When I heard that Bomba Estereo would be doing an instore performance at Amoeba, I didn’t know what to think. A few years ago, I heard their song “Huepajé” on a Nacional Records compilation and I dug it. Almost every time I played that song in the clubs, someone asked me about the song. I was anticipating their album Blow Up when it came out, only to be slightly disappointed by the somewhat sterile sound of it. I felt it was an adequate album, but not the one I was expecting. Perhaps their Electro-Tropical hybrid worked better as a single than a whole album. Soon after the album was released, I was getting reports from wherever Bomba Estereo played, from folks in Texas to a good friend in Tokyo, that this band live was not to be missed. It was only now that they got to make their way to Los Angeles. I hoped my friends were right.
The audience waiting for the show was small before the band went on. It was mostly your Latin Alternative enthusiasts and curious NPR types. Later, just before Bomba Estereo went on and during their set, the late-arriving Colombian nationals started trickling in, some decked out in yellow, blue and red, the colors of the Colombian flag. I saw a few gentlemen sporting the traditional Sombrero Vueltiao, the traditional hat of Colombia commonly worn by Cumbia and Vallenato musicians. I even saw a woman that was a complete Shakira knock-off in the front row, I kid you not! So when Bomba Estereo hit the stage and started the first song with the thud of conga synonymous with Cumbia, the audience was up and dancing.
The four-piece band, all from in and around Bogotá, Colombia, cannot escape the sound that is in their blood. The Cumbia rhythm, which seems to define Colombians, is the foundation of their music. However, it is layered underneath the surfy guitar, spacey keyboards, Dancehall vocals and dub bass. The hypnotic beat and the layers of sounds make a background for singer Liliana Saumet vocals. She is a mixture of M.I.A. and La Mala Rodriguez by the way of Annabelle Lwin from Bow Wow Wow. She is pretty much the show, using both a clean vocal mic and a dub vocal mic for effect. The band (bassist with synths, guitar and drums along with a computer for backing tracks) kept up the energy to match their spark plug of a singer. Their music hits you like a wave. You can resist it but it's better just to ride with it. Soon I was hooked. They played for forty-five minutes and it seemed like ten. I have to say my friends were right about this one.
After the show I felt that you have to experience Bomba Estereo live to appreciate Blow Up. Much like Bomba Estero label mates The Nortec Collective, their trance-rhythms and layers are lost on an album without the imagery and energy they produce in a live show. Perhaps I lack imagination or I get inundated with so much music that I get numb to it all. Perhaps clearer eyes and ears could enjoy it without the live show. Who knows? All I know is that I can listen to Blow Up with fresh ears now.
For more photos from the instore, click here!