Anatomy of a Hit: Grupo Niche Breaks Down ‘Cali Pachanguero’ on Its 40th Anniversary

Santiago de Cali or simply Cali — the third-most populous city in Colombia after Bogotá and Medellín — is known as “La capital mundial de la salsa” (the salsa capital of the world) given the city’s love for the genre and more so, it’s talented artists. Among them is Grupo Niche, which was formed in Bogotá, but settled in Cali in 1982. 

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Known for classic salsa tunes such as “Una Aventura,” “Gotas de Lluvia” and “Mi Pueblo,” Niche was founded 44 years ago by the late Jairo Varela. One the group’s most notable songs, however, is “Cali Pachanguero,” one that resonates with proud Colombians everywhere and is a must-play at any Latin party. 

In celebration of the latter track’s 40th anniversary, the Latin Grammy-winning ensemble is on the road with its Pachanguero Tour, which has already made stops in Australia, Los Angeles, Panama, Peru and Miami. 

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“It’s the new performance by Grupo Niche, with a new proposal and a new show on stage,” vocalist Alejandro Iñigo tells Billboard. “We’re going to perform at a jazz festival in New Orleans and we’re doing the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico, where we will take the legacy of the group to a new audience and a different market. The tour is full of surprises and big things.” 

Niche, along with the National Symphony Orchestra of Colombia, won the 2023 Latin Grammy for best salsa album with Niche Sinfónico. Now, the group is working on a new album that fans will love, according to vocalist Alex Torres. 

“It will be a wonderful album that will surely reach a bigger audience,” he notes. “It will be with new songs and very modern, conserving the parameters and musical concept of the group.” 

Below, group members break down how “Cali Pachanguero” was created. 

The Song’s Backstory

“This is a song that was composed by the maestro Jairo Varela,” José Aguirre, musical director and trumpet player of Niche says. “He composed it in a hotel in New York after talking to a friend at the time who felt an absence and lots of nostalgia [being away] from Cali. Talking to him, he got inspired to create this song. After that came the recording stage.” 

The Lyrics & the Sound

The lyrics in “Cali Pachanguero” describe the city of Santiago de Cali, Colombia — with its bustling carnivals, lively atmosphere and beautiful people — narrated by someone who’s far away and yearns to go back home. 

“The rhythm, which had a very big boom in the ’70s in salsa and in the world, is a rhythm called ‘pachanga,’ and for that reason he titled the song ‘Cali Pachanguero,’” Aguirre explains. “It’s a very commercial melody that’s under the roof of the rhythms that make up salsa music. It was recorded in 1984 and not only was it an immediate success at the Cali fair, but also a success throughout Colombia, and abroad with such great force that today has become an icon of Latin music.” 

The Song’s Impact 

Aguirre continues: “This song was already born big. It came out at a very important time for Grupo Niche. Just by the success it had at the fair that year [1984], it began to move masses. It’s a work that has been gaining popularity. In fact, at the beginning of those years, the song was only played in Cali because it was from that city. But today, the song has to be played everywhere. It’s a must-play song [at our concert]. Everywhere [in the world], people assume it as their own.”

Its Legacy

“The maestro Jairo Varela left very strong foundations with his determination and discipline,” vocalist Luis Araque notes. “He’s always worked with that order of ideas. Respecting the music, respecting his concept and respecting what he’s done, I think everything with the group has gone very well. All of us in the group know that we have to arrive early, that we cannot get drunk, that we have to give a status to that discipline.” 

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