By David DacksThe title is apt. On Bomba Estereo's long awaited second album, they might have been expected to deliver a dozen blazing variations on "Fuego." That song had incredible staying power within Tropical Bass DJ circles and the band's urgency was more than convincing live. However, they've smartly dialled it back on this second album. Vocalist Li Saumet proves to be an able balladeer, though still forceful, as on "El Alma Y El Cuerpo," where she sounds like she's reaping a whirlwind of Hammond organ on top of a Champeta groove. The production and sense of variation, particularly in the well-considered electronic sounds, are mostly impressive. True, when wistful and/or spiritual songs start dominating the proceedings there's a danger of over-smoothing, but the percolating base of Afro-Caribbean percussion never falters. Highlights of this record do tend towards the more propulsive: the heavy backbeat of "Bailar Conmigo" and the collaboration with Brazilian MC BNegao on "Rocas." But this is a cosmopolitan record that doesn't dissolve into beige-ness. There's no doubt this is a range of sound they can bring to the world either in clubs or stadiums.
This is a much-anticipated record. Why did the follow-up take so long to record? Did it seem like a long time to you? Founder Simon Mejia: Yes, surely it was a long time, let's say two years after the second album and its whole promotion was done. Basically all that time was spent touring the second album, so we didn't have enough time to concentrate and get into the studio. The result was ending up making the album inside a tour van or in airplanes! Nowadays, music is all about live shows, so you never can stop!
This new album sounds a bit more relaxed than I thought it might. Was that intentional? It's a different album influenced by different aspects of life and also different kinds of music. Also, we are more grown up now so surely the album reflects that. But besides that, all the essence is still the same: reinterpretation of folk music into modern contexts. I think in music, as I once read from a Brian Eno interview, as well as in art, you always work on the same themes and concepts over your life, just moving slightly in the way you show those concepts, in the color. But the essence is always the same.
You've toured like crazy. How has that made you grow as a band? We know each other as musicians and persons much more than in the past; we've realized that music is not just music, but a communication between you and the people. We also don't fight anymore! We're a big family now.
Were you surprised at the impact that "Fuego" had? There are, like, eight million remixes of that song. Yeah, I know! There are more "Fuego" remixes than Bomba Estereo songs! Well, it was unexpected, as when we did that song we weren't even aware it was a single; we were just having a good time — maybe that's why it became so big! The remixes were fun to listen to, especially some of the really weird ones.
Are there going to be thousands of remixes for this album? Well, we hope so! For now, we have only one: "El Alma y El Cuerpo," remixed by Julian, our guitar player.
What do you think of contemporary Colombian music? There's so much of it made by bands and electronic acts? I think in Colombia we're passing through the most interesting time in the arts field. Not only music, but visual arts, film industry, literature; I think we're, like, in a search for cultural identity, which is very interesting in a context that is not pure, but totally mixed. We come from Indians, blacks and whites, and we have grown as a nation influenced by North American and European culture, so that makes us a complete hybrid culture with many, many colors. Being aware of that makes the artistic expression very interesting. And in music, it makes it very sexy.
In your write-ups, I see some journalists have said that some tracks are meant for "international" audiences. You guys are pretty international to start with and Colombia takes in so many different cultural connections. Do you ever write songs with the intent to appeal to Europeans or North Americans? Never. We actually make songs thinking about nothing but just the music itself — enjoying the process and trying to push our style further, experimenting. For example, the two [guest artists, Buraka Som Sistema and BNegao] we have on the album came more from a friendship with those guys than from a strategy of entering into the Portuguese or Brazilian market. But we surely want to go more to Brazil; it's one or our favourites!
You're on a small label. How do you do business throughout the rest of the world? Today, small labels are even more international than big ones! It´s all due to the Internet and its possibilities. Also, we as a band have spent most of our time touring, so we've made good contacts with very special labels and booking agencies around the world, which are supporting the project.
What's up with your touring schedule for the next few months? Any Canadian dates? For now, we're finalizing the release of the album in Colombia, México and Argentina. Next year, we're probably touring the States and, yes, we have in mind doing Canada festivals as well. We went there two years ago and it was amazing; we're looking forward to going again.