Bomba Estéréo: Album review already
When Bomba Estéreo started recording their sixth album in January 2020, Colombians were in the midst of violent protests sparked by strikes against political corruption and discontent with the government of President Iván Duque Marquez. The anger of students and indigenous activists had been simmering for some time: “What matters to us, more than the virus or whatever, is the future of Colombia,” Maria told journalist. Alejandra Vega, student in Bogotá. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, in a small seaside town, Bomba Estéreo was also working to reshape her future. Flying in a tight-knit group of collaborators, including Colombian-Canadian singer-songwriter Lido Pimienta, Bomba Estéreo took refuge in the natural world and created Already, a concept album highlighting the environment as a means by which we can heal ourselves politically, socially and spiritually.
The resulting work is the most serious of the group to date. When Already invites us to the dancefloor, Bomba Estéreo asks that we proceed in conscience. In 2020, Bomba Estereo founder Simón Mejía starred in Sonic Forest, a documentary in defense of the Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations of the Colombian coast. Mejía also released a solo album, Mirla, under the nickname Monte, who inserted recordings of nature into instrumental tracks. While Bomba Estéreo was absorbed in the earth that surrounded them, Already took shape, pushing the band’s usual electro-tropical into another terrain. Drawing influences from marimba, Colombian folk, champeta and afrobeat, their sound isn’t necessarily new, but it’s bigger than ever. The most obvious example is “Conexión Total”, a collaboration with Nigerian star Yemi Alade. While Liliana Saumet and Alade speak out about the joys of being fully present, they are carried by Efraín Cuadrado’s gaita (also known as kuisi), which adds dazzling sound to synths and rhythm ready for the club.
Although environmentalism has long played a role in Bomba Estéreo’s music, they have never sounded more spiritually attuned, although this is not always effective. The opening of the “Agua” album begins with a call to the four elements: “Agua / Tierra / Aire / Fuego”, sings Saumet, in a style reminiscent of bullerengue, an Afro-Colombian oral tradition. The chorus is about dividing the album into sections dedicated to water, earth, air and fire, but it still comes out a bit hokey. Likewise, the title track draws on some ecotherapy-inspired positive affirmations in an attempt to make big statements about human disconnection, but the uninspiring EDM melody does nothing to get the lyrics off the ground.
The second half of Already aligns more convincingly with his vision. “Tamborero” is a rhapsodic celebration of Colombia’s percussive prowess. On “Tierra”, Saumet elegantly sings the imminent disappearance of the earth; the melody of the marimba is so sweet that you almost forget how devastating it all is. And on the closer album “Mamo Manuel Nieves (Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria)”, they pass the microphone to an indigenous shaman from the Kogi community. Saumet and Mejía had just completed an old ritual known as pagamento, or “payment” to land, when they invited Nieves to the studio to record a message for the world. The largely spoken word is a fresh and timely addition to an album of global bangers; it sits in a space similar to Mejía’s solo work, drawing inspiration from samples of the fierce winds and birds of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. For a group that consistently invokes the tropical indigenous aesthetic, it is important to see them center the voices of local collaborators.
Activism and collective healing are at the heart of Already, and while Bomba Estéreo’s fusion of supple rhythms and heavy themes doesn’t always work, Saumet is a compelling presence throughout. As she opens “Ahora”, surrounded by the sounds of the rainforest, she offers a mantra to all who struggle: “I am here. I’m sitting in the right place, at the right time, at the right time. Let your heart open. It’s a simple meditation on finding balance, and the song that follows, a singing fusion of synths and guitar to a cumbia beat, makes it clear: they found answers in the world around them.
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