We don’t need the mainstream: An Interview with Frente Cumbiero’s Mario Galeano

By 05 December, 2011

One of the most interesting groups coming out of Colombia’s nueva cumbia scene is undoubtedly Frente Cumbiero. So far they have released a 7″ on Brooklyn’s Names You Can Trust record label and a collaborative album with Mad Professor, titled Frente Cumberio Meets Mad Professor, which was released on CD and vinyl earlier this year. On both releases they take the cumbia legacy in a more electronic direction, while still staying close to its roots, setting them apart from acts like Bomba Estéreo that have used Colombian music as a starting point to explore new musical hybrids.

Mario Galeano is the guiding force behind Frente Cumbiero, and so the perfect person to talk to about the band’s sound, the underground music scene in Colombia and some very exciting projects coming up in 2012.

Let’s start off by talking about Frente Cumberio Meets Mad Professor. How did this album, and collaboration with Mad Professor, come about?

This project was actually recorded more than two years ago, around June 2009. I work in a University here in the music department and we recorded in the studios of the University. We also did workshops with the students. For us it was really nice to see Mad Professor working and showing us how to work with the mixing desk, and what were the aesthetics behind dub. We did three workshops, two concerts and the of recordings.

What was it like working with Mad Professor, whose obviously from a very different musical background?

He actually had no idea about Colombian music. He had never heard cumbia or anything like this. I met him before in London and gave him my CD. I’m not sure if he listened to it really well. Basically we played our stuff, and he was in the studio, telling us things about the sound of the recording: “let’s record this way”, “let’s put the mics here”, about the set-up of the recording space and those kind of things. We recorded everything then he took the tapes to London and did the dub remixes there.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/6132229″]
“Bestiales 77” from Frente Cumbiero Meets Mad Professor

What’s the line-up for Frente Cumbiero at the moment?

We are in a quartet right now. We are playing with a percussionist – he plays drums and timbales. We have a guitar player who has a lot of electronics. There’s a saxophone and clarinet player. I’m playing keyboards, computer and guacharacha live – which is like a scraper. Live it’s an instrumental band. We don’t have singers.

But there’s singing on the Mad Professor album yeah?

We wanted to have people from other bands so three of the tracks are with singers from well-known bands here in Colombia. [Liliana Saumet from Bomba Estéreo, Javier Fonseca from Alerta Kamarada and Kiño from Kmusic.]

Your instrumentation is not what you would call typical of cumbia…

It’s very electric our sound. We have our thing with electric guitars, keyboards and synthesisers. Even with the wind (sax and clarinet) we process them through a lot of effects so in the end the sound is very electric with the band. As we don’t have singers we focus a lot on the dancefloor, so people can get into dancing and don’t have to look at the stage for the affirmation of the singer.

There are lots of different names for these new forms and styles of cumbia. How do you label the music of Frente Cumbiero?

Yeah, here’s there’s lots of names for it. Some people call it nu cumbia, electro cumbia, eletro-cumbe. There are lots of different names ya know, but I actually always call it just cumbia. I never say electro cumbia. It’s just my personal tastes.

There seem to be lots of new bands coming out of Colombia with these new styles of cumbia. How do you perceive this as an insider?

Well, there are big movements in cumbia in Argentina and Mexico and Peru, and in Colombia there are a few bands – maybe not as many as in Argentina or Mexico related to nu cumbia – that have a very distinct sound. Here, we have a movement – a very underground thing – and people are getting tuned into this new Colombian music, because the majority of the youth here are focused on American and European styles, into indie rock and techno and a whole bunch of things that they show on MTV and these kinds of things. So what we do is an alternative thing. It’s not something that the mainstream are looking into. We are not on commercial radio stations. We’re just into our thing. Actually we don’t need the commercial medium. We have our own things through the Internet, through our parties. We are doing a lot of parties every weekend, so we have our own thing going on.

What kind of place do you play?

We play in bars, in small theatres, in the streets, in the public space. We play also a lot in Latin parties where we rent an art space or old, abandoned place in town, and we bring our soundsystem and our turntables and just play, and we do this every weekend.

Just in Bogotá or all over the country?

We have some gigs also in Medellin and Cali, but 95% of these parties happen in Bogotá.

How did your release with Names You Can Trust (based in Brooklyn, NYC) come about?

