Bomba Estereo on World Music and TransAtlantic Fest: "We Used to Look North; Now the Anglo World Is Looking at Us"
That's one of the ideas behind the Rhythm Foundation's Heineken TransAtlantic Festival, whose 2013 headliners include Argentine-Uruguayan electro-tango group Bajofondo and Colombian electro-tropical Bomba Estéreo, as well as the duo Zuzuka Poderosa & Kush Arora, plus Miami's own the Hongs, Krisp, Beat Machines, Psychic Mirrors, and Mr. Pauer.
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"Simón [Mejía] started the group with the idea of mixing roots music and electronic music before I joined," says Liliana "Li" Saumet, Bomba Estéreo singer and lyricist, speaking from the band´s bus, en route to a show in San Francisco.
Saumet was born in Santa Marta, on the Atlantic coast of Colombia, a place with deep African traditions. "It's not that I bring the folklore to Bomba Estéreo; the idea was there. It's just that when I sing, you can hear la costa because that's what comes natural to me. That sound is what I grew up with."
In fact, Saumet says her singing approach refers to that of the cantadoras, the troubadour women in Afro-Colombian culture who, in their singing, preserve and pass on the stories of their people. "They are my reference, especially La Niña Emilia [1932-1993]," says Saumet. "And they have a distinct way of singing, very deep but also without a musical training, and that's what came out when I started singing. It's the singing of my roots. That and rap are my main references."
Now, in her work with Bomba Estéreo, Saumet might be also updating and keeping alive the cantadora tradition.
Bomba Estéreo was founded by Mejía, a visual artist turned full-time bassist, programme,r and producer, and released its first recording in 2006. It drew from traditional music, most obviously cumbia, but also DJ culture, electronic, and hip-hop. The result was both substantive and danceable while also being fun. Since then, the group has become a hit at festivals like SXSW and has just released Elegancia Tropical, its third recording.
Mejía, Saumet, and Bomba are textbook headliners for the TransAtlantic Festival, which the Rhythm Foundation started in 2003 as a way to connect with new audiences as well as celebrate the traditional.