Cumbia Goes Rogue: Cumbia Tokeson

“We want to make music pa ´que la gocen, so people can dance. They’ve been working long hours, so we wanted to make some good cumbia, pa que puedan bailar,” declares Federico Zuñiga, lead vocalist for Cumbia Tokeson, a musical collaboration between members of two Cali groups: Punk-border rock “Fuga”, originally from El Paso/Juarez, and “La Colectiva” from East San José.

Originally, the musicians connected through their mutual love of the “jarocho” tradition from Veracruz, Mexico, and their common ground in the struggle for immigrant rights. Both groups have had members experience different immigration issues, and the struggle for immigrant rights was always central to their activities.

They’ve now come together to create a highly danceable sound with a strong message. Fuga had always explored a highly political, high-energy sound with smart lyrics about political issues, and La Colectiva´s musical journey had led them on a paseo through almost all Latin American dance forms, from sweet accordion-based “vallenato” from Colombia, to the rich and rhythmic cumbia traditions from that country and Mexico, and even the psychedelic “chicha” (named after a corn-based liquor liked by the Incas) that swept through Perú in the seventies.

Together, their musical forces prove that the sum really is greater than its parts. From the richness of their instruments – they even bring in Andean flutes and wind instruments in some tunes – to being able to easily straddle borders between rock and folk, electric and acoustic, old and new school dance forms, Cumbia Tokeson plays dance music with a heart and a conscience.

Looking back at the different forms they’ve been exploring, Zuñiga says that the group is particularly drawn to forms that in recent decades were created by young Latin Americans – Colombians, Peruvians, Mexicans – who were trying to frame their roots in “el rock”. He feels it’s the search of any new indigenous generation trying to figure out how their heritage fits in to today’s world. After all, he concludes, “They were doing the same thing we are now doing. Understanding who we are as Chicanos, figuring out our own music, and coming to grips with our own identity.”

Tokeson will play the Festival de Sones Sept. 16 and also play VIVA! Sept. 18

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