Is cumbia the new punk? How Son Rompe Pera gets crowds moshing to marimbas

Five punk men pose by a railroad track
Son Rompe Pera, made up of Kacho, Kilos and Mongo Gama along with friends Raúl Albarran and Ricardo López, will perform at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Oct. 29.
(Marc van der Aa)

Kacho, Kilos and Mongo Gama grew up performing in cemeteries. Along with their father, José (a.k.a. Batuco), the brothers would play next to the mariachi and Norteño groups performing for families visiting their relatives during Día De Los Muertos. They would weave through the cemetery with their marimbas — a percussion instrument with a warm sound, similar to a xylophone — between the elevated tombs, playing traditional Latin music.

“It was the day we were looking forward to the most,” says Mongo, reflecting on playing graveside at Panteon Municipal de Rio Hondo, a cemetery near their home in Naucalpan, just west of Mexico City. “And it was the day that we felt the closest with our dad. Things were, like, more emotional.”

Nearly 20 years later, the Gama brothers will continue that tradition at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. They’ll take part in the annual Noche De Los Muertos event on Oct. 29, a night of performances from traditional and popular performers that also features altars, art and vendors. For Son Rompe Pera, the night is a chance to perform in their favorite U.S. city. “Feeling at home is like a dream come true,” Kacho says.


But the brothers are much more than holiday players. Along with friends Raúl Albarran (bass) and Ricardo López (drums), they perform as Son Rompe Pera — one of the most energetic acts in Latin punk. Or punk, period.

Son Rompe Pera proclaim — on T-shirts, in lyrics, in sheer force and in dedication to creating their own style — that cumbia is the new punk. “We don’t want to pretend that punk is more or cumbia is less. We’re saying that [our music is] cumbia with attitude, more than anything else,” Mongo says. “We’re rockers who play cumbia. We’re very political [personally, but] for us it’s all music that people enjoy and everyone having a good time.”

While the band puts a rocking twist on traditional cumbias, its influences are much broader. There are elements of rumba, chicha, son jarocho, hardcore and even some ZZ Top (“My dad always listened to salsa, metal and rock,” Mongo notes).

There’s something for everyone, but there’s some common sights at a Son Rompe Pera show: moshing, couples dancing to punkified covers of traditional cumbias, crowdsurfing and friends bopping together. A circle pit typically forms as the five-piece jumps around onstage, at various points removing sweat-soaked shirts and switching instruments. Everyone’s yelling, and while an understanding of Spanish isn’t required, the vibe is absolutely infectious.

Kacho, the eldest and quieter Gama brother, adds, “If I didn’t transmit anything while I was playing, I would feel dead.”

Marimba has long been a way of life for the Gamas — and how Batuco made a living (he also coined the name Son Rompe Pera, an amalgamation of his musical interests and wife Esperanza’s name and no-nonsense attitude). He taught then-13-year-old Kacho and 11-year-old Mongo how to play, and together they would perform at weddings and parties. When they didn’t have a proper gig, the family carried their heavy marimba throughout the streets of Naucalpan, busking and passing out business cards for the family band.

As they became teenagers, the young Gamas were embarrassed — marimba was an old man’s instrument, played in a traditional style with formal attire. The brothers had tattoos and big, flattop pompadours; they were into ’80s English psychobilly and punk, ska and hardcore from the likes of Kortatu, Decibelios, the Misfits, Rancid and even Blink-182. Yet Batuco initially discouraged his sons from playing low-paying rock gigs. “He would get mad at us and tell us that what we were doing was no good, that our future was in the marimba,” Mongo told Remezcla in 2020.

Timothy “Timo” Bisig agreed with Batuco, though his vision was a bit different. The tour manager and booking agent was visiting Mexico City in 2013 when he first caught the Gama brothers playing marimba their way. He recalls seeing a group of kids, dressed in black with mohawks, approaching marimba players in Lagunilla Market and holding his breath.

A group of five punk men pose by a fence with barbed wire
“Cumbia with attitude” is how Son Rompe Pera describes its music.
(Mauricio Sanchez)

“They looked badass. I thought they were gonna beat the marimba guys up or something like that,” Bisig says. “They asked him for the maletas and they started playing the marimba like f—ing crazy.”

