Bomba Estéreo Strives to Save the Planet and Soothe the Heart

When Bomba Estéreo, the Colombian duo of Simón Mejía and Liliana Saumet, had almost completed recording its sixth studio album, “Deja,” the group took half in an age-old ritual: a pagamento, or fee. It’s a ceremony “to pay back what you have taken from the Earth,” Mejía defined in a video interview from his house studio in Bogotá.

At a sacred website in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta — snow-capped mountains on Colombia’s Caribbean coast which might be nonetheless house to Indigenous teams — Bomba Estéreo spent an evening making choices and sharing profound dialog with a mamo, a shaman of the Arhuaco folks.

As the ceremony was ending, Mejía requested the mamo, Manuel Nieves, to go to Saumet’s studio, at her house in Santa Marta, and to document a message for the public; it grew to become the last phrases on the album. Speaking in Arhuaco, the mamo requires preservation of the endangered surroundings, warning about local weather change and concluding, “On this Earth, our duty is to take care of Mother Nature.”

By video from Santa Marta, Saumet mentioned, “What we talk about on this album is connection. Connection with nature, connection with people, connection with all that’s around us.”

Over the previous 15 years, the mixture of Mejía’s music and manufacturing and Saumet’s voice, melodies and lyrics have introduced Bomba Estéreo main hits throughout Latin America, like “Soy Yo,” a name for self-empowerment. and “To My Love,” each from the 2015 album “Amanecer.”

From its beginnings, as a solo studio venture for Mejía, Bomba Estéreo set out to fuse electronica with a Colombian heritage that encompasses Indigenous, African and European recombinations. “Colombia is all about mixture and diversity — we have it in our DNA,” Mejía mentioned. “We’re not one thing. We’re many things at the same time in this small, crazy and conflicted territory.”

For Bomba Estéreo, he mentioned, “The concept was trying to make an electronic music that was original, that wasn’t a copy of the electronic music that was made in London or New York or Detroit or Berlin. It was kind of an identity search. OK, if we, as Colombians or Latin Americans, are going to make electronic music, how would it sound? Our dance music is cumbia, is champeta, is salsa, is merengue, is all the tropical and Caribbean and folk music. And the international dance music is electronic music. So what happens if those two worlds that come from dance — that connection with the ritualistic — can come together because they have the same root?”

Mejía met Saumet at a celebration — “a really, really bad party,” Saumet recalled — and later invited her to sing and write at a recording session; their collaboration was solid when she completed a track, “Huepaje,” in 45 minutes. Her untrained voice had the biting tone of conventional Colombian types, however she had additionally grown up on hip-hop and may write each raps and melodies; girlish however assertive, she simply cuts by Mejía’s digital constructions.

In Bomba Estéreo’s early years, Mejía traveled round Columbia to study regional types. He labored on a documentary on the drumming of San Basilio de Palenque, a village based in the 17th century by escaped African slaves, and arrange a recording studio there; he delved into the carnival music of Barranquilla, and he sought out previous LPs of native music. Meanwhile, the group’s studio experience expanded quickly.

With every album, Bomba Estéreo’s music has grown richer, bolder, extra intricate and extra idealistic. “Deja” is concurrently earnest, religious, euphoric, rooted and high-tech. “We’ve grown older and we’ve learned more about ourselves, about music, about the world. So you kind of develop more layers in life,” Mejía mentioned.

“Colombia is all about mixture and diversity — we have it in our DNA,” Mejía mentioned.Credit…Frank Hoensch/Redferns, by way of Getty ImagesThe songs on “Deja” are grouped below components: water, air, earth and fireplace.Credit…Frank Hoensch/Redferns, by way of Getty Images

Since the 2010s, Bomba Estéreo has been strongly dedicated to environmentalism. With songs like “Siembra” (“Sowing”) and “Dejame Respirar” (“Let Me Breathe”), with profit concert events, with speeches and with a 2020 documentary movie, “Sonic Forest,” Bomba Estéreo has spoken out towards deforestation, mining and air pollution. Recording below the identify Monte, Mejía launched a solo album in 2020, “Mirla,” that put nature sounds at the heart of instrumental tracks.

