Las Alegres Ambulancias was started in 1905 in Palenque de San Basilio to preserve the musical tradition of the grandmothers, mothers, aunts and fathers who were its members, all part of the extended Batata family. Las Alegres Ambulancias has been transformed from generation to generation, evolving with the community, its traditions, fiestas, funerals and daily life in general.
Graciela Salgado Valdez, lead vocalist of Las Alegres Ambulancias, is the only daughter of Manuel Salgado Batata and Maria de la Luz Valdez,. From a very early age she heard the sound of drums and her mother's singing. The cabildo (lumbalu) is a ceremony, reminiscent of the African funeral practices that live on in the beliefs and traditions of the people of Palenque.
Now days the band is lead by BURGO (Graciela's Daughter) and the singers from the cabildo, Las Alegres Ambulancias are masters of the oral tradition, keeping the Bantu and Angola languages alive. Singers both young and old preserve the legends, stories, music and songs that come from their African ancestry. The songs are in various styles, such as Lumbalu, Bullerengue, Chalupa, Sexteto, Pajanto, Fandando, richly reflecting an important part of their Afro-Colombian roots.
Las Alegres Ambulancias are representative of the culture of Colombia's Caribbean area; they are a living demonstration of how this 500-year-old African tradition is surviving in this globalized world.
The name Las Alegres Ambulancias explains the philosophy of the Blacks of Palenque in their relation with death. Happiness (alegres) is the vehicle (ambulancias) of change from one state of being to another ... life continues.
Las Alegres Ambulancias is, in essence, a lumbalu group. In this tradition, the singers accompany the duel that occurs between Death and the family members. Over the course of nine days, the body is believed to move easily into the afterlife mentioned by the ancestors, ending with the funeral ritural. Las Alegres Ambulancias sing to mitigate the pain of the mourning, to overcome the absence of the person who passed, to emotionally stabilize the family and friends.
The group has appeared at many events and festivals in Colombia, Latin America, Europe, Canada and the US. They have released five recordings, two through Radio France and Ocora and three on their own label.