Bisig knew he had witnessed something unique. “For two years, I wrote those guys [on Facebook] and they did not give me the time of day because they were way too cool to talk to somebody. They’re like super punk, super anti-establishment.”

Eventually, Bisig got the Gamas to attend a performance by Chilean cumbia band Chico Trujillo — one of his clients. The group’s energy set something off in Son Rompe Pera, Mongo remembers. “We got carried away by the music — we felt free. We said, ‘Why don’t we try it and let ourselves go?’” The Gamas performed with Chico Trujillo in 2015 and, when the band invited them to a recording session, brought their father along. Together, they covered the 1960s Venezuelan tune “Cumbia Algarrobera.”

“That kind of changed their attitude a little bit,” Bisig says. And while they were “going to give up the marimba forever” after Batuco died in 2016, meeting Chico Trujillo caused something of a rebirth. The new Son Rompe Pera played 40 shows with Chico Trujillo, La Floripondio and Bloque Depresivo (all projects of Chico lead singer Aldo “Macha” Asenjo) and became the first Mexican act on Argentine label ZZK. Years later, they would record two 45s for Brooklyn’s Barbès Records with Mexican virtuoso guitarist Gil Gutiérrez.

Batuco,” Son Rompe Pera’s debut LP of punk-influenced cumbia, corrido and ska standards (as well as one original), was released in 2020 right at the start of the pandemic. Yet the Gamas’ background playing on the streets of Mexico was uniquely suited to the moment; the band began to get attention on social media for their raucous, energetic street performances during lockdown. Eventually, Son Rompe Pera and Bisig got a van and started touring the country.

black and white photo of five men in skeleton face makeup
The Gama brothers say they’ll feel at home playing Hollywood Forever on Día De Los Muertos, as they grew up playing for families visiting relatives during the holiday in Mexico.
(Mirko Yuras)

The group has toured extensively over the past two years, graduating from illegal lockdown shows to multidate tours in Los Angeles, New York and Texas, where they performed at the city of Houston’s Mexican Independence Day celebration. (“It’s usually a much more traditional, well-known band” playing the city event, Bisig notes. “It took somebody a lot of guts to put us up there.”)


Son Rompe Pera visited Europe for the first time this summer, taking their marimba and gear on commuter buses for a 16-day tour that went from Spain to Denmark, and Italy to the Netherlands. “We were kind of nervous [to play Europe] … but we weren’t very surprised that at almost every show, the places were filled and they knew us and they knew our music,” says Mongo. “With a new and rare band like us, it is very difficult for them to pay attention to you [in Mexico]. You have to do many things, or do stuff in another country, for them to pay attention.”

Miraculously, given the jam-packed touring schedule, the band has finished its second album. Recorded live at Mambo Negro Studios in Bogotá, Colombia, and produced by Frente Cumbiero’s Mario Galeano and Daniel Michel of La Boa, the as-yet-untitled LP will feature original songs steeped in SRP’s unique style — which has grown both more precise and widened in influence with extensive touring. “It has many, really good sounds from Mexico, Colombia, Chile, [and] there’s a bit of Argentina. Everything we’re doing live, we tried to get on the disk,” Kacho says.

Son Rompe Pera have connected with fellow musicians and fans in three continents, picking up new vinyl and influences along the way — as well as a supporting spot on Fishbone’s West Coast tour in December. Shirking their youthful beliefs in a strict, segmented subculture, the members of SRP have found themselves as part of a wider network of punk and alternative groups throughout the Americas. Yet their fanbase is particularly diverse in cities like Los Angeles.

“We’ve done very well with the public response [in L.A.]. There’s everything, from families that bring their children, parents, older people, punks, people who like rock,” Kacho says. “We’re, like, breaking the paradigm that the marimba is more folkloric, more classical, more standard. We want to take it to everyone.”

Typically, on Día de los Muertos, the Gama brothers would travel to the cemetery and play at Batuco’s grave. Hollywood Forever’s celebration promises to be another connective thread between family tradition and the fusion they’ve created.

“We feel very proud of what he taught us, because he was not like other people to say, ‘No, do it this way because you have to.’ My dad always [told us to] always play the way you want, or feel,” Mongo says. “It fills us with pride to always reach other countries. It was my dad’s dream that people would know the music that we make.”