III Points Festival

Bomba Estéreo on Bringing Will Smith Back to Life and the Changing Latin Sound

For a while there, it looked like we may never hear Will Smith rap again. The man who successfully welcomed the world to Miami before instructing it in the art of gettin' jiggy has been musically silent for the last decade. Perhaps his movie career got in the way, or changing tastes in hip-hop forced him to watch from the sidelines. Maybe Willow and Jaden put a sign on the home recording studio that said "No dadz allowed."

Either way, it looked like Will Smith was content to drift off into musical retirement. That is, until he heard Bomba Estéreo's song "Fuego."

“I was in Colombia, in Ibagué, with Marc Anthony," Smith said in a recent behind-the-scenes video with Bomba Estéreo. "And he was listening to music and I heard ‘Fuego.' I was like, 'Yo, that joint is crazy!"

Smith's manager then contacted Bomba Estéreo's people, informing them Mr. Smith would like to sing on a remix of the group's latest single "Fiesta," and just like that, Will Smith was back. "We just got a call from him. It was totally unexpected," Bomba Estéreo founder and bassist Simón Mejía says.

Mejía had made it a point not to feature other artists on Bomba Estéreo's most recent album, Amanecer, but when the man who's saved the world from aliens on multiple occasions asks to be in your song, you say . Mejía didn't grow up with Smith's work as many Americans did, but he was still familiar with him nonethless. "We weren't like huge fans, because his music wasn't so big here in Colombia. But obviously everyone knew about Will Smith, more about the acting and the movies and everything." Overall the experience was positive. "He's a very, very nice guy — really nice energy."

Smith recently announced plans for a world tour with longtime collaborator DJ Jazzy Jeff, along with some new music to be released in the coming year. The catalyst for all this, it seems, was a group of musicians from Colombia, relatively unknown in much of North America.

That's odd — until you familiarize yourself with Bomba Estéreo. Then, it kind of makes sense.

The band, consisting of Mejía on bass, guitarist Julián Salazar, drummer Kike Egurrola, percussionist Diego Cadavid, and the always electric vocalist Liliana "Li" Saumet, was founded in Bogotá, Colombia, in 2005. Their most recent album, which features the original version of the Smith collaboration "Fiesta," is the group's greatest success to date. And Bomba Estéreo's sound — one that mixes electronic, alternative, hip-hop, and traditional Colombian influences — is currently redefining what Latin music is supposed to sound like to anyone who will listen.

"People's perspective [of Latin music] is changing, but it's changing because the music that is coming out of Latin America is changing also — in the last ten, twenty years," Mejía says. "Now, new generations, including Bomba Estéreo and all the young people that are making music, are doing music that is Latin, but is mixed also with all kinds of music that we grew up listening to." For Mejía, some of those early influences included rock, rap, reggae, and electronic.

There are many reasons for this shift in taste, but one undeniable one is the access to information that the internet has granted this latest generation.

"It's organic, but it's also due to the internet. For all the access of information that we have now, it's much more information than we had before. And the access to music and to world music is much wider than before, so people have more tools to access culture. And culture is becoming more like a global expression, not so specific to countries."

There's a cynical way to look at this and an optimistic one. The cynical: musicians everywhere are merging into one generic sound, soon to be indistinguishable from each other. The optimistic: sound is evolving, and folks from every corner of earth are able to collaborate with each other, picking and choosing all the best parts of different cultures to sample in their own music. 
But before you go kicking and screaming about singularity, Mejía doesn't hesitate to admit what gives Bomba Estéreo its truly unique sound. "I think Bomba Estéreo has done what it has done because it has local Colombian tastes that makes it different from a band from the States or from Europe," he admits.

Another big factor in Bomba's success: the stick of angelic dynamite they call a lead singer. Liliana Saumet is the voice of Bomba Estéreo, a voice few, if any, can duplicate. "It was the style," Mejía says, asked what attracted him to Saumet. "The style and the charisma. It was a merge between traditional female singers from Colombia, folk singers — it was a merge between that and hip-hop. She had this very special mix between these two worlds."

Bomba Estéreo will be playing on the final day of Wynwood's III Points festival, in a city that is itself in between two worlds: North and South America.

The duality of Miami makes for a refreshing and exciting place for artists, especially Latin artists, according to Mejía. "The Miami scene is changing a lot from what it was five or ten years ago. Now it's more open, especially the Latin audience is more open to listening to new Latin sounds," he says. "I think Miami is becoming one of the important cultural spots in the States."

And this might be one of Miami's last chances to catch Bomba Estéreo before they're big — like, Will Smith big. "Now we're very happy with what we have," Mejía says, "and if more comes, then it's okay, but if it doesn't come, it's okay too."

Bomba Estéreo during III Points, with King Krule, the Martinez Brothers, Damian Lazarus & the Ancient Moons, and others. 6:45 p.m. Sunday, October 11, at Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-573-0371; manawynwood.com. Tickets cost $55 to $110 plus fees via squadup.com.