The past two years have been good to Bomba Estéreo, the electro-tropical Colombian band born from a collaboration between multi-instrumentalist Simón Mejía and singer Liliana “Li” Saumet.
In mid-2015, they dropped their major label debut, Amanecer, which earned a Grammy nomination and was certified Latin Gold in the US. Last fall, they released a music video for their magnetic self-love anthem “Soy Yo,” which went viral, with over 23 million views on YouTube. Despite the success that’s paved the way for their new album, Ayo, Mejía insists that accolades were never the goal.
Some of his earliest memories were shaped by his parents’ record collection, but the first time he remembers feeling emotionally struck by music was when he heard “Plástico,” the opening track of Rubén Blades and Willie Colón’s 1978 album Siembra.
“It hit me in strange ways,” Mejía says. “When I grew up, I realized it [was] because it was the first time I heard a fusion—in that case, salsa with disco music.” The song’s influence was monumental—it inspired him to experiment with his own fusions, which explains why Bomba Estéreo’s music is never limited to one genre.
Mejía started piano lessons as a child, and played guitar in rock bands around Bogota as a teenager. This eventually led to his infatuation with electronic music: “I started producing electronic tracks until I realized that making plain electronic music in Colombia was kind of weird, especially because it was done better in Europe and the States. So I started fusing it with our traditional dance music from Colombia, until the point that I developed the Bomba sound.”
Bomba Estéreo’s music is a mélange, much like the cultural landscape of Latin America. The band incorporates Afro-Caribbean and indigenous instrumentation to combat erasure and honor this rich musical history.
“Folk music is usually not part of a commercial circuit, but that’s what makes it unique,” Mejía says. “It’s not part of any trend. It’s just music from the earth that will prevail, as it has done, over centuries.”
The new album’s gut-wrenching lead single, “Duele,” features a Middle Eastern-inspired melody played with a flauta de millo. After experimenting with different sounds, Mejía says, “We came back to this powerful instrument. [It] comes from our indigenous world just before white people came to destroy everything here.”
Though Ayo pays homage to indigenous traditions and was inspired by the band’s trip to the sacred Andean range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the recording was finished in Los Angeles. The duality of traversing these two very different worlds, he says, is apparent on the album: “It’s very eclectic [and] pop in other hands, but it also has very deep tracks which are beautiful and spiritual.”
As Bomba Estéreo kicks off their extensive worldwide tour with shows in the Pacific Northwest, Mejía says he’s excited to revisit the nature and energetic crowds here, but will be missing his wife and babies. He’s thrilled, however, to create meaningful music memories with his own kids.
“I recorded them in a track on the new album—just like, speaking and shouting—so that be one of the most beautiful moments to remember in our lives,” Mejía says. “They will have that recording for the rest of their lives.”