Ondatropica is a multi-generational, multi-genre Colombian music collective aimed at breaking down borders between urban and rural, folk and pop, past and present, cumbia and just about everything else. The project’s self-titled debut double CD won widespread praise in 2012. Cofounders Will Holland (Quantic) and Mario Galeano (Frente Cumbiero) took their time with the follow-up, but these 15 tracks are, if possible, even more surprising and delightful than the first set.
Some 35 musicians took part in this recording, first tracking in the inland capital Bogota, home to Colombia’s active experimental roots music scene, and then on Old Providence Island, a place where resurgent folklore rubs shoulders with dancehall and reggae. The result is a rich, giddy and wildly varied collision of cumbia lope, layered hand drums, sassy brass, vocals ranging from creaky to luscious, as well as flashes of gritty dancehall (“Come Back Again” and “Trustin’”), Congolese-flavored champeta (“Bogota”) and even Nigerian Afrobeat (“Hummingbird”). The unifying force here is a kind of joyous briskness that keeps the soundscapes open and inviting, never chaotic or cluttered in the least, despite the large cast and broad stylistic palette.
The opener, “Commotion,” sung unexpectedly in English, sets the mood with a kind of cumbia/calypso mash-up memorable for the way Shala Boom’s gravelly baritone voice harmonizes improbably with Katia Bowie’s delicate alto. “Malaria” delivers a fittingly feverish take on cumbia, with march band snare drum (a thread through these songs), percussive accordion chops, and a satisfying interplay between trombones and accordion, panned hard left and right. Michi Sarmiento’s high, throaty lead vocal completes the mix with a rowdy campesino flavor. There is just so much to unpack here, from “Lazalypso,” a brassy carnival romp, to the ebullient 12/8 of “Boga Canoero,” with its tasty interplay of clean electric guitars, playful saxophone interludes, call-and-response vocal and rippling trumpet riffs on the outro.
One certainly hopes for another Ondatropica live tour, as we saw in 2013, but even if all 35 of these musicians turned up, they would be hard pressed to recreate the down-home ambience of this transporting recording. It’s rare that an album delivers such a powerful sense of place, but listening to Baile Bucanero may well convince you that Colombia is a place you need to be.