It was thanks to the Internet. I made a mixtape where there were some songs that they really liked. So they wrote me, and said “Hi, we are a label from New York and we want to release a couple of your tracks”. And I just said yeah, let’s go. For us it’s been perfect as we’re very much into vinyl, we’re real vinyl lovers. But here in Colombia there’s not a real vinyl culture in the youth. It’s not like in Europe or the US where you can go to nice record stores and buy vinyl and it’s more visible. Here it’s like something that people have forgotten completely. So for us to have our first release on vinyl was very symbolic.

Frente Cumbiero Meets Mad Professor is available on vinyl too yeah?

It’s a double vinyl that was released by a Spanish label called Vampisoul. We released the record here in Colombia in August last year and put out the CD in October [2010]. Then the guys from Vampisoul released it on CD and vinyl about a month ago [September 2011]. They put out the vinyl and it was just perfect for us to have it as vinyl. It’s really nice. There are two vinyls, one with the straight mixes and one with the dubs so it’s perfect for mixing on two turntables.

Do you have anything else planned with Names You Can Trust?

Another 7”. We already have the two tracks. We’re just finishing the mix and now we’re working on the cover and some other stuff. They want to release it around February.

It’s amazing that your first two releases have both been released on vinyl. Many European or American bands never even get that luxury!

Here in Colombia we’re the first band in about 10 years to release a vinyl album. Some bands have released singles, but we’re the first band to have released a double vinyl in over 10 years. If you compare us to Bomba Estereo or Systema Solar – who have much bigger crowds than us – they don’t have this thing about vinyl that we have, so we’re really taking advantage of vinyl culture to spread our music.

Other than the upcoming 7″ what else have you got lined up?

We have a huge project coming up. We’re sponsored by the British Council and their Incubator project. The album with Mad Professor was made possible due to a sort of grant we got from the British Council which was how we were able to get him [Mad Professor]to come and pay him and everything. Next year this Incubator project stops and we’re going to have another opportunity to do a collaboration with a British artist and we’re going to work with Quantic. We’re going to do an amazing collaboration where we’re going to bring 10 or 12 guys from old school cumbia, guys that are 70 or 80 years old. We’re going to bring them into the Fuentes recording studio. Fuentes is the oldest record label in Colombia. They recorded all the classic stuff, so we’re gonna go into their studio and we’re going to bring half of these old school people and half of the new school kind of cumbia, and we’re going to record an album throughout the month of January. Then we’re going to make a band out of it, maybe a 10-piece band and we will perform at the Olympics in London.

Wow! That sounds like an amazing project…

Every day there’ll be things happening and we’re going to bring in these old guys, and so some improvisations and do some compositions of mine and some of Quantic and see what happens in the studio.

I always like to ask people about some new or underground bands that they can recommend our readers. Who would you recommend from Colombia?

Well there is one very cool band that I like a lot. Herencia de Timbiqui. Live they sound like a train. They’re from Cali. On the other side there’s a whole bunch of bands doing this Calle 13 thing that I’m not really that excited about, mixing everything together, but there is one band that I like, Cero 39, which is like a producer whose doing things by himself that is really cool. He’s from Bogota too. And of course Meridian Brothers, who I saw on your site. We are brothers really. The guy from Meridian Brothers, Eblis, who is doing all the music, is the guitarist in Frente Cumbiero. We also have a tropical noise trio called Los Pirañas.

Who would you say are the biggest influences on Frente Cumbiero?

We are very much influenced by the Colombian brass bands from the Caribbean, bands that were really strong during the 60s and 70s, like street parade brass bands, and other bands that were more like dance hall kind of bands, ya know more elegant. So we’re very influenced by the brass music, and a lot of old school cumbia, like Andres Landero, which was one of our biggest influences.

We are just listening to a lot of old music and getting our inspiration from it. We like to think that for ourselves the inspiration for our sound is to look into the past. We just like to listen to this music all the time and get the records, and it’s impossible not to be touched and affected by this sound. I’m more interested in the older vibe that was lost because if you hear mainstream and commercial Colombian and tropical music today it’s just another style completely, it’s lost all relation to the original Colombian music. We just want to keep on doing this truer or heavier kind of Colombian music and make it our own.

You can buy Frente Cumbiero Meets Mad Professor at vampisoul.com/detail_cd.asp?referencia=136 and buy/listen to both Frente Cumbiero Meets Mad Professor and the Pitchito 7″ at frentecumbiero.bandcamp.com

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