On Major Label Debut, Bomba Estéreo Never Loses Sight of its Roots

“This album is about freedom and about love, as it’s always been for Bomba Estéreo,” says Liliana Saumet.
“This album is about freedom and about love, as it’s always been for Bomba Estéreo,” says Liliana Saumet.
Photo by Jessica Weiss

It was a typically dreary evening in the Colombian capital—cold and drizzling. Yet that didn't stop thousands from coming out on May 17 when Colombian sensation Bomba Estéreo gave Bogotá a sneak peak of its new album Amanecer ("Daybreak," in English) at a massive open-air, mountainside dance party on the outskirts of town.

“Bomba Estéreo en la casaaaaaaa,” yelled singer-lyricist Liliana “Li” Saumet. She was wearing a pink mini-dress, stomping around in patent leather platform boots with gold streaks of paint streaming across her face.

“This album is about freedom and about love, as it’s always been for Bomba Estéreo,” Saumet told New Times in Bogotá. “But this album also shows that we're a band that’s always changing. Every concert and experience, every stage, has been part of our evolution.”

Released on Sony US Latin yesterday, June 2, Amanecer is the band's major label debut. Produced by the L.A.-based Ricky Reed, of Oakland hip-hop group Wallpaper, the result is “a more global sound,” bassist and group founder Simon Mejia says—like essential Bomba Estéreo, but “with a twist.” The band's traditional Colombian identity keeps its footing in mainstream dance, reggae, hip-hop and electronic sounds. And significant moments of introspection and meditation signal the maturity of a band that has exploded onto the scene since 2005.

Led by Mejía and Saumet, the foursome initially grabbed attention with sensual, energetic dance music inspired by traditional styles from the Colombian coast, where Saumet grew up.

"Salsa, champeta, cumbia and afro,” she says. “In our music you’re always going to hear traditional rhythms...That’s our home, from where this began.”

Global acclaim came after the 2009 album Fuego. Despite a vehemently alternative sound — especially to some American ears — Bomba Estéreo's music has appeared behind Bradley Cooper in the movie Limitless, on the soundtrack of FIFA video games, in a McDonald's ad and even on CSI: Miami. In North America, they've rocked dance floors in Miami, New York, L.A., and everywhere in between. But even on U.S. soil, Mejia and Saumet say they never felt like they needed to change anything about their style.

Which makes sense, considering how deeply South American culture has grown to influence major U.S. cities, and even our nation's musical tastes as a whole. We are, after all, living in a time when Latin-influenced artists like Pitbull, Shakira, Marc Anthony and Ricky Martin have all taken their turns at the top of the charts.

Last Year, iHeartRadio held its first-ever Fiesta Latina in Los Angeles, featuring acts like Pitbull, Ricky Martin, Prince Royce, and fellow Colombian J. Balvin. This year, the event moves to Miami, where it will partner with the Spanish-language network Telemundo and broadcast online via Yahoo Live.

“The U.S. has an 'Anglo Latin' vibe, where everyone knows something about Latin America, or has some friend from Latin America,” Saumet says. “So I feel like we've been part of a scene that's not just characterized by being Latin. It's just general music.”

Even if you can't understand what she's saying, Saumet's got universal sex appeal, with her bold and colorful outfits, undulating champeta moves and mesmerizing vocals, switching from Spanish to English, sometimes in the same breath (“Take me on the table como me gusta a mi”).

After a trying year, Saumet's advice is: "Keep dancing and fall in love.”
After a trying year, Saumet's advice is: "Keep dancing and fall in love.”
Photo by M3 Music via Wikipedia Commons

Last year, when Sony came to the band with a proposal, Bomba Estéreo was eager to explore the option of making a disc with a major label. They signed in October for one album, and then got to work with Reed, for two L.A. recording sessions and two in Bogotá.

The album's first single, “Fiesta,” came out in March, just a week after Baranquilla's famed Carnaval. The song serves as a mandate to dance, with tropical, carnival-style sounds and sultry guitar alongside a bass-thumping hook.

But Amanecer as a whole is layered and complex. The suicide of Saumet's boyfriend last year feels present throughout much of the album, where the songs are about dancing and falling in love just “as much as they are about using every life challenge to help you to continue forward and make you stronger,” she says.

“This has been a hard year, a year of a lot of learning,” Saumet says. “But you’ve got to take from those lessons and just appreciate life. Keep dancing and fall in love.”

And Saumet seems to be following her own advice. The fiesta was certainly alive in Bogotá during Bomba Estéreo's hometown show, as confetti rained over the crowd and aguardiente bottles were passed among friends. Despite its geographically diverse fan base, Bomba still feels at home here in the Andes, where it all began.

“I think in our essence, we'll stay an alternative band,” Saumet says. “But alternative music has a big scene now.”

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