The success of Systema Solar’s self-titled debut album first launched them from local celebrity to international acclaim. After being brought together by a serendipitous encounter in Medellín, the group members combined their backgrounds in cumbia, techno, champeta, hip hop, and rock to form an energetic sound that simultaneously embraces their Colombian heritage and charges forward into contemporary electronica. With audiences growing abroad, the group set off on a string of tours, dazzling fans throughout Europe and the Americas with their amalgamation of music and live video mixing, all performed while clothed in some truly celestial costumes. They have dubbed the experiences “Verbenautika,” a neologism drawn from a combination of the block parties thrown in small Colombian towns called verbenas, and nautika, in the spirit of traveling the world.
All the travel has certainly pleased fans and increased their visibility, but put a squeeze on studio time. After four years of consistent live performances, Systema Solar delivers with its sophomore creation, La Revancha del Burro. Laden with other-worldly beats, political commentary, and uplifting messages, the album is all that a loyal fan could hope to hear.
The group’s message remains unchanged from previous endeavors, and themes of simple pleasures, peaceful partying, and promoting social justice run throughout the album. The album opens with “Voy a Ganao,” a track that revels in Colombian pride and the ability to enjoy life. An enthusiastic chorus lauds favorite local food, while verses celebrate sailing the coast by canoe, and aspiring to hear children’s laughter rather than making millions of dollars. The lively beat, Dj scratches, and fluid rap in this tune are sure to have your shoulders and hips swaying.
The energy keeps flowing into “Nite Nine” which speaks of possessing nothing, yet always persevering and, of course, of loving life. Percussion accompanied by a call and response are overlaid with synth and kick drum, fast paced and festive. It’s clear from these tracks that Systema Solar hasn’t forget the Colombian traditions of Champeta, powerful sound systems that throw parties in the nation’s ghettoes. While not a direct political statement, the message highlights the need to remain positive in the depressed economic state felt by much of Colombia.
The group’s version of La Esquina Del Movimiento, originally sung by legendary, Barranquillero vocalist Nelson Piñedo and Cuban super-group La Sonora Matancera, is a nod to the musician whose international success made him an ambassador for Colombian music around the world. Perhaps alluding to Piñedo’s days as a radio announcer himself, the song starts with the hollow sound of an announcer speaking over salsa brass that seems to emanate from an old-school radio. The tune celebrates guanguancó and the Cuban son which Piñedo sang. The modern mix of electronic sound creates a lively and seamless connection between the old and the new.
As the album continues there is more of the expected political commentary. Musically it is well crafted, employing the sounds and styles of a swath of genres . While the band primarily maintains an uptempo vibe, the album is peppered with slower, darker songs. The variations in mood definitely give Revancha del Burro depth and make it no less eccentric or innovative then their debut.
While La Revancha del Burro hits the mark, there isn’t much unexpected on the LP. And while it will certainly rock a party, has it exceeded the high bar that Systema Solar already set with their first album? Although they’ve certainly made some changes to their sound since their previous work, there isn’t much that would come as a surprise to their pre-existing fans, raising the question of whether the long wait was really worth it. That being said, Systema Solar is more than an audible act: Innovations in their video mixing, costume design and the overall experience of their performances cannot be appreciated by listening to the music alone. Regardless of whether La Revancha del Burro is a holding pattern or a step forward, the world is far from glutted with music of this indelible a hue, and listeners new and old will find much to rejoice about in this album.