Beyond the partying, Colombia's Bomba Estéreo gets profound with its new album and L.A. show

From Colombian cumbia to South African house: Bomba Estereo gets crowds dancing with a new album + an LA show

The song opens with a man's guttural chant punctuated by the high notes of an indigenous Colombian flute known as a gaita. In between, there's a thumping African drum. And layered on top is the rapid-fire rapping of Liliana "Li" Saumet, whose complex, self-assured rhymes talk of dancing, writing, traveling and practicing the art of being her outrageous self.

It is physically impossible to listen to "Soy Yo" ("I Am Me"), as this track is called, without moving some tail. And that is exactly the point.

Since they released their first album in 2006, the electronica outfit known as Bomba Estéreo has fused dance beats with the music of their native Colombia — from rump-shaking cumbias to African-influenced champetas — in increasingly irresistible and sophisticated ways that have garnered them growing international recognition.

Bomba Estéreo is primarily a collaboration between Saumet, who sings and writes the lyrics, and multi-instrumentalist Simón Mejía, who lays down the tracks. Over the years, they have become a regular part of the international festival circuit, traveling through the U.S., Europe and Africa. They've played Coachella, SXSW, and Glastonbury in the United Kingdom. Spanish is not required to get down to Bomba's grooves.

This week the band releases its fourth album, "Amanecer" ("Dawn"), its first on the Sony Music Latin label, an occasion it is marking with a one-night concert at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood on Saturday night.

The album, says Mejía via telephone from Bogotá, represents a certain maturation, but not at the expense of their signature sound.

"We've been able to take the sounds of cumbia and folklore, but not remain stuck on them," he says. "We've been able to take African sounds, Caribbean sounds, but still create a signature Bomba Estéreo sound. Thematically, the lyrics are more emotional, more sentimental, more mature. It's not just partying. We're talking about more profound things: life, the spirit, love."

"That's Bomba's idea," adds Saumet, from her hometown of Santa Marta, on the country's Atlantic coast. "Evolve the sounds. Take it to a different place."

The new album reflects the breadth of styles this decade-old Colombian duo has absorbed and synthesized over the course of their life. Mejía, who was born and raised in Bogotá, had been playing around with fusions of electronica, dance rhythms and Colombian traditional music since 2001. But they didn't become Bomba Estéreo until Saumet signed on a few years later. 

With her raspy vocals — which can go from flirty to knowing in an instant — and her outsized stage presence, Saumet gave voice to what Mejía had been trying to do musically: creating hybrids out of the American and the Latin American, the futuristic and the traditional, a dance party exultation framed by clever lyrics in several languages. Since then, Mejía has managed the music and Saumet, the lyrics.

"That's part of the magic of Bomba Estéreo," says Mejía of their ongoing collaboration. "It's like she has a way of capturing what was in my mind."

Since the release of their debut album, "Volumen 1," in 2006, other critically acclaimed efforts have followed: the uproarious "Blow-Up," from 2008, with its irresistible reggaeton-infused hit single "Fuego," and the more chilled-out "Elegancia Tropical" album, with its loungier vibe, released in 2012.

In between, there was the viral single (among the alt Latin crowd) "Ponte Bomb," from 2011, a masterful remake of Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam." For the song, Bomba Estéreo placed hilariously rendered Spanglish lyrics against an infectious polyglot dance track that pays tribute to the original while making the tune distinctly their own. (The video for the song is equally enthralling: Saumet's hipster-punk look meets psychedelia meets Caribbean carnival meets furry convention.)

Over the years, Bomba Estéreo —"Stereo Bomb" in English — has grown more international, drawing from sounds they've heard as they've traveled around the globe. (They have also added members: Kike Egurrola on percussion and Julián Salazar on guitar.) 

"I love the music that is being made in Africa — especially South Africa — the house and electronic music," says Mejía. "And there's Motown and soul and the African psychedelic music of the '70s. And of course, Colombian music, things with psychedelic influences and champetas."

Their first single from their new album is titled "Fiesta" (embedded in this post), and it takes as its point of departure the feel of a Colombian carnival. But then it drops, with a heavy bass beat that is straight out of international electronic dance music. Other tunes shout out South African house, while others go Latin pop.

For "Amanecer," the group also worked with an outside producer for the first time: Ricky Reed, of the Bay Area dance-pop-meets-hip-hop group Wallpaper, who has also produced tracks for the likes of Pitbull and Jason Derulo.

As a result, the album was recorded half in Colombia and half in Los Angeles.

"You can definitely feel these new melodic influences," says Saumet of the experience.

"It mixes Bomba Estéreo with this sound that is more Los Angeles," says Mejía. "Ricky didn't know anything about cumbia or Colombian styles. But we hadn't been so much in Los Angeles thinking about American hip-hop or other styles. For us, the new album sounds like an encounter between those two places. It employs a bit of R&B and hip hop. But it also has the influences we bring, that are more African, more Jamaican, more Colombian."

All of it is in keeping with the fusion that Bomba Estéreo is all about.

"We are a hybrid culture," says Mejía of his Colombian roots. "We are a race that comes from Africans, Indians and whites. We have European influence and we have Arabic influence."

As the band prepares to the hit the road to promote the new album, it all represents an opportunity to harvest fresh sounds and adapt them into their ever-expanding palette. Saumet and Mejía are always writing and mixing.

"We are mestizos," says Mejía. "We make mestizo music."

Bomba Estéreo plays at the Fonda Theatre on Saturday, with Little Jesus and Santé Les Amis. Doors open at 8 p.m., show begins at 9. Admission $27.50. 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, fondatheatre.com.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah. Get news about the band @bombaestereo.

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