Colombia’s Bomba Estéreo and the Decline of the Frontman
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this is the Latin flavor you’ve been missing.
By Wesley Tomaselli
Vocalist Li Saumet was born in 1980 in Colombia’s Caribbean coast city of Santa Marta. If she had been born a few decades earlier, machismo and Vallenato, Colombia’s traditional folk music, might have eaten her alive. Colombia’s dude-with-a-microphone and his pal-with-an-accordion music rules the Caribbean coast. But Saumet’s band, Bomba Estéreo, swapped out the accordion for a synthesizer, and they became part of a twist in the plot of Latin America’s music scene.
“About 10 to 15 years ago, it was rare to see a woman on the stage,” says Colombian music expert Luisa Piñeros. “But this is a new generation. It’s a new way to make music in Colombia — where women get to be the main characters with the microphone.”
Their sound is like being too close to the sun.
The so-called “frontman” is dying. It all started in the Andean capital, Bogotá, about 10 years ago. Simón Mejía had an electronic music group called AM7-70. Mejía was interested in the electronic renaissance sweeping through cosmopolitan urbania the world over. It was totally instrumental. No voice. Then Mejía crossed paths with Saumet in Bogotá while she was part of a group called Mr. Gomez en Bombay. Mejía invited Saumet to sing on one of his instrumental tracks. It clicked, and Bomba Estéreo was born.
Piñeros says the band has found an unusual way to Colombian music such as cumbia, champeta and the gaita: “It all gets run through the filter of electronic and rock,” she says.
Their sound is like being too close to the sun. You’re hot and aflame. You hurt. But it’s the price your soul pays for buzzing through Bomba’s champeta-charged electronic hallucinations. Tracks like “Pa’ Respirar” guide you through a heady, psychedelic trance. Others, like “Fuego,” are more visceral and aggressive. “El Alma y El Cuerpo” could be a Caribbean sunburn, with hypnotic guitar and cool lyrics fanning the heat.
The group signed a record deal with Sony Music in Miami to work on its next album; the single “Fiesta” came out March 10. The thing is, says Piñeros, they have to keep reinventing themselves. They’ve had an audience for 10 years now that expects them to mix it up. And they need to conquer more countries, and find listeners in Europe and the U.S.
The name? There’s a saying in Colombian Spanish: When a party is off the hook, you shout, “¡Bomba estéreo!” So when Simón Mejía and Li Saumet started making music together, that’s what they named the group. And they had the ambition to make it all too real.