The Carnaval de Barranquilla in Colombia is one of the largest events of its kind, second only to regional neighbor Brazil's, and an important, world-renowned celebration of the diverse indigenous, African and European cultures found across Colombia's Caribbean coastline. The annual four-day festival also serves as a period of rejuvenation for all involved. It is with this spirit of growth and renewal, influenced by various Colombian cultures, that Bomba Estéreo return to Los Angeles as the headlining act of the Santa Fe event, presented at the Fonda Theatre this Saturday.
Santa Fe brings the Colombian electro-tropical/nu-cumbia trio back to the Fonda for the first time since their headlining show there two years ago. Bomba will share the stage with Mexico City–based garage rockers Little Jesus and Uruguayan dance-rock outfit Santé Les Amis as they debut their new album, Amanecer, to a U.S. audience.
“Amanecer is a futuristic album for Bomba," says founding member Simón Mejía of the group's fourth LP, which came out this week. "It's a new exploration not just in sound but also in spirituality. We love to stay one step ahead when we make a new record."
The album is a definite shift from the group's first two releases, Vol. 1 (2006) and Estalla (2008, released in the United States as Blow Up via L.A.-based label Nacional Records the following year). Both of those records relied heavily on traditional cumbia and Caribbean music, rather than on samplers, synthesizers or beats. The electronics were used to serve the cumbia and not the other way around. The trio immediately found a receptive audience worldwide and made their L.A. debut at the Echo in 2009.
Mejia and bandmates Liliana Saumet and Julian Salazar fused the perfect combination of tropical and electronic music with Elegancia Tropical in 2012. Traditional and electronic instruments and musical styles complemented one another so well that the "electro-tropical" label had never described a group so perfectly before.
Amanecer, which in Spanish can mean either the dawn or the act of waking up, diverges from its predecessors in a number of ways. It's the first record by the group under a major label, Sony Music Latin, with whom they signed last year while they were still working on early demos.
"They reached out to us and we thought it was a good point in our careers to stop being independent and doing everything by ourselves," Mejia explains. "The past 10 years of being independent were very amazing but also very tough." The label helped foot the bill for the group's recording sessions in Bogotá and L.A., as well as the final mastering sessions in L.A. and Miami.
Bomba also enlisted production help from an unlikely source: Ricky Reed, who blew up after producing Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty." The end result is a futuristic rave with carnival flair, in the style of Barranquilla, but with moments of deep introspection hinted at on the previous album. For every call to dress up in carnival attire and join in the celebrations in the street, there's also a quiet moment of inward reflection. It's a balanced approach the trio purposefully set out to achieve.
"When we were making the album, there were some things that happened last year that changed a lot of the things that we wanted to say on the album," Mejia explains. "The music is very electronically based, but the lyrics are very emotional and spiritual.
"At the end, we were looking at the amount of songs that we had and tried to find the balance," he continues. "We like dancing, we like partying, we like social music, but the most important thing now in our lives is to try to be very connected to the Earth, to our feelings and to our emotions."
Bomba Estéreo's return to L.A. won't require carnival masks or elaborate headdresses. It may, however, rejuvenate attendees, and end with a carnival procession onto the street.
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Bomba Estéreo play the Fonda Theatre on Saturday, June 6.