COLOMBIA: Amanecer - Bomba Estéreo
Colombia's psychedelic cumbia maestros serve up an album that is as interesting as it is entertaining
When the Netflix series Break It All, a history of rock in Latin America was released in December 2020, I was astounded by what I saw and heard. I considered myself pretty knowledgeable about rock music, from the 1960s onwards, but once again my Anglosphere goggles had been proven to be ever-present. How could I, an obsessive rock fan, have never have even heard of some of the truly astounding bands and musicians coming out of Latin America? I guess it is a mixture of ignorance and the fact that British culture is rather resistant to anything not in the English language becoming popular in the mainstream, but nonetheless, I was excited to get to know a whole world of rock music that I had never come across before. While Argentina has positioned itself as the foremost country in terms of Rock en Español, the entire continent has something to offer, from the northernmost plains of Mexico, to the Tierra del Fuego, but today, we meet in the middle, in Colombia, which, arguably alongside Mexico, is the country most able to take the second-place position to Argentina in terms of rock music production. Bomba Estéreo are one of Colombia’s biggest musical exports, and though their music is not strictly considered rock, rather they have sprung forth from the genre, and now perform music that is their own.
“Bomba Estéreo have managed to do what the best musicians are able to do, mould many styles into their own image, and in this case, they not only do that with genres from America and Britain, but also ones native to Latin America and Colombia.”
Bomba Estéreo have their roots in the indie rock scene of Bogotá that formed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but by the time of 2015’s Amanecer, the group had evolved considerably. Now they are often considered electro cumbia, or electro tropical, which is a broadly accurate description of their style, though you can still hear traces of the rock music with which they made their bones. Whether it’s the splash of electric guitar driving a song like Voy, or the airy guitar riff that begins Somos Dos, it is always present, and it marks them out from the usual electro cumbia crowd. There is also an overtly pop-esque feel to many of the songs, in particular Soy Yo, which became the biggest hit of the album and a mainstay of television advertisements. Though the opening riff, played on a Colombian gaita flute, became something of a meme due to its use in a particularly disliked advert, the song itself is rather good. The lyrics, half sung, half rapped passionately by lead singer Li Saumet, speak of self-confidence and pride in one’s identity. Translated, the repeated refrain roughly translates to “when they criticise you, you just say ‘I am me’”.
Fiesta takes a more aggressive, club-oriented path, with sharp beats and powerful bass, and while it’s still a good track, it’s the least interesting song on the album for me. Then, the album evolves, with the latter half taking a much softer tone, beginning with Algo Está Cambiando and continues with the gorgeous semi-acoustic ballad Mar (Lo Que Siento), a song that combined gentle fingerpicked guitar with synthy backbeats in a way that somehow works. This is at the core of what Bomba Estéreo do, borrow as widely from as many influences as possible. To My Love is probably the closest the album ever gets to straight up indie rock, but even that has a strong grounding in electro cumbia.
Amanecer is a very strong album, with lots to commend it. With its high energy tracks at the beginning, and the slower, more ballad-esque songs placed towards the end, there is probably something for everyone here, and there’s not a bad song. I certainly have my preferences, but the album is extraordinarily strong, with many songs joining the title track as potentially the best song. Bomba Estéreo have managed to do what the best musicians are able to do, mould many styles into their own image, and in this case, they not only do that with genres from America and Britain, but also ones native to Latin America and Colombia. The synthesis of indie rock with cumbia and psychedelic elements is inspired. The album is so close to perfection it might just attain it. In my view there’s hardly a foot put wrong here, it just doesn’t inspire me like my favourite albums do. But it’s a close second.