These pioneers of Colombian electro-roots pop still have the magic on the fifth album since their founding in 2005. That magic began when Simón Mejía, a veteran alternative rock guitarist and composer in Bogota, recruited singer Liliana “Li” Saumet from Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast. The combination of Mejia’s savvy, urban pop with a strong psychedelic streak, and Li’s finely honed, razor-sharp vocal, rich with the nuances of much older traditions, worked from the start and still works now. Bomba Estéreo’s music is edgy in the friendliest way imaginable. The hooks are insanely catchy, the soundscapes fresh, open and minimal, and Li’s instantly recognizable voice pulls you in every time.
Echoes of cumbia’s seductive lope weave through the songs, from the tripping and spare “Amer Asi” to the dark, dense and clubby “Quimica” (Dance With Me). “Siembra,” with its ambient chimes and bird sounds, feels almost ceremonial as it shifts through trancey rhythmic/harmonic textures. The sassy “Flower Power” takes on a pumped-up dancehall feel, spiked with vaguely Congolese guitar riffs. “Taganga” veers toward reggae, with Li mustering the bravado of a dancehall queen.
No matter how inventive the music, Li’s voice remains ever in command. She works in some tongue-in-cheek English on the driving “Money, Money, Money” (that’s all you ever think about). On “Duele,” she digs deep to channel the pain and fury of a jilted lover, her keening voice offset by the calliope-like flauta da millo, a traditional flute used in the oldest forms of cumbia.
Many of these songs are primed for the dance floor, but there’s also a dreamy warmth that pervades the production. Few bands around make a better case for the notion of an electronic folk movement–music that is familiar, rooted and earthy even as it skirts the sonic outer edges of contemporary pop.