo, Hombre de barro, and Mucho Indio

For more about the interviewers

Sara Ríos Pérez studied literature at the Javeriana University, and currently works as a reading and writing promoter. She is a collaborator for the digital publication Columna Abierta. She accompanies the processes experienced by public and rural libraries in different parts of Colombia. She is the author of De lo Imaginario a lo Real: Cuentos y leyendas de Montes de María (“From the Imaginary to the Real: Tales and legends of Montes de María”), and co-author of  Voces que caminan territorios (“Voices that walk territories”,) an investigation on the right to communication in the Colombian Southwest.

Juan Guillermo Sánchez Martínez was born in Bakatá/Bogotá, in the Colombian Andes. He coordinates the online multilingual anthology and exhibition Siwar Mayu, A River of Hummingbirds. He has published several books of poetry, including Uranium/Uranio (Japan 2023). He works on the crossroads between Indigenous art, literature, and science. He recently co-edited the open-access volume Abiayalan Pluriverses. Bridging Indigenous Studies and Hispanic Studies with Gloria E. Chacón and Lauren Beck (Amherst College, 2024.) He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Indigenous Learning at Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Canada). 

About the Translator

Jocelyn Montalban was born in Ontario, Canada, where she currently resides. Her parents immigrated to Canada from Guatemala City in 1997. In 2023, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Lakehead University (Ontario, Canada). She is currently studying to obtain a master’s degree in Social Justice Studies. Her research focuses on Indigenous issues in Canada. In her free time, you can find her traveling or hiking in the mountains.

Un jam universal. Teto Ocampo © Sara Ríos an Juan G. Sánchez Martínez ~

Siwar Mayu, May 2024

A Universal Jam © Translation by Jocelyn Montalban

Myths, rites, and petroglyphs on the río Caquetá. Fernando Urbina Rangel

Photographs and Original Poems © Fernando Urbina Rangel

Selections and Introduction © Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

English Translation © Lorrie Lowenfield Jayne

If you prefer to read this as PDF, click here

Fernando Urbina Rangel is a philosopher, poet, photographer, and educator. For decades he has worked at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia where he has conducted classes, seminars  and research regarding  comparative mythology, orality, rock art,  Amazonian petroglyphs, and ceremonial  plants.  Urbina has authored ninety-five academic articles, eight books, twenty-five individual photography exhibits, two educational television series, and two radio series. Today, books such as Las hojas del poder (Leaves of Power)(1992), Dïïjoma, El hombre serpiente águila (The Serpent Eagle Man) (2004) have become classics in Amazonian literature.  Sown with mambe (coca powder mixed with yarumo ashes) and ambil (tobacco paste mixed with vegetal salt), and based  in the art of picto-poetry, rock painting, and rafue (powerful speech for the Murui-Muina) these works were visionary publications that wove image, poetry, essay, and ancient stories, destabilizing the urban word-centered hierarchies of Colombian universities. In Urbina’s work, the book is the coca tree,  the elders Don José García y Doña Filomena Tejada are the library,  and the university is the ritual dances and the mambeadero (the place where men sit to share mambe and words). Fernando Urbina speaks with La Gente de Centro, the People from the Center (Múrui, Okaina, Nonuya, Bora, Miraña, Muinane, Resígaro and Andoque), children of the tobacco, the coca, the sweet yuca, whose original territory is found in the interfluvial  Caquetá-Putumayo region (Colombia). These people have survived the Casa Arana genocide and continue to resist the siege of the petroleum industry, mining companies, narcotraffickers and Colombian Civil War. 

Fortunately, the vitality with which Fernando Urbina’s books retrieve the word, gesture, and rites of the Gente de Centro, and celebrate them in philosophy, poetry and art, has cleared pathways for the textualities and oralitures of Abiayala’s peoples. His interdisciplinary work recalls that for many generations on the Caqueta river, and still today, there are stone-books beneath the water, petroglyphs that emerge when the floodwaters recede to tell the original stories. His work also recognizes that “myth is the word revealed”, neither chimera nor anachronism, but instead, the present that sustains us and “in which one must suspend and linger”(Las hojas del poder).  

The photographs and texts that make up the video below are part of Urbina’s work, MÁS ALLÁ DE LAS MONTAÑAS DE UYUMBE (BEYOND the MOUNTAINS of UYUMBE)(“San Agustín”), sponsored and exhibited by ICANH in 2019 (Universidad Nacional) during the celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Konrad Theodor Preuss, the founder of scientific archaeology in Colombia. This exhibition was based upon the notions of Preuss, the German linguist, archeologist and ethnographer, who proposed a study of religion and mythology of the Murui-Muina in search of keys with which to interpret the culture of  San Agustín (Alto Magdalena). The exposition signals  the Andean-Amazonian confluences between the ancient cultures of the high and low regions. It is worth noting that the Caqueta River’s headquarters are less than 100 Km away from the Magdalena River Basin in the Almaguer Knot (Colombian Macizo), the spot where the Andes divides into three mountain ranges.

The following excerpts were selected from the exhibition, BEYOND the MOUNTAINS of UYUMBE)(“San Agustín”). Established in the paradoxical language of the ancient stories of the Gente de Centro, Urbina finds a technique to weave his own basket: the synthesis  (Serpiente-Águila, Vigilia-Ensueño, Anaconda-Espiral)(Serpent-Eagle, Vigil-Dream, Anaconda-Spiral) Because of this, the reader of these vignettes will note that nouns appear insufficient, and that the use of the hyphen or capital letter is a strategy to emphasize mutuality.   In this poetic imaginary, no word (i.e. emptiness, point, firmness) has only one meaning, because each word is what it is and also the opposite: the creator is the created and vice versa, and whoever owns silence also owns speech.

