“'Música Alegre' is the declaration of Buyepongo's arrival to start the party,” says Edgar "Meshlee" Modesto of his group's newest dance anthem, which L.A. Weekly is premiering below. Modesto is the founding member of the polyrhythmic band, who dabble in a plethora of styles — cumbia, punta, funk, merengue, jazz — that all add up to a unique sound they've dubbed buyangu.
I spoke to Modesto by phone about their new six-song EP, Tumbalo, which comes out Friday, Nov. 10. In celebration, they will be playing a record release party at the Zebulon that day, and also will perform at the Tropicália Festival in Long Beach on Saturday, Nov. 11. According to Modesto, the EP was named Tumbalo, which means "to knock down," because the band wanted to inspire listeners to break down barriers. “If someone tells you that you can’t do something, well, tumbalo,” Modesto says.
They also wanted to create an album that embodied the inclusiveness of Latin dance culture. “We wanted to create a space to unify, and that’s on the dance floor,” Modesto says. “We want to unite the world one dance floor at a time.”
The band had already been planning to record Tumbalo, but the version of the EP that will come out this Friday happened somewhat by chance. Modesto had been approached by Long Beach psych-rock singer-songwriter Rudy de Anda to make some beats for a couple of De Anda’s songs. In the studio, Modesto was impressed by De Anda’s producer, Jonny Bell, and his sound engineering expertise. He immediately wanted Bell to produce Buyepongo’s next record.
With Bell on board and Jorge “Yuka” Vallejo's lyrics in hand, the band — which includes Modesto's brother Randy on bass, Vallejo on guitar and accordion, Angel Hernandez on sax and flute, Larry "Lencho" Harvey on percussion and Kris Castro on keys — meticulously layered their instrumentation in the studio, adding their polyrhythmic signature style and bringing their latest set of sensual, cumbia-laced songs to life.
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Working with producer Bell paid off. Compared to their debut, Todo Mundo, Tumbalo has more lush production and sounds more cohesive. “We wanted to make something a little different from our first record,” Modesto says.
Fans will be happy to hear that Buyepongo still have about two albums' worth of material they hope to release by next year — and the mission for all of it, Modesto says, is clear: "If people aren't dancing, we aren't doing our job."