Hit the Beach With This Caribbean Band's Banana-Sweet Beats
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s a fresh, psychedelic musical mashup of old and new.
By Wesley Tomaselli
Third track in and I’m already soaking in a slow-mo trance. It’s beach sand between my toes. It’s splashing around in the waves. It’s banana-sweet guitars and hot showers of brass. The name of the song is “Hummingbird,” and if that means I’m supposed to feel like I’m buzzing and floating, then, baby, I am.
Welcome to the sounds of Ondatrópica, a music project run by 39-year-old Colombian producer and cumbia wizard Mario Galeano Toro and 37-year-old British DJ Will Holland, aka Quantic. Their March 2017 record Baile Bucanero showcases 38 musicians from around the region digging up and brushing off the buried (musical) treasures of Colombia’s Providence Island, a former English colony overrun by the Spanish that sits off the coast of Nicaragua. This is a place where cumbia, calypso and other Caribbean and Colombian sounds from way back when are brought to life through modern electronic bass and keyboard as well as native island instruments. Can you actually make music on horse jaws? You can, and they do, on Providence Island.
The twittering horns, amusing melody and cruise-ship tempo could be right out of Wes Anderson’s next film.
Galeano spent four months recording with Quantic on the island. And now Ondatrópica is taking its musical treasure to Latin American capitals; even Paris and New York City are catching on. In Europe and the U.S., “people seem to be going crazy” for tropical dance parties inspired by Ondatrópica’s creations, Galeano tells OZY. Colombian electro-cumbia group Bomba Estéreo (profiled by OZY in 2015) is receiving international attention and in turn helping upstarts like Ondatrópica get legit.
Galeano studied Arabic and African music in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, before returning to Bogotá, where he started DJ’ing. His idea was to show the city’s rock lovers there was something else to cumbia, a genre his people had come to view strictly as Christmas music. Galeano went beyond Bogotá, though — he started hooking up with Mexican cumbia fanatics and Argentine groups toying with the sound, like the Zizek collective in Buenos Aires. In 2012, the British Council gave him and Quantic resources and the green light they needed to put together Ondatrópica.
What you hear on Baile Bucanero “is an outpouring of psychedelia. There’s an African-American spirit there from the 1960s and 1970s, and a whiff of Fela Kuti,” Colombian music expert Luisa Piñeros tells OZY. Indeed, there is a lot going on. Take “Lazalypso,” for example: The twittering horns, amusing melody and cruise-ship tempo could be right out of Wes Anderson’s next film. And then there’s “Trustin’” — something more brooding, a dark soul carried by a plodding reggae beat.
To be sure, Ondatrópica is not for everyone. Lovers of profound indie lyrics might not find what they’re looking for. Hate the whiny trill of the accordion? This might not be for you, amigo.
That being said, it’s hard to ignore the place where Galeano and Quantic recorded their tracks and all its enchantment: Providence. “The fact that it’s recorded on Providence Island shows how much interest Mario and Quantic have to go above and beyond,” says Piñeros. “In a few years, this will be an X-ray for what happened in one of the most prolific chapters of music in Colombia.”
Baile Bucanero is available from U.K. label Soundway Records.