Folk music traditions are by no means static. They are in constant flux, transmuting and evolving as they are pushed forward by advances in music production technology.
Traditional Afro-Latin sounds such as cumbia, for instance, have seamlessly transitioned into the 21st Century thanks to innovative producers like Colombia's Mario Galeano. Having first explored the future sound of cumbia as part of the seminal collective Frente Cumbiero, Galeano later joined forces with Quantic, AKA Will Holland, to form the much-lauded Ondatrópica.
The duo recently dropped its sophomore album, Baile Bucanero, to critical acclaim. And Mario Galeano will stop by the Floyd this Saturday along with partner Will Holland to give Miamians a taste of what Ondatrópica is all about. Ahead of the party, New Times caught up with Galeano to chat about the past, present, and future of cumbia.
New Times: What did you grow up listening to? How influential were Colombian folk music traditions as opposed to more modern sounds?
Mario Galeano: I grew up listening to the music of my parents, especially my mother's tastes because she is quite a music fan. So a broad range of Colombian and Latin American albums were spinning all day long in my house. Through the street influences, I learned about punk, salsa, '60s rock, prog, jazz.
When did you first get into writing and performing music? And how did the Frente Cumbiero collective come about?
Since the late '90s, when I was studying music at university. With some friends, we started projects that had an experimental approach to tropical music. However, Frente Cumbiero started in 2006 after connecting with the cumbia scenes of Mexico and Argentina, where I saw the bigger picture of cumbia throughout the continent.
How did you first hook up with Will Holland, AKA Quantic? What drew you to collaborating with him?
I met Will in 2010; he was living in Cali at the time. The collaboration came about because I had done a prior project with the help of the British Council, the record Frente Cumbiero Meets Mad Professor. That project did very well, so the British Council commissioned me again to organize a band to perform at the London Olympics in 2012. We found that to be the perfect excuse to work on a big-scale project and collaborate with Quantic.
Did you have a specific vision for the Ondatrópica project in the beginning?
Yes, it's the same vision we kept on the second album, to unite musicians from very different backgrounds and approach the diversity as a strength. Since 2012, we have recorded with 80 musicians, ages 16 to 84, from dozens of places and many different tropical styles. We are a collective, and people can hear that in the diversity of styles we approach.
What can you tell us about the creative process on the new album, Baile Bucanero?
We planned to do it in Providencia, an English-speaking island in the Colombian Caribbean, and approach the island's diversity of backgrounds to make a parallel with Caribbean culture and music in general — that is, trying to reach a deeper fiber that doesn't have to do with nationality and try to find a place where these different music traditions meet.
How is Baile Bucanero different from your first album? Do you think it marks an evolution in the Ondatrópica sound?
In Baile Bucanero, we were aiming for another place in tropical music: the connection with the Antilles and styles such as mento, calypso, and modup. We hope people can start to recognize all the amazing varieties in Caribbean music and go beyond the "Latin" tag. On the other hand, I believe the concept of evolution in the music scene is an abused one. I think it's something that serves the industry much more than the artist.
So what does cumbia music mean in the 21st Century? Do you consider what you do within the cumbia genre as a modern homage to a tradition that already passed its golden age, or an actual evolution of the sound?
Cumbia is a lingua franca for the whole continent, and it gives identity to the people of dozens of countries. If you talk about Colombian cumbia, it may have had an amazing moment in the '60s, but luckily, there are vibrant new scenes in Mexico and Argentina. I don't think we are near a passing of age. Digital cumbia is very strong right now.
So what can the audience expect Saturday night?
We are going to have an all-vinyl set full of dance-floor bangers to contextualize where Ondatrópica comes from. You can expect tropicalismo supremo.
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