Ondatrópica: Rejuvenating Colombia’s Tropical Music

By 31 January, 2012

I arrived at Discos Fuentes studio in Medellin late on Friday afternoon. It was supposed to be a day for Ondatrópica – the new project from Will “Quantic” Holland and Mario Galeano Toro – to pack up their equipment, yet they were still busy finishing vocals on the final track, an original composition from Fruko, one of Colombia’s true musical heroes and no stranger to Discos Fuentes studio.

Fruko is just one of the big names in Colombian music that Quantic and Mario invited to this project. The idea was to make an album of “tropical” Colombian music, playing styles such as porro, currulao, banda, chirimía and cumbia, styles that have become unpopular among the majority of the Colombian population who are drawn towards Western music. Ondatrópica is the chance to change that, uniting the old guard of Colombian music with the new generation, and showing all that this music is vital.

It could be easy then to make a comparison with Buena Vista Social Club, yet Mario swears this project has a different focus: “it’s an exchange between old and new musicians which is not what Buena Vista was about.” It seems the older musicians involved – 10 of who were over 70 years old – were willing to do anything to get involved. No-one that was invited turned down their invitation; Juando Valdez came straight from three days in hospital to play his part. Even musicians who lived nearby decided to pop in and contribute after hearing that something special was happening.

During the sessions, which lasted for three weeks in January, 34 tracks were recorded, a mixture of new compositions from Quantic and Mario, along with classic tracks by the musicians involved, and new tracks that were composed in the studio or once the musicians realised they had a chance to record original material with a top band. That band included notable Colombian musicians such as Aníbal Velasquez, Michi Sarmiento, Wilson Viveros, Freddy Colorado and Jorge Gaviria, as well as Mario Rincon, one of the original engineers/producers at Discos Fuentes. In addition, there was Alfredito Linares, a Peruvian pianist known as one of salsa’s true greats.

Among the new generation were members of Frente Cumbiero, the group led by Mario that has become one of the leading lights of Bogotá’s alternative music scene. Many of Quantic’s Combo Bárbaro also participated in the recording with singer Nidia Góngora bringing her own particular style from Colombia’s Pacific Coast. Perhaps though the biggest name from the current crop of musicians to participate was one of the few not to hail from Colombia, that being Ana Tijoux, the Chilean MC whose new album La Bala has been getting rave reviews across the board.

The general consensus from everyone around the project is that “history” has been made. If there’s one aspect of the Buena Vista project that Ondatrópica would like to be compared to, it will surely be it’s success, and from the music that I heard and that everyone is buzzing about, that may not be too lofty an ambition. Currently there are no details of when the album will be released, though it should be in the first half of 2012.

Ondatrópica will also become a live concert, trimming down the musicians involved to a group of 11 or 12 that will be known as Los Irreales de Ondatrópica. They will be playing a number of concerts in Colombia before heading to London for the Olympics, where they will be part of the River of Music Festival on July 21st/22nd. Make sure you don’t miss it!

There is currently an abundance of great information on the project at ondatropica.com. At the moment this is in Spanish but an English version will soon be launched.

Here are some of the photos from the sessions, taken by B+

See all the photos at flickr.com/photos/ondatropica

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