Bomba Estéreo brings their Alma y Cuerpo tour to the Empty Bottle on May 14 as part of Ratio Nation´s Mundial de Música.

About two years ago at the World Music Expo Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, the buzz was all about a band from Colombia that that was performing outside the conference at a small world music venue called Global. There, in a packed narrow room, several musicians began to play Colombian folkloric rhythms recognizably mixed into electronic beats, but they were punked up, rocked out and taken psychedelic. It was a most amazing sound – and then, a petite young woman with one side of her head shaved, the other side bearing long, swinging black locks, ferociously strode on stage.

Pacing back and forth, Liliana Saumet grabbed us by the musical jugular and did not let go. When she began singing, it was hard to believe the piercing power of that voice emitted by such a small person.  Her phrasing was original, aggressive and compelling, whether rapping or gliding over mournful laments.  Along with guitarist Julian Salazar, DJ/bassist  Simon Mejía and drummer Kike Egurrola, she propelled hundred-year old melodies and rhythms from Colombia into the 21st century.  I recall one of my colleagues, a veteran presenter in the music industry who has seen and programmed many a band, swearing quietly under his breath: “F*ck, that is a really good band.”

It was my first of now several experiences with Bomba Estéreo, and I can attest that they always give one hundred percent plus in their concerts, and by the time they hit their signature tune, “Fuego” (check the video) the audience is usually awash in an uncontrollable, ecstatic dancing frenzy. Signed to renowned alt latino record label Nacional,  shortly afterwards the group exploded onto the global music scene, were declared the best new band in the world by MTV Iggy in 2010, and have since showcased at countless powerhouse festivals, including Coachella and SXSW.

Last year at SXSW,  I had the chance to interview the members of Bomba Estéreo, and asked Saumet how she manages to project such tremendous force,  and whether her personality is in reality that fierce.  She described herself, however as a fairly calm person: “On stage,  I become someone else. But I have a strong energy, people respond with their strong energy, and it becomes a vicious musical circle. “

The very earliest version of the group actually did not include Saumet. DJ/Bassist Simon Mejía, one of its founders, commented on the group´s beginnings: “Julian, Kike and I have been musicians for a while. We became interested in different sounds, like Colombian folkloric rhythms from the coast. This isn´t actually my music – I´m from Bogotá.  I realized these rhythms mixed well with electronics and other elements. Liliana added the coastal touch, because unlike me, she carries that sound in her blood.”

Saumet explained that hailing from the coastal city Santa Marta (by the way, the oldest city in Colombia, and the second oldest in South America) meant growing up with music that “comes from the Atlantic coast and the Colombian Caribbean, from the black slaves that arrived, as well as the indigenous people,” a music that encompasses many of the percussive and highly danceable afrocolombian rhythms such as cumbia, champeta and bullerengue which go in to the fiery mix that Bomba creates.

It´s about a movement of musicians returning to their roots, Mejía emphasized: “As members of a country that is not a part of the first world, we grew up listening to music that is from the USA or Europe. All of a sudden you realize you have to start looking within yourself. And then, after looking within, you open up to the musical tendencies of the world and unite them to your own.” He concluded, “It´s also our way of rescuing this music and taking it to a wider, younger audience and a universal plane, because this is the music we like and respect and want to keep on doing.”

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