Despite the pervasive power of Globalism, American musical taste remains largely isolationist, especially when it comes to the rich traditions of Latin America. With a few notable exceptions over the past decade (e.g., Shakira, the Buena Vista Social Club, Manu Chao, or Bebel Gilberto), our neighbors in the Central and Southern stretches of the American Continent remain largely absent from airwaves of North America. Oftentimes, these musicians will reinvent themselves as English language artists to increase their appeal to the U.S. (and possibly European) markets. The U.S. exports a great deal of its musical talent all over the world, but, when it comes to importing, we seem to place a heavy language tariff on “foreign acts.” It’s a darn shame. Of all art forms, music should be one where language shouldn’t be a barrier to entrance by other folks.
All this is prologue to introduce one of my favorite discoveries of the past couple of weeks: Bomba Estéreo. Hailing from Colombia (northern portion of South America), Bomba Estéreo follow in a long-standing trend throughout Latin American musical culture that blends traditional or local musical forms with a modern production and accoutrements. Specifically, BE’s sound is rooted in “Cumbia” mixed (and/or mashed) with modern dance and electronic elements and even hints of Reggaeton, the Caribbean dance-hall craze. The “Cumbia” derives its origin from, as with most Latin American music, the blending of musical traditions of West-Africa, Spain, and the Indigenous people of the American Continent. Although most widely identified with Colombia, the Cumbia exists in various forms across Central and South America and throughout the Caribbean. What distinguishes the Cumbia from other forms of Latin American music is its heavy and almost exclusive emphasis on percussion, specifically wooden drums that retain a deep, booming bass sound. If you listen to traditional Cumbia, it tends to have a trance-like ordered rhythmic structure (of course there always exceptions) unlike Cuban Salsa and Caribbean Afro-Beat that contain Jazz’s penchant for improvisation, dramatic-tempo shifts, and chaotic breakdowns. (As always, I acknowledge I am no musical expert but just an observer.) For the record, I love both, but I was also raised in community where these sounds were the daily rhythm.
In Bomba Estéreo’s music you will notice and hear many different shades of the modern Latin beat, from an intoxicating, undulating downtempo percussive rhythm to the frenetic up-beat electro-dance of club culture. Of all the tracks on BE’s Elegancia Tropical (trans: Tropical Elegance), “El Alma y el Cuerpo” (trans: The Soul and the Body) is the most arresting and memorable. It’s sultry, sensual rhythms evoke a reverie, wading one’s naked feet through the sands of el mar Caribe or the steamy, humid dance halls of the tropics. Whatever your association it’s a captivating track (and the perfect way to groove into the work week) so start here (or below) and watch glimpses of (what I believe) are shots of colonial Bogota and coastal Colombia.
Good stuff right? If you enjoyed that, then you’ll enjoy additional musical excursions with these dance-inducing Colombians. I’ll admit I’m partial to the more under-stated slow-groove tracks, such as “Bosque“, “Bailar Conmigo“, and “Sintiendo“, which tend to contain more of the Cumbia rhythms matched with the subtle strains of the Ibiza dance culture, in other words more chill swaying than floor thumping club music. However, I do enjoy the Reggaeton infused “Rocas” and the aggressive raw dance of “Caribbean Power.” (And, I don’t care for Reggaeton as general rule.)
For more info on the band, visit their website.
Fun trivia: Shakira also hails from Colombia. And if you think that all she’s famous for is having honest hips, then you should definitely check out her stellar self-released Pies Descalzos.