Comments, Culture, Globe, In Focus, Latin America, Music

Forty years of ‘El Goce Pagano’

Four decades ago, one of the original venues for “dancing salsa and dancing for freedom” opened in Colombia. One of the venue’s founders, Juan Gaviria, takes a trip down memory lane along with journalist Petrit Baquero and sociologist and artistic promoter Berta Quintero. They present the readers with the vibrant history of the original El Goce Pagano.


Cesar “Pagano” Villegas, Juan Gaviria, Berta Quintero, Rubén Blades, Bomberito Zarzuela & Sigifredo Farfán. 1981.

Juan Gaviria, Petrit Baquero & Berta Quintero


El Goce Pagano salsa club opened in December 1978, on the corner of Avenue 13a and Street 24, an area right in the centre of Bogota that was surrounded by prostitutes and crooks.

The fortieth anniversary of the opening of El Goce Pagano (literally ‘The Delight of Pagans’) is significant as the club became a cultural landmark for music, dance, rumba culture, music criticism and literature. El Goce was also important in terms of social relations; women, African culture and the political participation of diverse social groups were all valued there.

Enjoying Salsa

El Goce Pagano arrived on the scene at a time when a new kind of music was emerging. This music obtained the name and flavour of ‘salsa’ in New York’s musical melting pot, which drew not just on Cuban music, but also on Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Venezuelan, Colombian, Dominican, Brazilian and North American influences. Elements of European (mainly Spanish), black African slave, Cuban native, Cuban Latino immigrant and distant Eastern cultures combined to produce an exciting and flourishing musical genre. The best examples of salsa were introduced to the world in the mid-20th century.

El Goce Pagano’s rural Latin American influence was expressed through traditional septets playing Cuban peasant son and in Tite Curet Alonso’s socially-conscious lyrics. Jaime Londoño’s ten photographs of Chocó department natives and the Bolivian Dance of the Devils mask that presided over Bolivian pagan festivals reinforce the rural feeling of El Goce. The blue and yellow interior reminds one of a mechanic’s workshop, whilst the club’s urban nature is reflected in portraits of musicians from salsa group Grupo Niche, painted by artist Camilo Villegas when he was a child.

Juan Gaviria, César Villegas, & Gustavo Bustamante. 2018

Inland classical and Columbian music were elegantly exhibited at El Goce when pianist Teresita Gómez gave three concerts there. Grupo Niche played at El Goce before they were well-known and the emerging Son del Pueblo performed there, showcasing their solidary music that supported multiple just causes. Music critic César Pagano’s career also began in El Goce. Pagano interviewed many of the famous salsa singers that came through Bogota, including Celia Cruz, Daniel Santos, the Palmieri Brothers and Rubén Blades.

Critical literature

In terms of literature, El Goce taught a whole generation of Bogotans how to read via means other than educational texts and politically dominated methods. With an editorial concept designed and maintained by Gustavo Bustamante over forty years, the “Los papeles del Goce” (El Goce papers) are incredibly valuable examples of literature and political, social and cultural essays. The “Los papeles del Goce” also created a space in which rising stars could emerge; Tomás González’s debut novel, In the Beginning Was the Sea, first appeared as an El Goce paper before it became a best seller. The work of the “Los papeles del Goce” was recognised by great writers of the Latin American Boom. Brazilian author Jorge Amado sold the rights to his works to El Goce for a dollar, so that they would not be pirated, whilst Gabriel García Márquez learned about the initiative during his 1983 visit to the El Goce Pagano on Street 74.

Photo by Jaime Londoño

Another party

El Goce changed the face of the Bogotan party scene. A group of women, most notably Berta Quintero and Marta Arenas, made it clear that women do not belong to anyone other than themselves and that, contrary to tradition, women can ask men to dance, and dance and drink alone or accompanied.

This small revolution recalls Olympe de Gouges’s assertion that the liberty, equality and fraternity of the French Revolution was not only for men, but also for women and black people too (de Gouges was consequently sent to the guillotine by the leaders of the French Revolution).

El Goce Pagano had a never-before-written sign: “black people are welcome to rumba here”.

From the beginning, El Goce Pagano supported the critical messages contained in Rubén Blades’ lyrics, and the club has always played salsa music with socially conscious lyrics, rather than traditional love-themed salsa music.

El Goce also considered Cuban music to be closely affiliated with the New York scene. The club persuaded Afro-Cuban band Sonora Matancera to return to their roots and play in Matanzas (Cuba) and managed to convince the socialist Cuban government to allow this.

Cultural kaleidoscope

Just as the flavour of salsa is enriched by a variety of cultural ingredients, especially musical influences, El Goce Pagano was enriched by the diversity and multiculturalism of Bogota.

Photo by Jaime Londoño

At El Goce Pagano, ‘good girls’ went out partying by themselves, or to dance with people from very different backgrounds, the ‘bad boys’ of swing as some would call them.

At El Goce, you would find people from inland Colombia with Caribbean souls, people from the coast with Bogotan hearts, white people with black souls, professional conspirators, every kind of intellectual, university lecturers, guerrilla leaders and mafiosos with endless silver.

There were ‘guerrillas’ from Chicó, a wealthy neighbourhood in northern Bogota, actual guerrillas, professional and non-professional dancers, artists with rebel (or even revolutionary) souls, writers, journalists, poets, chroniclers, fashionable actors and many more. In other words, El Goce was frequented by people who, at some moment, firmly believed that revolution was possible and that it would arrive to the beat of music, in the form of a party or, rather, in the form of an eternal El Goce Pagano. With a rebellious attitude, provocative slogans and Afro-Latino pride, their rumba message was spread via local newspaper articles.

Pianist Teresita Gómez

This was the search for aesthetic pleasure in dance, the critique of society, cultural mixing and the search for Latin American unity.

Different delights 

The El Goce Pagano on the corner of Avenue 13a and Street 24 is still open and was run by Gustavo Bustamante until his recent death. Cesar founded new premises: on Avenue 5, opposite the curved, residential towers of Torres del Parque; on the corner of Avenue 20 and Street 74; on the El Poblado plaza in Medellín; and on the corner of Jiménez Avenue and Street 1, by the University of Los Andes in Bogota. The latter El Goce is managed by Sauk Naranjo. After El Goce was opened, many other places chose to play Afro-Caribbean music. Others emerged that do not compromise on their tastes, nor allow their music to be guided by the latest trends. They are, less superficially, about thinking, feeling and enjoying the world in a different way.

(Translated by Zosia Niedermaier-Reed – Email: Photos provided by Juan Gaviria

Share it / Compartir:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *