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BBC – Music – Review of Bomba Estéreo

Written by on October 22, 2020

Having earned plaudits for its excavations of hitherto-unknown global funk relics since 2002, Soundway Records have latterly expanded their horizons to encompass current world-groove flavours.

Their release of the new album from Colombian Cumbia-modernists Bomba Estéreo proves that expansion to have been a wise move. The group’s music – drawing upon tradition, but also fusing those traditions with modern methods and futurist concepts – is perhaps the purest possible expression of the label’s vision.

2009’s Blow Up album first exposed Bomba Estéreo to an international audience, and the months they’ve since spent touring across the globe might explain the delay between that album and this follow-up.

But Elegancia Tropical is also a stronger record, more focused, with more depth. The floor-shaking rhythms and day-glo blasts are more vivid and irresistible than ever, tempered by a mournful, melancholic undertow to a number of tracks, exploring a moody flipside to the insistent thump of their party-hardy sonics only hinted at before.

This dark-hearted undercurrent first surfaces in opener Bosque, its serpentine electro pulse ever-shifting beneath subtly bleak synths, Liliana Saumet’s vocals possessed by some unnamed yearning as she trades melodies with Julian Salazar’s lonely, lilting guitar.

On El Alma y el Cuerpo (which roughly translates as Body and Soul), Saumet and Salazar rejoin their dulcet duets. Her voice is playful in places, painful in others; his guitar-lines pick careful paths between major and minor, as rhythms click and tighten beneath them, raising a delicate tension.

Elsewhere, this gloom is exchanged for thrills of a more visceral sort. Rocas welcomes Brazilian rapper B’Negão to the party, as he and Saumet joust cacophonic verses over a soundscape that re-contextualises the Congotronic thumb-piano riots of Konono No.1 over pneumatic beats.

Buraka Som Sistema add muscle to the two-step throb of Mozo, and closer Pa’ Respirar builds up a fierce head of steam, before unleashing it in a cathartic blast of electronic noise that’ll wreck puny speakers.

But it’s the downbeat edge Saumet and Salazer lend to the album – a certain indefinable, mysterious melancholy – that’ll leave you haunted by Elegancia Tropical, even as it leads you back to the dancefloor.

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