Aracuara Canyon from The-Balcony-of-the-Stone Witch 

Everything was there and seemed complete

but no… nothing had a name nor a history

it wasn’t even the stuff of nostalgia

When the primordial arrived

—climbing the rivers

from the shores of the immense sea

it marked the place and made it the world,

multiplied it into myth.

recreated it into ritual

 donned it with the one hundred faces of remembrance.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel


The earth 

was wide and alone

everything there was soft

The Sun

with his fingers of light

began designing

-in the mud banks of the immense rivers-

the beings that populated

in name only

the dream of the Primordial Fathers

 High Noon,

the work charred

Turned into stone

the archetypes lived on

fixed forever.

(Based on the traditions of elder Enókayï, Murui-Muina ‒Uitoto‒ nation)

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Hammer and Chisel

With what tools did they 

who first arrived

mark the landscape

to make it human, make it habitable?

Pounding the rock with the sharper rock

leaving a kind of silence   in stone

a silence of those who speak and endure longer than the word.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Light and Shadow

Something with which to name the day of Man, ephemeral.

Something with which to name the shadow, the archaic

that which precedes all that exists.

Skin is the light  upon the dark rock; 

the deep night guards her entrails.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

The Mistress-of-the-Animals

In the inquiry

the Makers realized

Let’s  manage the form of the rock.

This one has the terrifying feature we dreamt

to be Gerofaikoño,  Frog Woman,

She will defend the animals;

contender with man in the cosmic battle.

 Mankind will not take precedence

destroying the homes of everyone.

chopping down trees, poisoning rivers,

killing the seed of the beasts.


Grandmother, —the granddaughter asked–

Why do the butterflies 

land on the heads of 


And the Great Wise Woman

Grandmother Philomena 


–-In earlier times, before the leather vendors

had  finished off the


the butterflies rested on the bench./-of-the-telling-of stories

the one which Jarayauma gifted the original cayman

           for helping him to cross the river,

during his escape from his wife,

–the Jaguar-Woman.

who replaced the fearsome 

mother-in-law whom he had killed.

 This little bench remained 

on the cayman’s head.

There the butterflies recounted myths

—myths of color and flight–

just like those your Grandfather tells

seated on the mambeadero.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Leaping Quadruped

It is said that the word Jaguar means


He patrols and hunts a vast territory;

equal to the territory the people of the village manage

Because of this, the spirit of the tribal chief,

once he is dead,

-if he has been flawless in caring for his people–

will remain as an enchanted-jaguar

caring for the space marked by the tribe.

This is the reason to ask permission and make offerings

before entering to hunt in an unknown place.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel


–I am a line, but not just any line.

I am tubular like a blowgun.

My poisonous fang a dart;

What’s more, I ripple

and swirl into a spiral, think into being life and the galaxy.

I am the key to time because I shed my skin.

I dig the watery tunnels to reach to the depths

I creep over the earth

climb the tree

I rise, high and mighty, towards the heavens.

Devouring myself, I am a circle: I am everything and nothing.

“Food for thought,”the ethnographer would’ve said.

I am good at multiplying worlds.

I am the spring of symbols.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Origin of Humanity

Father died in January ‘78

He had counseled me thus

(after seeing my photos of the Inírida rock paintings):

—Dedicate yourself to the works that would trace 

upon the everlasting rocks the Arcaica people.

It was in February,

above the torrents of  Guaimaraya

that I came across the petroglyph

that well reveals

the way in which the line of a wavy line transforms into a person.

This mytheme as well as its grapheme

is told and represented,  in a variety of ways

throughout the length and breadth of Amazonia.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

The Four Ancestors

I asked Elder, José Garcia

—Teacher, of the Féénemïnaa Muinane people–

what could the four snake-faces

forming a cross mean?

―¡Ajá! –he scolded.

—–You should know this.

That is an ancestral common dwelling.

Then, seeing that I was confused, he added, smiling:

—-Each of the four posts in the dwelling

is an ancestor-piece–of–snake…

It is a way to keep our origin firmly present.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel


In the air: the spell.

The word net…

And the gesture that interpolates

from each being an intimate secret.


upon the rock the signs were traced.

The dancing of the gesture


© Fernando Urbina Rangel          

Men Seated

The Father

seated within the Silence

ripened silences.

He had not yet invented the thunder,

nor the murmur of the wind between the leaves

 the roar of the jaguar

the eagle´s call

the thorn-like of the mosquito’s voice.

With whom can the God speak?

And then, he spied his shadow.

It was over there, seated as well

He invented the word and the echo answered

(echo is the shadow of sound)

— Now I have a companion!—Exclaimed the Father.

This is the way in which we were formed 

(We are the shadow and the echo of a God).

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Two Seated Anthropomorphs Conversing


 Today as I add more years to the years you gathered

I can say, after nine five-year spans,

that I think I may have done it

whether well or no, I don’t know

but I tried to complete the charge you gave me.*

In some manner,

we will continue to share discoveries

within the circular current of dialogue.

My fleeting shadow

will soon become one with yours

and the two one with the immense

* See the poem “Origin of Humanity”.

 Bogotá- 2019

For more about Fernando Urbina’s work  and the Gente de Centro

About the translator

Lorrie Jayne, a collaborator in Siwar Mayu, teaches Spanish, Portuguese, and Personal Narrative in the Languages and Literatures Department at University of North Carolina Asheville (USA).  She lives with her husband and daughters in the Appalachian Mountains where she enjoys plants, people, and poetry.

BEYOND the MOUNTAINS of UYUMBE (“San Agustín”) © Fernando Urbina Rangel 

English Translation © Lorrie Lowenfield Jayne ~ Siwar Mayu, August 2022

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