COLOMBIA: Rumbo a Tierra - Systema Solar
An album with a twist as the Colombians confront issues of feminism and environmentalism on the dancefloor
This album by Colombian electro-cumbia dance group Systema Solar is a truly great party album. It really is. Rumbera, my favourite song by a long, long way, is the sound of the Bogotá summer. I love it. It’s an absolute banger of the highest order. The rest of the songs on the album are somewhere on the sliding scale of good to great, which, perhaps paradoxically, always sets off alarm bells for me when I have to start writing the review. Writing a hatchet job on an album you hate? Easy, though we do try to avoid those here. Writing a hagiographic paean to an album and artist you have come to love? It’s like the words just fall on the page. Writing about anything else, however, I somehow struggle with. Initially, at least. Sometimes you can struggle to find an angle on an album that is appears to be just simply ‘a good time’. That is initially what I thought about Rumbo a Tierra by Systema Solar. However, once I started to look deeper into the lyrics of the songs, I began to realise that this party album, this perfect soundtrack to an all-night Latin American street party, was more radical than I had initially expected.
“Systema Solar have proven themselves to not merely be a party band – they have things to say and they know how to say it.”
Take my favourite song on the album, Rumbera. The title comes from Colombian slang ‘rumbero’ meaning party animal, but here it is in the feminine, meaning a woman who loves to party. That subject isn’t necessarily a ground-breaking one, but when that is aligned with the video for the song, one notices that it is about breaking stereotypes about women, as the video features women young and old, cisgender and transgender, of all shapes, sizes, and races, reflecting the cultural diversity of the country they are from. They also combined this with a campaign, #DaleLaVueltaMama, also dedicated to challenging stereotypes and traditional expectations of women. And it doesn’t stop there. Aguazero, a pun on the word aguacero, meaning downpour, but by replacing the c with a z, it becomes ‘water zero’, is a criticism of the constant droughts in La Guajira, a Colombian region inhabited by the indigenous Wayuu tribe. Plagued with environmental issues, the government seems not to care. This, and more, points to a social and political stance being taken throughout the album.
Rumbo a Tierra itself means facing (or toward) the Earth, and this environmental theme pops up again in Pa’ Sembrar, a song that, and I’m not kidding, is about the joys of planting and growing your own crops, an activity the singer points out you need no money to do, pointing to perhaps an anti-capitalist critique of global farming practices. They go even further in the song Somos La Tierra (meaning ‘we are the earth’), where the singer starts off singing about how beautiful the landscape of his country, before entering into a spoken word section railing against the environmental destruction caused by the mining industry in the Cajamarca region. It’s powerful stuff, and its all hidden behind crunchy beats that are just so catchy that most people probably would miss the lyrics. I know I certainly did. But Systema Solar have proven themselves to not merely be a party band – they have things to say and they know how to say it.
While the album is supremely enjoyable first and foremost, there is so much depth to explore with this band. The music itself is innovative, combining music from the diverse cultures found in Colombia and the Caribbean, from indigenous styles to styles originating in Europe and Africa, all wrapped together in a refreshingly modern club music, all of which work to make it a funky set of songs that stand out from the glut of often uninspired club music. There are inspirations from calypso, rumba, hip-hop, and if you know your world music, you’ll notice a soukous and soca influence. And yet, not content with just that, they have included pertinent themes and interesting lyrics with which to raise the consciousness of the listeners and partygoers, aiming to increase awareness for vital social and environmental causes that are clearly close to their hearts. Not bad going.