This Colombian group is reinventing the traditional sound of cumbia but without losing sight of its essence and traditional roots.
Frente Cumbiero’s approach to music changes the preconceived notion that some people can have about Colombian cumbia and tropical rhythms. Their infectious and psychedelic sound, which you just can’t help but dance to, mixes traditional styles with noisy and experimental elements, opening the ears of the listener to a completely new kind of music.
Frente Cumbiero consists of four musicians: Mario Galeano, leader of the band and responsible for the sound of the guacharaca and the keyboard; Pedro Ojeda, drums and timpani; Eblis Álvarez, electric guitar, and Marco Farjado, baritone saxophone.
Galeano spoke with The Prisma about the project, its beginnings and its future, after his first performance in London last week, where you could catch some of his songs such as “Ananas Tornillo”, “Agua Negra” or “La Gaita de Mad Professor”.
What are your thoughts on your first live concert in London?
Really good. It’s the first time that we’ve played to this audience and we always have to leave out a few songs until people understand the sound. The project and the style is something that people aren’t used to seeing live: a group that makes instrumental tropical music with a heavy feel and elements of ‘noise’ music.
How did Frente Cumbiero start?
Well, I started it six years ago. I began with a disk-jockey, keyboard and computer arrangement, with just one person. And from there we evolved into the band we are today. But our experiments with tropical Colombian music started way back, in 1998, when we were 20, with the same musicians who form Frente Cumbiero now.
Why did you choose cumbia? Why this interest in traditional Latin rhythm?
This rhythm has had an impact on events in 20th century Colombia. When the record industry with its new technology arrived, people adopted cumbia as their national music. It has a really strong identity within the country and expanded like this throughout the rest of Latin America from Argentina to Mexico with different mutations and variations. It’s a style that unites a lot of people across the continent and that’s why we get the name Frente Cumbiero like an action front, a frontline to push cumbia forward.
Do you feel that you are reinventing cumbia with your experimental sound?
Yes, ours is very different to the traditional sound, however, we base ourselves in its roots. People who see us have a preconceived idea of what tropical music is and we give them something else. We use electronic sounds but the melodies and rhythms are essentially traditional.
We would like to present a different cumbia than the rest, including the new styles of cumbia from Latin America. There are a lot of types of cumbia. In Argentina, for example, it is a more electronic type of club music, with elements of disco.
We want to offer a new sound but one that’s based more on the melody. These sounds aren’t so easy to find in the new representations of cumbia. However, it’s curious to see how it creates a really electric energy when played live.
How would you describe this resulting infectious sound of Frente Cumbiero?
It’s a contemporary take on the melodies and rhythms of the past because we’re using electronic instruments that create some different sounds and tones but they build upon elements which are very much from Colombian music roots.
Furthermore, this sound is a way of uniting, by means of a common identity that is present in all of Latin America, because you can go with the group to Argentina, Mexico, Honduras or Chile and wherever you go people recognise it, understand it and have danced to it all their lives.
So there’s also a political element behind it.
Do you think that cumbia and other similar Latin rhythms are valued enough outside of Latin America or should they be better appreciated?
What happens is that commercial music is corrupt in every aspect and the sound that generally comes out of Latin America is commercial music. They’re not interested in the music but in money, in making a show, so its music with a lot of other interests behind it but it isn’t quality music.
In reality, our sound is considered underground, alternative. It’s not commercial. It isn’t played on the radio. The radio usually plays more commercial music, reggaeton or ballenato for example. The circle we move in is more independent and has a really alternative profile. Our followers in Europe correspond to this profile too.
In this sense, we’re really grateful to the internet which allows us to reach alternative audiences so we don’t need to go through the radio or TV to get ourselves heard.
So it doesn’t matter to us if there is a commercial scene, we have our own world of alternative music.
I think that our music appeals to those people who really appreciate music. Those who see it as an accessory in the background, aren’t going to like what we do.
What are the group’s intentions for the future right now?
We’re working on a collaboration between Frente Cumbiero and the English producer, Will Holland, AKA Quantic, a musician who is really interested in Caribbean sounds. We’re doing a Colombian project with him that’s going to gather together masters of the old school of tropical music with young artists like us who are just starting out and record an album. We’re going to form a band of 12 musicians of which 6 are going to be old masters and 6 will be from the new generation. We’ll be performing with this group in London during the Olympics.
(Translated by Chris Hill – Email: email@example.com)