Bomba Estéreo Wants To Take You Higher
Singer Liliana Saumet and multi-instrumentalist Simon Mejía walk into the room, sporting gently worn threads with a shy demeanor. You would never guess the Colombian duo, who began to play their off-kilter music in the Bogotá club scene a decade ago, were now veterans of a universal dance floor.
Ahead of their opening show, Bomba Estéreo (which translates to “stereo bomb”) arrive at VIBE’s headquarters in New York City to promote the band’s fourth album, Amanecer. Marked by their signature style of electro-hip-hop meets tropical vibes, the Latino trailblazers have one-upped their sound with equally gripping lyrical content. “[Our music] says that dance and celebration are important,” Simon explains, “but it also reminds us that the body and the spirit are equally significant.”
By no means is Bomba trying to come off as holier than thou. After years of mastering their sound and blasting festivals around the world with their party anthems, Li and Simon are still fervent disciples of bass and champeta. Only this time around, with Amanecer dripping mass appeal, they’re ready for the big time.
VIBE Viva: You’re 10 years deep in the game. Who was Bomba then and who is Bomba now?
Simon: Then, we were learning the ways to fuse our folk and tropical music with electro sounds. It was like the beginning of an experiment, trying to discover how the two combine. The music was much more raw then. Ten years later, it’s evolved immensely. We were so young, trying to identify who we were musically. We created a sound and made it ours.
Liliana: Our lyrics evolved. The content we created grew and matured throughout the years. We talk about new things, different topics. In the beginning, like Simon mentioned, we were discovering a sound, creating the lyrics from scratch. The first thing that came to mind, the thing that preoccupied us the most was what went down on paper. That changed with time. Our audience, in the beginning, did not understand our music. They were not as receptive to our lyrics, despite our message being a positive one.
Talking about lyrics, let’s look at songs like “Fuego” and “Ponte Bomb,” which are laden with hip-hop sounds and African elements. How did Colombian audiences first react to you? Were they able to digest the music?
Liliana: Colombia has a huge Afro presence in the Caribbean and Pacific. Throughout the entire country, you’ll find black and indigenous people. We’re rooted in that. Colombia is super mixed. And while audiences were pretty familiar and used to folklore and modern music, they were not used to hearing a combination of the two. Purists hated us—they didn’t understand what we were doing. It was like evil to them. (Laughs) But I’m from an area, for example, where the music is centered around Afro-Caribbean elements and Carnival rhythms. I listened to both cumbia and hip-hop. I sing and I rap. That’s who we are. We’re a mix of it all.
Simon: Colombia, unfortunately, holds a stigma against music that is anything at all black and indigenous for reasons that go back to colonization and racism. Then there’s always the notion that music indigenous to Colombia will always be less than what’s created around the world. But thankfully, as time passed and we’ve progressed as people, we’ve been able to perform before audiences that look like us, that appreciate the music that we do and ultimately find the value in what it is we’re saying. The situation is changing and bands like us are being more and more accepted.
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Talk to me about champeta. Is that like cumbia meets reggaeton?
Liliana: Champeta is one of the most popular sounds in Colombia right now.
Simon: It’s a style of music born from zuku, but made in the Caribbean. It stems from Africa, but the people of Cartagena tapped into it and made it their own by remixing sounds. It’s an African rhythm with a Caribbean spin to it. It’s cousin to reggaeton, you could say. But champeta is like 20, 30 years old now.
Lilian: There are places you could go to to specifically listen to [champeta]. But there were eras when it was dangerous to visit. A number of deaths occurred using a small knife used by fisherman to filet fish and that’s why the locals termed the music “champeta.” But that was long ago. Now, it’s just popular music. It’s what you hear in the radio throughout Colombia.
The name of the album is Amanecer, which in English translates to “awakening.” That’s pretty powerful considering the times we’re in. Would you say this album is more spiritual?
Lilian: You could say that, yes. But this isn’t a yoga mix, you know. It’s an album that touches deeper topics, rather. People around the world are waking up, so to speak. Maybe not everyone, but more and more with each day. We want to live better, eat better, treat each other in healthier ways. Some of us are realizing that there are more important things and that’s what this album is about. We make positive music, music that makes you want to dance and music that moves you on the inside. We’re in an era where we’re more after the light than the dark.
Simon: We found a balance where we could talk more about love and sentiments while still creating our signature dance music. Our message will resonate with a lot of people. It says that dance and celebration are important but it also reminds us that the body and the spirit are equally significant. We’re going to make you dance, but with a higher state of mind.
You were independent for a very long time and now you’re signed to Sony. What does that signify for Bomba?
Simon: It’s a fortunate change but it’s not a musical change. We’re not falling into the cliché that says when you sign to a major label, you have to create a different sound. That’s not what this album is. On the contrary, our signature sound really grew with this new album.
Lilian: Overall, our music is alternative. It doesn’t fall into just one genre. Signing didn’t change that. We still have our sound, which grew totally organically by the way, and now it appeals to many across the globe.
We make positive music, music that makes you want to dance and music that moves you on the inside. We’re in an era where we’re more after the light than the dark.
Liliana, you have a serious knack for rapping. Are there any American or hip-hop artists, you would like to collaborate with?
Liliana: M.I.A.! For sure, she’s bomb. And Snoop Dogg. (Laugh) That would be cool.
Wow, that’s a serious combo. What’s next?
Simon: Now, we’re touring. We finished up Colombia, we’re doing New York and L.A. next. Afterward, we’re off to Europe to play a number of festivals and of course, we’re going to film visuals for our next single in Miami.
Liliana: Just listen to the album. Over and over again.