Trans Music, Transatlantic Style
Traditions are kept alive by constant change. The roots music of the 21st century is being created as much with electric guitars, sequencers and laptops as with drums and flutes. That’s one of the ideas behind The Rhythm Foundation’s Heineken TransAtlantic Festival, coming this weekend, which this year features as headliners the Argentine-Uruguayan electro-tango group Bajofondo and the Colombian electro-tropical Bomba Estéreo, as well as the duo Zuzuka Poderosa & Kush Arora, Miami’s own trio The Hongs, Krisp, Beat Machines, the neo-funk boogie big band Psychic Mirrors and DJ Mr Pauer. “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 on 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, programmer 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, fun. Since then, the group became a hit at festivals — and SXSW and has just released Elegancia Tropical, its third recording. They 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. It was an “interesting time in Miami,” says Laura Quinlan, director of The Rhythm Foundation. “It was the time of the Internet boom and new media and there were all these really cool people moving in from Latin America, interesting, creative people who were setting up companies, business and art galleries. It was a real revitalization in the city. But our audiences were not reflecting that. As an organization we were not connecting with this renaissance. “And there was also this new sound I personally loved, which was the mix of electronica and World Music,” says Quinlan. “Now this sound has become kind of standard but I remember the first time I heard [the Tijuana-based] Nortec Collective, the birth of Latin-tronica, I couldn’t believe it. Now it’s not so shocking, you hear it in car commercials — but I still love it.” Since its first edition, the TransAtlantic Festival has featured artists and groups such as Seu Jorge, DJ Da Lua, Bossacucanova, Chambao, Juana Molina, Ojos de Brujo, Aterciopelados, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, and Nortec Collective. “When you are programming and running a cultural organization you have to keep your circle open, you have to stay open to new sounds, new collaborators, new partners or your impact in the community starts to shrink,” says Quinlan. “That openness has always been central to TransAtlantic.” Meanwhile, Saumet sees the work, and success, of Bomba Estéreo as part of a larger picture. “It’s something that’s happening not only in Colombia but México, Perú, Venezuela, Argentina, all throughout Latin America,” she says. “We are looking to our roots, to our culture not just rock and we coming to what is ours. And I think the perspective has changed too. We used to look North, to the Anglo world. Now I think the Anglo world is also looking at us.” The 11th annual Heineken TransAtlantic Festival features Bajofondo, with an opening set by The Hongs, on Friday at 7:00 p.m. Bomba Estéreo, Zuzuka Poderosa & Kush Arora, and an opening set by Krisp, take the stage on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. At the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; tickets cost $23 for each night, or $35 for the weekend (there will also be a launch and a wrap pert, free); 305-672-5202 ; transAtlanticfestival.com. This preview also appears in the Miami New Times.