The songs on “Deja” started rising whereas Bomba Estéreo was touring Europe in 2019. On the bus, the guitarist and co-producer José Castillo and the percussionist Efraín (Pacho) Cuadrado began arising with rhythms and guitar licks that will find yourself in new songs. After the tour, Mejía returned to Bogotá, constructing studio tracks and sending them to Saumet, who was in Canada along with her Canadian husband and their kids. Saumet introduced in a longtime good friend, Lido Pimienta, a Colombian songwriter who had moved to Canada in her teenagers; Pimienta was a singer, songwriter and arranger on “Deja”; Saumet has additionally been writing a solo album along with her.

“I’m her filter,” Pimienta mentioned from her studio in Toronto. “Liliana is a fountain of words and singing. She is very free, and I’m more, like, methodical. She always tells me, ‘You’re my nerd,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re my hippie.’”

Bomba Estéreo additionally invited different singers for the album: the Cuban duo Okan, the Mexican songwriter Leonel García and the Nigerian Afrobeats singer Yemi Alade. Cuadrado, the band’s percussionist, takes over lead vocals on “Tamborero,” a track that harks again to Afro-Colombian chants amid the electronics, because it celebrates the drums at the core of the music.

“This is what music and art is,” Saumet mentioned. “Something that was really awful in that moment, or was super strong, can be now something inspiring for other people.”Credit…Belulita PerezAt its finest, Bomba Estéreo’s music hints at what Mejía calls “an Indigenous futuristic kind of civilization.”Credit…Belulita Perez

In January 2020, simply earlier than the pandemic lockdown, Bomba Estéreo and visitor musicians gathered for 3 weeks of recording at Saumet’s house on the coast of Santa Marta, with the seashore out entrance and a jungle and mountains behind it. The sounds of monkeys, birds and splashing Caribbean waves, recorded on the spot, floor typically all through the album.

“The really cool thing about this album is that we finished it all together,” Mejía mentioned. “In general, it’s everyone sending things on the internet. But I had always seen Bomba as a community effort, and finishing it together was kind of like having this hippie community, with everyone sharing energy.”

The songs on “Deja” are grouped below components: water, air, earth and fireplace. But that framework is open sufficient to embody songs providing ecological pleas, dance-floor bliss, glimpses of mystical revelation and ideas about loneliness, despair and therapeutic.

“Agua” (“Water”) opens the album with Saument, Pimienta and Okan harmonizing on a traditional-sounding chant, joined by a Colombian beat — a bullerengue — together with digital blips and bass traces, and birds recorded in Santa Marta. The lyrics equate a lady’s physique with an endangered planet: “Give me water, give me wind and I will survive,” Saumet sings.

“Tierra” (“Earth”) makes use of a six-beat rhythm and plinking marimba patterns, drawing on Afro-Colombian types from the Pacific Coast, to lament rapacious exploitation of pure assets. “The rivers were drained, the mountains were left empty for coal,” Saumet sings. “We are standing in the middle of the forest, watching its extinction.”

Yet the album additionally has extra lighthearted moments — like the Afrobeats-tinged “Conexión Total,” with Saumet and Alade wanting somebody to go offline and get bodily — and extra introspective ones. The title observe, written with Pimienta, is about attempting to stay by despair and go away it behind.

“Lido and me, we both have a personal story with depression,” Saumet mentioned. “When we finished that song, we started crying together. Now we can hear the song and know other people can be touched. This is what music and art is. Something that was really awful in that moment, or was super strong, can be now something inspiring for other people.”

At its finest, Bomba Estéreo’s music hints at what Mejía calls “an Indigenous futuristic kind of civilization,” he mentioned, and added: “Obviously we’re not going back to living as an Indigenous tribe lives in the Amazon. We already live in cities, and we have computers and phones and whatever. But we can find a level of mixing our technology and respecting and being with nature. It’s like having one bare foot in the roots, while the head is looking to the future.”